Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

There's something quite joyous about hearing about a movie and wanting more than anything else to see it, and when you finally do it turns out to be a blast.  Our subject today is just such a film, the utterly whacked out Ken Russell horror flick Lair of the White Worm.

Based on a Bram Stoker novel written towards the end of his life when he was stricken with syphilis, it's a genuine head trip of a movie that features Hugh Grant as a heroic (more or less) noble, Amanda Donohoe as a freaky vampire chick, the lovely Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis as the Trent sisters (Eve and  Mary respectively) who end up being menaced and a ginormous white worm living in a cave.

Let's take a closer look.
  • Before we start, a bit of background.  The story (both the Stoker book and the film) is partially based on the Northeast England folk tale about the Lambton Worm, a huge monstrous worm that terrorizes a small village until it is slain by a knight.  The film changes the name to d'Ampton but the background stays the same.  There is also an 1867 song based on the legend that is spruced up in a rather neat way we'll get to later.
  • The film proper concerns Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi), a Scottish Archaeology student who discovers a gigantic skull near the bed and breakfast he's staying at.  The artifact is shrouded by mystery but it has something to do with Lady Sylvia Marsh (Donohoe), the disappearance of Eve and Mary's parents and an ancestor of Lord James d'Ampton (Grant).  A nice setup, really.  It does what most good British horror films do, build things slowly and let the audience immerse themselves in the story.  In a way, this plays like a modern (for 1988 standards at least) Hammer film.
  • It's not often the legend behind the monster in a movie is told by way of a catchy almost-rock song complete with dancing.  It is here though, one of the many quirks that makes this such a fun movie.
  • Hugh Grant is pretty good here as Lord James, he balances the usual rich English guy (I'm feeling generous, so the upper-class twit jokes will have to wait till another day) stuff with a little bit of heroism decently.  On a side note, is it a bad sign that the best thing I've ever seen Hugh Grant in involves naked vampire chicks and a giant worm?  Probably not.
  • The acting highlight is Amanda Donohoe as Lady Sylvia, however.  Needless to say, being the naked vampire chick will tend to make you stand out but she really takes it up to eleven while also underplaying a little (it's a British thing).  She's not just a snake-like vampire in terms of appearance when she vamps out, she also sleeps in a huge wicker basket and moves in a distinctly serpentine manner.
  • The other three main actors are also pretty good with Peter Capaldi turning in a nice performance as a Scottish Indiana Jones essentially.  As for Davis and Oxenberg?  Well, they're very charming and very attractive.  In a horror movie, there's not a damn thing more I need.  Well, okay, they could be a bit smarter but really that's just nitpicking on my part.
  • I also get a kick out of Paul Brooke as Ernie, the lone cop in the village as far as I can tell.  Well, the only one with a working vehicle at any rate.  Never seen a guy with two lazy eyes before either.  That's gotta make the morning commute interesting.
  • The film has some really nice scenery as the filmmakers managed to catch the middle part of England in between rainy periods.  There's plenty of spooky atmosphere during the nighttime scenes and even the stuff in broad daylight has a creepy feel to it.
  • It just wouldn't be a Ken Russell film without some freaky visuals, which we get here in the form of some hallucinations brought on by Lady Sylvia spitting venom on a cross hanging on the wall of the bed and breakfast whilst in the process of stealing the giant skull.  I just report what I see, folks.  We also get a truly bizarre dream sequence with Hugh Grant on a plane with the three female leads and the missing parents.  Sylvia is there as well, trying to infect James and she ends up in a wrestling match with Eve. 
  • There is also a ton of sexual imagery, as one would expect from a horror movie involving snakes and most of it comes from Lady Sylvia who makes more references to snakes than most herpetologists probably do.
  • It's also not every day where a vampire chick bites a boy scout's junk in a hot tub after playing a game of Snakes & Ladders.  This is one seriously messed up movie in many ways.  Here, the vampires don't bite you on the neck, they go a little further south.
  • I also get a chuckle out of Donohoe going into a rapturous speech about the pagan god she serves...only to be interrupted by the doorbell.
  • If the film does have a fault, it's that the characters do tend to lapse into the usual stupidity horror film characters tend to.  It's not a huge thing but the time it takes for the connection between the father's watch being found in the cave and the cave's past with the legendary work comes off as padding.
  • Still, we do get to see maybe the first villainous monologue ever delivered while laying naked on a tanning bed as Sylvia tells Eve, who she's taken captive, that she will be a virgin sacrifice.
  • I've gotta say, Hugh Grant is probably the last guy I would believe swinging a sword around, bisecting possessed snake-vampires.  Not sure I really buy him here doing it but it is pretty entertaining nonetheless.
  • Angus and Mary sneaking around Sylvia's place is a nicely creepy scene, the fact that they have to fight off her undead mother is a nice touch as well.
  • I love Angus suiting up to take on Sylvia.  Not often your hero storms the villain's lair to rescue the damsels in distress while wearing a kilt and blaring away on a set of bagpipes.  I don't really want to know where he was keeping the mongoose he brings along though.  His showdown with Ernie is something to behold.  Let's just say Ernie won't have to worry about that lazy eye issue anymore.
  • The finale is pretty good as well with Angus racing to save Eve before Sylvia feeds her to a giant worm living in the cave.  During this Sylvia is wearing, well there;s no delicate way to pout this.  She's wearing a codpiece with a snake-like dildo attached to it.  I'd rather not talk about it anymore, if you don't mind.  James chips in by...Well, spelunking around the cave hoping to draw the beast out while Angus does all the heavy lifting, blowing the snake up with a hand grenade after Sylvia is dropped into its bloody maw.
  • As a fan of cheesy monster movies, I do have to say the snake puppet is pretty damn spiffy, especially considering what the budget must have been.
  • The ending is a bit of a downer though as the hospital Angus got some snake anti-venom from screwed up the order and now Angus and Eve are infected, as James finds out right before we go to the end credits.  It's a bit of a daft ending but given how bizarre the rest of the move is, I suppose it fits.  Still, we get to hear the song again so it's all good.
 The Lair of the White Worm is a trippy, endlessly entertaining piece of 80's cheese that's worth checking out.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.