All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is a squeamy good time, as inspired by nonsense sketch comedy as it is Cronenbergian body horror.
Whatever else it has going for it, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms very literally delivers exactly what it says on the tin. A goofy, sometimes nightmarish descent into drug-fueled insanity, All Jacked Up suggests just enough of a traditional narrative that viewers might be lulled into a false sense of security — certainly the filmmakers wouldn’t dare go there, you might think, before the filmmakers do indeed go right where you hoped they wouldn’t. It’s visceral and occasionally disturbing, but it’s never boring. Ostensibly the story of put-upon janitor Roscoe (Phillip Andre Botello), the film charts his increasingly desperate attempts to get high with his girlfriend Samantha (Betsey Brown), who has started sleeping with someone else. We’re also introduced to Benny (Trevor Dawkins), a schlubby heap of a man who is fixated on becoming a father. Believing it will bring some kind of meaning to his unremarkable life, Benny orders a sex doll that looks like a baby and proceeds to care for it as if it was alive, telling anyone within earshot that he’s now a proud daddy.
Cutting back and forth between these two hapless men, writer/director Alex Phillips seems at first to be charting some kind of millennial arrested development, a modern-day man-child tale, except consisting of a duo who are also mentally unstable and occasionally disgusting. Benny eventually finds himself with a sex worker, Henrietta (Eva Fellows), but rather than screwing her he instead beseeches her to become the mother of his “child.” She plays along, but only until the money runs out for their allotted time. Roscoe and Benny soon cross paths, and after being supplied hallucinogenic worms by Henrietta, the pair become addicted. Rampaging around a low-rent motel, the men consume copious amounts of the squirmy things while barging into rooms and getting high with strangers. Eventually, another couple enters the film, and things are turned up a notch. Biff (Mike Lopez) and his girlfriend are the dark inverse of Roscoe and Benny, aggressive and violent and totally unhinged. Taking a queue from these agents of chaos, the film proceeds to devolve into a miasma of kidnapping, torture, and murder.
This brief description makes the movie sound more traditional and linear than it actually is. But even the early goings purposefully unmoor the dramaturgy, unleashing a cacophony of incongruous sights and sounds. These people are always high, and the movie follows their lead, constantly blurring the line between what’s real and what’s imagined. Images emanating from television screens littered across every interior location begin to overwhelm the central diegesis of the movie, like an alternate film from another dimension trying to butt in and take over. Phillips inserts all manner of cut-aways, non-sequiturs, and grotesque surrealist flourishes. Like an exquisite-corpse game constructed out of slimy viscera or a Burroughs-esque cut-up, it’s not always entirely clear how one scene segues to another, or what anyone’s motivation is other than scoring more worms. No matter, as the film’s virtues have virtually nothing to do with any traditional standards of quality.
But for all the distressing imagery on screen, the actors are having so much fun that their vibe becomes infectious. The frequent handmade special effects are cheap, and all the more effective for it. By the time people’s heads are turning into orifices and spewing fluids while someone else is being reborn as some kind of worm-god (the end credits list a “worm baby,” a “worm eater,” and a “worm king,” so take your pick), you’ll either be throwing up or chuckling along with it. The movie is frequently very funny, a clear case of friends goofing around and trying to one-up each other, seemingly as inspired by sketch comedy, improv, and Johnny Ryan’s Angry Youth Comix as they are by Cronenberg (the director most referenced in other assessments of the film). If you squint, you can find some deeper anxieties about parenthood and urban displacement, as well as the allure of getting high to pass the time (not for nothing is this a Covid production). But any attempt to psychoanalyze the proceedings is met with a determined bit of inspired nonsense. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is having a good time, and wants to take you along for the ride — if you’ve got the stomach for it.
You can currently catch Alex Phillips’ All Jacked Up and Full of Worms in theaters or streaming on Screambox beginning November 8.
Originally published as part of Fantasia Fest 2022 — Dispatch 5.