In a statement buy, Cinedigm has snapped up all North American rights to what it describes as “avant-gutter psychedelic freakout,” “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” which is shaping up as one of the most memorable titles set for this year’s Fantasia Intl. Film Festival, which runs July 14 to Aug. 3 in Montreal.
Also billed by Cinedigm as a “transgressive splatter comedy,” the feature debut of Chicago writer-director Alex Phillips world premieres at Fantasia on July 16.
“All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” is then slated to stream exclusively this fall on Screambox, the genre SVOD service acquired by Cinedigm in Feb. 2021, followed by another exclusive window on Cinedigm indie platform, Fandor.
The deal was negotiated on behalf of Cinedigm by Brandon Hill, its manager of acquisitions, and by Phillips on behalf of the film. Paris-based Reel Suspects, one of Europe’s premier specialist genre sales agents, handles international sales rights to the film outside North America.
Starring Phillip Andre Botello (“The Art of Self-Defence”), Trevor Dawkins (“Easy”) and Betsey Brown (“The Scary of Sixty-First”), the subversively funny “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” is “a flamboyant, darkly outrageous new vision that mashes together retro grindhouse thrills with the squirmy depths of underground cinema,” Cinedigm commented Monday, announcing the acquisition.
Also arthouse in its mix of fantasy, hallucination, dream and bathetic reality, “All Jacked Up” turns on Roscoe (Botello), a maintenance man at the run-down Rainbow Motel, who happens upon a cigarette case left by sex worker Henrietta. Slimy earthworms worms slither around inside. “You can take these like drugs,” advises Roscoe’s new soul-mate, Benny.
Soon, now wormheads, Roscoe and Benny (Dawkins) are dropping them live into their avid upturned mouths, or snorting them up their nostrils, as they embark on a euphoria-fuelled rampage which spirals nightmarishly into violence and murder.
Everything may be dreamt by Roscoe at the beginning of the movie as he goes into a deep trance at a ritual arranged by his girlfriend Samantha (Brown). “I think I’ve just killed my childhood,” he says, when he wakes up.
If it weren’t played for comedy, and features a splatterfest of assassinations, worm overdosing and eviscerated entrails, “All Jacked Up’s” characters would often seem seriously disturbed. Benny begins the film listing the reasons he can’t become a father – “horny, on pills, mental hospitalisations” – but believes he can transform the pleasure baby doll he buys into a living being.
“I don’t have sense of what people want to watch so I have to stab a homeless guy or something,” says a whiteface vagrant who hangs around the motel. And he does.
“‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’ is not the kind of movie that comes along every day,” said Brad Miska, managing director of Bloody Disgusting.
“Alex [Phillips] takes viewers on a wriggling, bug-induced nightmare that will have them constantly guessing what will happen next. With a wildly creative story and chaotically clear vision, the film is part ‘Trainspotting,’ part ‘Brain Damage, and a whole hell of a lot of fun.”
“We put our blood and guts into making this movie, and that’s literally up on the screen,” said Phillips. “We got shut down by the pandemic and had to go totally underground, but it worked because we started out down there, with the worms, wrestling with our demons in the filth.”
“A product of the Chicago film community,” as Phillips commented, “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” also stars artist Eva Fellows (“Pushing Mongo”), actor-artist-writer Mike Lopez (“Master of Horrors”), synth-pop musician and filmmaker Carol Rhyu (“Loves Park”) and comedian-DJ Sammy Arechar – all burgeoning figures on Chicago’s cultural scene.
The film was produced by Phillips, Georgia Bernstein (“Snugglr”) and Ben Gojer, Chicago art department co-ordinator on “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” who oversaw special effects.
Variety talked to Phillips a week before his first feature debuts at one of the world’s most significant genre festivals.
“Babel” writer Guillermo Arriaga said that you should be able to sum up what a film is about in one phrase. What is “All Jacked Up and Full of Worms” about?
I think the most efficient way to describe the movie is to say it’s like a meditation on psychosis.
And in some ways a pretty realistic take….
Ha! Yeah, it’s a true story – an autobiography in how it reflects the shattering epiphanies and paranoid delusions that can come from a psychotic break. It’s supposed to be expressionistic. I don’t want to explain being crazy to you. The movie should make you feel crazy, maybe even go crazy with it.
When you mention dreams, one interpretation is that the whole film is Roscoe’s dream when he falls into a trance at a ritual arranged by his girlfriend….
But it’s not one or the other, it’s about how dreams bleed into real life, because they’re always part of real life. Roscoe participates in a hippie-dippie ritualistic meditation and wakes up, saying: ‘I think I killed my own childhood.’ Then the movie puts you inside and gets you down into the muck of killing his childhood. It’s his coming of age in that way.
That said, “All Jacked Up” is pretty grounded in suggesting why Roscoe and Benny turn to worms. Roscoe losing his girlfriend, Benny freely admits to himself that he can’t be a father….
Both of them are big losers. These hallucinogenic worms help them escape their anxieties and disappointments and fill the holes in their hearts. What loser doesn’t want some absolute truth to chase, a reason and a purpose for why their lives suck? And why do we even exist? For the worms.
The film is a classic genre blender, a creature feature, an underground indie splatterfest, an arthouse portrayal of mental mulch, and a romantic comedy….
Yeah, it’s kind of a romantic comedy with a love triangle and a talking worm. You have a meet cute with Benny and Henrietta, and then Benny and Roscoe meet even cuter, and then it all goes to hell with worms, worms and a pimp wielding a baseball bat.
And why the genre blending?
By working with genres and mixing up the tropes, you can make something that’s almost fantastical and sculptural, and all these other dreamlike [qualities], but is also grounded in images and stories that people have seen before so they can go on this crazy journey with you without wanting to turn it off or getting too alienated.
The film is also a recognisable mix in industry terms, part arthouse mix of reality and fantasy, part micro-budget American indie….
Yes. All of that was intentional in terms of knowing what our budget was and what we could achieve and also trying to make it a recognisable genre and not be ignorant of all these other movies that have existed before me. I love David Cronenberg films, but I don’t have Cronenberg’s budget to make a “Videodrome.” But conversely, I also love “Brain Damage” and Frank Henenlotter made a lot of his movies on absolutely nothing. I also wanted to demonstrate that we’re entirely capable of making things that look arthouse so people can engage with the work and not want to run away from it because of production values.
What does the Cinedigm deal mean to you?
We made this movie out of love. Everyone involved was deeply passionate. Also, we didn’t really compromise in any way: We made exactly the kind of movie we wanted to make. The fact that we are able to find a home with Cinedigm for Screambox and Fandor is really encouraging to me. It should be encouraging to everyone who wants this kind of movie because it means that there’s a place for truly underground cinema.