Alex Phillips’ feature film debut All Jacked Up And Full Of Worms is an experience for the sense. This twisted and occasionally nauseating film puts you through the wringer in terms of the gross, the perverse, and the offensive. But Phillips is able to execute it all in an impressively gnarly package that won’t be to everyone’s taste.
In the film,
Working at a seedy motel, maintenance man Roscoe is always searching for his latest fix. When he stumbles upon a powerfully hallucinogenic worm, his days of dime-store drugs are over. Along with his new love interest, the pair embark on a delirious odyssey of sex, violence, and becoming one with the dirt.
Dread Central spoke with Phillips, producer Ben Gojer, and editor Troy Lewis after the film’s premiere at Fantasia Film Festival about worm geysers, worm canons, snorting worms, and more.
Dread Central: So where did this crazy ass idea come from?
Alex Phillips: A lot of the script came from generating ideas out of a place of psychosis, for lack of a better word. Just being crazy and wanting to catalog that. I also wanted to create a narrative or an experience for people that feel like, or at least what that it felt like to me. I like to tell people it’s like an autobiography, but it’s like an expressionist one.
DC: Where did the idea for the worms come specifically? Like
AP: That came from all the films that I’m sort of obsessed with. I talk a lot about Brain Damage, the Frank Henlotter film. Then there’s Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch with creaturs and his body horror stuff. And it also came from working with Ben [Gojer] on my shorts. I knew this would be a really fun way for us to collaborate. When I told him the concept behind the movie, it brought us together to like to chase this because making a low-budget or no-budget movie is basically just how hard you’re pushing to make the movie.
DC: And so you were the worm guy?
What does that mean? Like, what was your job specifically as the worm person besides, you know, working with the worms?
Ben Gojer: So Alex wrote the script, sent it to me, and then I was conceiving of how we could create the worms. So the worms there were special makeup effects, a worm puppet, there was a baby doll in [All Jacked Up]. I made all the props. So we had a very small art department for doing set dressing, but I did all the props. You know, I snorted worms to figure out how that was gonna be doable.
AP: That was our first task. How do we shove something up our noses in worm style?
BG: So I snorted some worms so we could make sure it could be done.
DC: Like, are you actually snorting [worms]?
BG: That’s what we did. Yeah.
BG: Yeah. Well, there’s a guy who really does it. And he was our inspiration. He actually snorts them. Well, he pulls ’em through and back out.
AP: He’d grease him up and get him so that they would go through your system better. Yeah. He would just manhandle them, too. Sort of like wetting your whistle. He was the inspo and then we tried to put it into practice.
DC: So what did it feel like to snort a worm?
BG: It’s really long. It’s longer than you’re used to having things in your nose.
DC: It’s a gross spaghetti noodle, but really big.
BG: Kind of, yeah.
DC: What are the rules around worms and working with worms? It can’t be the same as other animals.
BG: I think we just operate off, you know, we’re like indie filmmakers and we operate off the general rule of respect.
DC: They had a nice contract.
AP: It was a verbal agreement. Which doesn’t hold up in court, but they get it.
BG: I had a nice prop cart. It was broken down into different categories, different worms for different purposes. Different worms have different requirements.
And then I had a lot of gloves, a lot of hand sanitizer put my apron on, and just got to work.
AP: We were shooting through COVID so all the worms had to be clean because everyone was handling their own worms.
DC: So everyone had their own specified worms.
BG: Yeah, specified labeled specific worms for each person. We had, specific crumbs to dress the worms with to get them ready and slimy. So they looked like they had just come out of the dirt.
AP: I don’t think it tastes that great. That was specifically for that hot dog scene where Carol and Mike, who play Biff and Kelsey the clown couple, are driving in the van and talking about how they hate the world. And, Carol’s eating this hot dog with a worm on it. And it’s covered in, dirt, you know? So she got a sweet and savory combo thing.
BG: Another big part of the worm job was figuring out how to throw up the worms and making the vomit rig for people to spew out a geyser of worms.
Speaker 2 (06:17):
So I had hoses. That was months, actually, that I spent in [research and development] getting different size diameters of the hoses and different types of worms that we could load in the hoses and using different kinds of pumping devices to pump worms out of the hoses and figuring out how to break them up through the talent. So they could spew out a geyser of worms. I had to do math to figure out how long you want the burst of worms to be, and figure out, okay, a hundred feet of hose gives you two seconds of worm blast. So we would couple up three hoses together.
I have a shop that’s on the second floor of this commercial building. And now we need gravity to keep shoving them in. So I would open up the window of the shop and shove the hose out the edge of the window. Then I’d go up the stairs in my shop so I could have a span of 30 feet of elevation to keep the worms keep going down. It was a really big thing. Right before shooting, Alex came over the night before the big shoot.
