Fair warning: the new horror film, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms by writer and director Alex Phillips, is not for everyone. It’s grotesque and chock-full of some pretty incredible practical effects. It’s gooey and slimy. It’s, well, full of worms. It’s a movie that will make you cringe, but you have to sit back and finish the ride because you don’t want to miss what’s next.
I was initially drawn to the film because of the name alone, but then I received this synopsis from Fantasia, and really, how could I say no?
A microbudget flick with a vastly creative design and twisted story, Alex Phillips’ debut feature All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is a squirmy trip into the depths of arthouse horror cinema. A cavalcade of upcoming performers, as flamboyant and daring as John Waters’ Dreamlanders, bring a vibrating excess to their worm head characters. Inspired by Cassavetes and Hennenlotter, Phillips delivers a wriggling, drug-induced creature feature nightmare, Trainspotting meets Brain Damage with a dash of Videodrome. Underground filmmaking at its best for a ride to hell. Become one with the dirt! Realize your full potential! Nothing is real and everything is permitted.
To celebrate the premiere of the film at Fantasia, I spoke with writer and director Alex Phillips via Zoom, and we discussed the inspiration behind the film, the worms, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: Wow, Alex! All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is the most batshit crazy movie I have seen in a long time.
Alex Phillips: Hell yeah! Cool.
PopHorror: My eyes were wide, and my mouth was open the entire time. I’m sure this is what you intended.
Alex Phillipss: Yeah, yeah. That was the goal, to make everyone feel fucked up and crazy while watching it. You feel it. You can get involved emotionally with it as well as getting your mind blown. That’s the goal.
PopHorror: The film has already been picked up ahead of its premiere. How does that feel for you?
Alex Phillips: I feel really lucky and excited. This movie was made on borrowed favors. A huge commitment from me but also from all my collaborators. We sort of all went in on it full force, but it was just a blood, sweat, and tears sort of thing. For that to have some viability with some company, and then to be able to pay our debts back and be encouraged to go into another one is awesome. It’s the dream, you know?
PopHorror: What inspired the film, and how did the project come about?
Alex Phillips: I’d been making short films before this for a while with the same sort of voice and literally the same lens that we shot this movie on. Basically, my life fell apart, and I wanted to use a project show what it feels like to have your life fall apart and put that into a movie. And not let anything slow me down. I found amazing collaborators pretty much right away. I went to my friend Ben Gojer who made the effects, which are amazing, and he came on as a producer. Then we found Georgia [Bernstein] who came on as a producer, and she brought the production company Full Spectrum Features, and they gave us legitimacy and energy to keep pushing to make the film.
We went through them and through other connections in Chicago with people recognizing that this was a story that was going to get made and something that we believed in really strongly. People came on to the project, amazing collaborators that committed their entire lives and just believed in it, even though it’s batshit crazy like you said. But I think it was partially because of that. I’m not interested in stories that fit a formula. I don’t think storytelling should be considered a solved thing. We should be experimenting.
So I go back to other movies that were messing with weird concoctions and try to keep that experiment going, especially since we have no budget. It’s like why try to play into something that doesn’t really serve what we’re trying to do? I think because we were doing something adventurous that people wanted to be on board. That’s how it all kind of came together.
PopHorror: Your practical effects are incredible. You say that you had no budget, but the level and the things that you did with them were just jaw dropping. They were really amazing. Was there anything that you were adamant about leaving in the film no matter what?
Alex Phillips: You mentioned the practical effects being amazing. Ben Gojer is like a worm wizard. He’s amazing. The baby that shows up in the movie, obviously that was a major point of discussion. We had to figure out why we were doing this. I wrote it into the script, and I wanted to see it realized, but it’s not something that you can just… People are like, “Oh yeah, that’s cool. Let’s do that.” You have to explain yourself to everyone involved in the project about why this is something important. And Ben, he lives his effects. That’s why they’re so amazing because he’s living through them. To find a way to talk to him about this baby—I don’t want to give too much away to people who haven’t seen the movie—that was the major thing that I had to push for when it comes to effects to stay in the movie.
