While super-brained sharks patrol our beaches and killer grizzlies stalk our woods, worms have sort of slipped under the nightmare-inducing pop culture radar. Well, no more. We thought it was high time to celebrate these limbless creepy crawlies, because let’s be honest — while few of us will ever be eaten by a rampaging tiger, we’re all going to end up as worm food someday.
10. Dr. Worm, They Might Be Giants
When it comes to creeping us out, slimy slugs tend to beat cartoon creations, but this little worm, an animated version of the They Might Be Giants song, managed to make our skin crawl by just slapping some skins. He may not seem scary at first, with his baby eyes and mini head mirror, but just watch the video. This little man is more stalker than invertebrate, refusing to let the group of ’90s kids he’s following get away without doing a little dance for his own amusement. He’s the ultimate earworm — burrowing into our brains can’t be far behind.
9. The Slurm Queen, Futurama
Imagine finding that your favorite soft drink was less a secret recipe, and more a secretion from a giant worm’s anus. Would that stop you from enjoying its sugary goodness? Not if your Fry, the hopelessly Slurm-addicted delivery driver from Futurama, who seems incapable of quitting his soda habit even after he finds out it comes from the hind quarters of a Wormulon Queen.
8. Just a Worm, Labyrinth
Sure, this little fella isn’t the most terrifying worm on the list, but he is the most frustrating. Frankly, this little bastard turns out to be completely useless when it counts, offering “directions” to Sara (Jennifer Connelly) in the Labyrinth that play out like Siri on crank. And if anyone out there has ever followed their Waze app through a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night, you know that the road away from the Goblin King’s castle is often paved with good intentions.
7. Jeff, Men in Black II
The worst thing about your morning commute, Jeff the subway stalking slug doesn’t seem like such a bad guy, unless you piss him off. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Agents Jay and Tee did in this Men in Black sequel, quickly discovering that sometimes a delayed train is better than a devoured one.
6. The Long One, Slither
The Long One is a parasitic alien hell-bent on infesting and devouring any life form it comes across. It takes many shapes and forms, but none are freakier than the wiggly worms that will stop at nothing to crawl inside your brain. And trust us, you do not want to know where these worms come from.
5. Sandworm, Beetlejuice
Tim Burton, master of gothic whimsy, put his own spin on the wicked worm in his 1988 hit Beetlejuice. When recently deceased ghosts Barbara and Adam try to leave the house they’ve been bound to, they stumble onto an otherworldly desert world populated by carnivorous worms. It’s clearly a tip of the hat to a movie we have coming up on the list, but with Burton’s distinctive style, he creates a monster all his own.
4. Flukeman, The X-Files
Agents Mulder and Scully came across all kinds of creepy crawlies over the years, but none made as much of an impression as this Season 2 monster, who popped up on screen for mere seconds. A mutant flukeworm born out of the toxic soup that was Chernobyl, this monstrous worm now travels the world infecting human hosts in a desperate attempt to reproduce. If truths like this are out there, we’ll just stay home.
3. Graboids, Tremors
These killers from below have now starred in five movies and a TV series, and are still coming back for more. There’s buzz that Kevin Bacon himself is in talks to front a new TV series, in which he’ll take on these sand slugs once and for all. With their claw-like mouths and phallic tongues, these hellacious helminths made us afraid of the ground beneath us. (Click here to see all airings of the Tremors movies on IFC.)
2. Exogorth or Space Slugs, The Empire Strikes Back
What could possibly be more terrifying than hiding from a bunch of Space Nazis in a cave, only to realize that “this is no cave”? When your choices are die by Imperial hands or hide in the stomach of a space slug, a rock and hard place sounds like a vacation. Fortunately, Han and the gang were flying in the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.
1. Sandworm, Dune
The Sandworms, or Shai-Hulud, from the Dune novel and film are worshipped as “the earth deity of Fremen hearth superstitions.” Basically, these worms are the word of God made manifest, and they’re also pretty freaking cool. Just don’t piss them off. The humans of Dune may be obsessed with devouring the spice, but these sandworms are more than happy devouring us.