AP: We were there for like six hours in the middle of the night after a 12-hour day. We had to get six worm hoses. That’s the thing cuz we could only do so many takes and we could only prep so many hoses of worm geysers.
DC: Worm geyser. There’s a new phrase that I have in my vocabulary.
Troy Lewis: Yeah. No, I took the cowardly out because I only saw the worms on screen.
DC: The editing was incredible and so nightmarish and hallucinogenic. So what was that like for you to work with this movie and create this vibe?
TL: It was fun. Before I came on as the full editor, the first scene I worked on was the vinyl scene which is right into the word craziness. So straight diving in.
AP: So in [All Jacked Up] there’s stuff happening, concurrently on TV as there’s acting. So I was gonna cut some stuff and then I reached out to Troy to help edit that. [That way] we could have it on the screen, in the background, in a practical way while we’re shooting the next scene. So we had to cut the ending of the movie before we shot the scene right before the end of the movie.
DC: Okay, cool. I love that. I’m a big found footage person, so I liked the movie within a movie sequence.
AP: We kicked it out to like a VHS tape and literally that’s on the tape that we put in [the VCR].
DC: So you really have a VHS tape with that on it.
DC: In casting, how did you present All Jacked Up to actors?
A lot of people are friends in the community in Chicago people that I’ve worked with before or we’ve worked with before. Or people we knew through buds. Ben knew Betsy [Brown] from a previous movie that [he] did effects for. Then Trevor who played Benny he’s in the Neo-Futurists in Chicago, which is a block away from our apartment.
We were all around each other and also kind of knew each other’s work. So there was a lot of already trust there. And then some people we found…a big call out. We saw people all day. That’s where we found Carol and that’s where we found Phillip who played Roscoe.
DC: So did you make the creepy baby doll?
Why did you wanna incorporate this creepy baby doll that made me deeply uncomfortable? Which I am assuming was the point.
AP: The way I’ve been talking about this is I like the discomfort and the weight that it brings to the movie. I think that’s true to my experience that I was trying to convey. It’s guilt and paranoia and anxiety expressed through this physical thing. That’s sort of monstrosity, but it’s also almost a goal, a horrible goal, you know, that the character is chasing after. So that’s what I wanted the baby doll to do. And also, it’s a horror movie in a lot of ways. But the horror part is actually that psychological element. It’s fucking with your head and your heart as much as body horror. It’s this deeply uncomfortable thing I think is almost essential to anything that you want to call horror.
DC: Yeah. I got Todd Solondz vibes from that. I was thinking, “I’m so upset, but I get it in a fucked up sort of way.”
DC: When you were writing these characters, did you like them? Did you ever feel disgusted by them?
AP: A little bit. I mean, when I’m writing them I try to live through them. I don’t know, I have a complicated relationship with myself, which I think all people do. But I also like to laugh, you know? So I think just living through these characters, laughing with them, and also living with them as they make these crazy realizations about themselves, I think that’s essential to writing something that’s good at all.
DC: With the baby doll, when you made it, how, how was that process in creating this very strange kind of central prop for the home?
BG: It was a dark experience because anything I make, I have to commit to the What If of it, like Stanislavski’s “Magic If”, to make it real. So I read the script and I was scared. It was a trying time, but the story, the script moved me and I really believe in the project. I really feel a very strong connection to Alex’s work. I’ve connected to dark material. I’m drawn to it. And I thought this is a movie that I would watch. So then it was just about doing my part to serve the project.
DC: There are so many worms and worm cannons, what was the most difficult part for you to shoot and to like execute?
AP: Whenever there’s a car or a motorcycle, those always were complicated because we were just a crew of five people. So making sure the street’s safe when you’re driving a billion-year-old van. That stuff was really hard. But also we did all the effects in one week basically. And that was really hard. It was insanely hard for Ben and also just for all of us to like achieve. It had to be really calculated, too. We only had a couple takes with the hoses and the tentacles. So to make our days and also make sure it cut together, it took a lot of care and attentiveness. But then there just were a lot of big asks. Like we went to the love motel, which was actually operating.
DC: I was gonna ask about the hotel. Was that a real place or did you design that?
AP: Our production designer who did a great job for the first half of the film moved to LA. So I rewrote the script and then rewrote it for locations that were basically already dressed like that place. That was exactly what it was. We just walked into an operating sex motel and then shot weird shit in there.
DC: That’s awesome. My final question for you is if you could schedule your perfect double feature with All Jacked Up and Full of Worms, what movie would you pair with it?
AP: Oh my God. That’s such a cool question. I mean, would it be, I mean it could be Street Trash. It could be Brain Damage. It would be cool to do Videodrome.
All Jacked Up And Full Of Worms is available now on VOD.