Goofy eighties horror-comedy from Ken Russell, whose finest work this
definitely isnít. It is worth a watch, though.
THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988) was the penultimate
entry in a multi-picture deal Ken Russell had in the mid-1980s with the
late Vestron Pictures. Russellís other Vestron films were
LAST DANCE and THE RAINBOW, all made in quick succession, and all
superior to LAIR in my view, even though it has gone on to become the
most popular of the lot. A few actors from the other pictures reappeared
in LAIR (Sammi Davis, Amanda Donohoe, Stratford Johns) and thereís also
an appearance by a young Hugh Grant, who wears too much eye shadow.
The film was adapted from a 1911 novel, the final book
of DRACULAíS Bram Stoker. It was based on the myth of the ďLambton WormĒ
of North East England, and written, reportedly, when the author was
half-mad. That explains why the filmís narrative is so blah.
The studly young Lord James DíAmpton returns to his
ancestral castle in North East England. Around the same time a
prehistoric animal skull is unearthed at the sight by Angus, a young
archeology student. The discovery of the skull seems to tie in with
Jamesí family history, which decrees that a distant relative once slayed
Also taking an interest in the unearthed skull is Lady
Sylvia Marsh, a wealthy seductress/vampire residing nearby. She steals
the artifact for use in her vampiric rituals, the latest of which
involves an unfortunate young hitchhiker she bites on the penis. She
also spits on a crucifix, which when touched by Jamesí girlfriend Eve
causes infernal hallucinations involving rape and crucifixion.
James teams us with Angus in an effort to track down
the missing skull, but only after a tryst with Lady Sylvia. More creepy
hallucinations follow, as it becomes clear that Lady Sylvia has many
snake-like qualities--and that the tale about the dragon who menaced
Jamesí ancestors isnít entirely fictional. In fact, it seems the dragon,
or White Worm, is still extant under the castle, and waiting to be
Ken Russellís style here isnít as overpowering as it
was in THE DEVILS
or GOTHIC, but it is evident in the frequent use of wide angle lenses
and hallucinogenic dream sequences. Both elements are gracefully
incorporated into the overall film, demonstrating Russellís undeniable
filmmaking prowess and flair for campy comedy. Thereís nothing remotely
scary in this film, but as a gothic camp fest it works, with an air of
cheerful outrageousness thatís pure Ken Russell. Only the inimitable Mr.
Russell could get away with a dream sequence that casts the filmís
heroines as lesbian airline stewardesses, or a climax involving a
dildo-wielding femme fatale and the goofiest looking giant serpent this
side of Reptilicus.
That, however, doesnít change the fact that the
material is tired and uninteresting. None of the characters are the
slightest bit compelling, nor the actors who play them. The lone
exception is Amanda Donohoe as the fiendishly seductive Lady Sylvia
Marsh. Donohoe out of all the cast members really seems to understand
the filmís comedic tone, and more than fulfills the alluring sexiness
her role demands.
THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM
Director/Producer/Screenwriter: Ken Russell
(Based on a novel by Bram Stoker)
Cinematography: Dick Bush
Editing: Peter Davies
Cast: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Sammi Davis, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter
Capaldi, Stratford Johns, Paul Brooke, Imogen Claire, Chris Pitt, Gina
McKee, Christopher Gable, Lloyd Peters