Otherwise, all the performers are doing all sorts of crazy shit, too, and accessing emotional places that are dark and deep inside them. I think everyone in their own way performance-wise, storytelling-wise, and effect-wise, even camera moves. I pushed for using a dolly, which is basically really hard when you only have like five crew members. I, or someone else, whoever, was there to push this giant cart with the camera on it when we were in the sex motel. It’s a big ask, and I think we all had to work together to do those things. To answer your question shortly, I made a lot of big asks, and I think it’s a testament to everyone else believing in the project and also just how committed they are to making something cool that we were able to do it.
PopHorror: I wanted to talk about the baby a little bit without giving too much away. I noticed that when Benny first gets the package and he’s unboxing it, I was like, “Just show it! I want to see the face. What’s going on?” Was that intentional to delay the showing of what was in the box?
Alex Phillips: Yeah, totally. I wanted it to be an emotional high point, a crescendo when we see the baby’s face, and see… We’re piecing it together like, “What the hell is he so excited about? What is this?” Like, “What?” as he’s reading the instructions and you see the title of the packaging and you’re like, “What is this?” And then we get this thing at the end and it’s a realization for him as well. He’s putting it all together what he’s really looking for, and I wanted the audience to go with Benny on that journey of, “Oh shit!” Sort of an epiphany or a freak-out. And that’s why there’s a reveal there as opposed to showing it right away.
PopHorror: It was very effective, because I got up to let my dog out, and I was trying to peek around the corner at the same time because I did not want to miss it. I had to see it. You really got my attention and held it. I was like, “What is going on with this damn baby?!” How did you convey your vision of the film to your cast and crew?
Alex Phillips: The baby is a good point to talk about that sort of thing. My experience of psychosis or being crazy and paranoid is like one where you… you make associations between things that are not necessarily there, and there’s a lot of guilt and a lot of anxiety that’s built into all this stuff, and hallucination. All the fun stuff. I wanted to physicalize that feeling that is unspeakable and horrible and have a character actually embody it and carry it with them through the movie. And also treat it like a mission or a goal for the character so that the audience can connect with that in a real way as opposed to just explaining it to people.
It’s so gross and taboo, but it’s also a representation of how shitty it feels. That was my goal and that’s how I explained it to everybody. And also, just not being afraid to talk about stuff that isn’t… After you watch the whole movie in context, I think that it’s not telling people to go out to Amazon and buy this kind of baby. In watching the whole movie, it’s not propaganda to go buy a baby. It’s the opposite, if anything. I think people are afraid to talk about weird, bad stuff. But it’s a horror movie, and I think one of the major parts of a horror movie is making people uncomfortable and scaring them not only with cool effects but also in their hearts and minds.
PopHorror: Yes, I completely agree. Were any of the worms real?
Alex Phillips: Yeah, there were some real worms.
PopHorror: They were so realistic.
Alex Phillips: I tried to time the real worms… Movie magic. I don’t want to mess with it. I tried to make it look like everybody was doing real worms.
PopHorror: What is up next for you?
Alex Phillipss: I’ve got this erotic thriller that I’m going to shoot in February called Anything That Moves. It’s about this himbo basically, this hot, young, dumb bike delivery guy, who’s delivering food and also selling his body as he delivers food. He gets caught up in this string of murders and he’s implicated but trying to figure a way out of it, and it snowballs. I’m trying to stick to a thriller feel for the movie.
PopHorror: Well, I am intrigued because you got my attention with this one. I’m excited to see what you have coming up.
Alex Phillips: Hell yeah.
PopHorror: I just have one last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?
Alex Phillips: Ooh. My favorite scary movie… That’s such a huge question. I could try to be a smart guy about it or not. I like funny scary, and I also like really gnarly, fucked up scary, so it’s like, how do I pick? Easiest answer would be The Texas Chain Saw Massacre because it does all of that. The original one, the Tobe Hooper one. I love The Thing. But also, Mike Leigh’s Naked or Larry Fessenden’s Habit.
Thank you so much, Alex, for taking the time to speak with us. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms is currently in festivals, but has already been picked up by Cinedigm, and will be released exclusively on Screambox in teh fall, followed by Fandor.