The Lair of the White Worm

1988 horror movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: After the current Doctor Who Doctor finds an odd-shaped skull, a sexy lady with an affinity for Chutes and Ladders starts acting crazy. It turns out that she worships some giant worm that she's attempting to resurrect. Luckily, Hugh Grant's around to act charming and put a stop to it.

I have a love/hate relationship with the work of Ken Russell. I always feel that I should like him a lot better than I do. It's sort of the same feelings I have about David Cronenberg. I did like this slice of craziness a bit though, mostly because of the endless onslaught of phallic symbols. There are these great little moments in Russell's movies where he becomes a little unhinged and throws a scene in that can only be described as a scene you'd see in a Ken Russell movie, like a more hectic Kenneth Anger or something. Here, it's a wild scene featuring the raping of nuns beneath a crucified Christ hallucination guaranteed to make any Christian willing to see a movie called Lair of the White Worm unhappy. The effects are a little dated, probably even for the late-80s, but that only adds to the charm.

I almost fell in love with the villainess played by Amanda Donohoe, and that was before a wild sequence in which she's topless and sports an absurdly gigantic pointed codpiece. There's a cartoonish seductiveness to the performance that I thought worked perfectly, and a scene where she lures a Boy Scout to her home to play Chutes and Ladders (but a weird English version with snakes instead of chutes, something America wouldn't stand for because snakes are obviously the devil and could make Chutes and Ladders a gateway board game to something truly evil like Dungeons and Dragons); does a little seductive dance in her lingerie, the perfect wardrobe for a spirited game of Chutes and Ladders if you ask me; and then gets her guest to play the mouth harp, alluded to earlier in a double-entendre-stuffed dialogue. She then bathes him, bites him, and criticizes his body odor and halitosis before dunking him in the water with her foot. That's what I call a date! She's also watching a Melies short ("The Brahmin and the Butterfly") on television at one point, so I think we'd have a lot in common. I also taste good!

Hugh Grant's in there, too, acting simultaneously foppish and heroic. There's one scene where he has a dead man for an erection because yes, in a Ken Russell movie, even a corpse is a phallic symbol. A young Peter Capaldi brings his eyebrows and his bagpipe skills although the bagpipe scene is almost silly enough to ruin the entire movie. It's like Capaldi came to the set with them one day and said, "Hey, I can play this. Want to try to work it into the script somehow?" and everybody just went along with it because he hypnotized them with his eyes. The fact that he apparently needed to put on a kilt to really get those bagpipes going is a little comical, but I reckon it's an intentional joke. It makes as much sense as a scene where they play a record of snake charming music--because most people have those around--although I can't criticize that scene because of how excited the butler gets when recalling belly dancers.

So a few wild scenes and a director and performers having a little fun with the horror genre make this worth viewing even if it doesn't make much sense. The movie's so obviously about sex--and maybe the clash between religion and sex--that it keeps things nice and juicy. I with I would have caught it when it came out because I was probably the perfect age for this sort of avant-garde raunch.

Apparently, this is based on a Bram Stoker book.

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