The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
By: CJ on November 7, 2002  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Magna Pacific (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 93 minutes
The Movie
Director: Ken Russel
Starring: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi and Sammi Davis.
Screenplay: Ken Russel from the novel by Bram Stoker
Music:Stanislas Syrewicz
Country: UK
Based on the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker (creator of Dracula) the story opens with Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi) uncovering a strange looking skull in the grounds of a rural British farmhouse where he is engaged in an archaeological dig. The farmhouse is home to the Trent sisters, who have granted Angus permission to conduct his research on their grounds as he believed it to have once been an old Roman settlement. The finding of the skull was not something he expected and he starts to investigate the local legend of the White Worm - which is actually more akin to a serpent or dragon rather than the common earthworm.

Enter Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) who, upon learning of the discovery of the skull, goes to the farmhouse and steals it. Apparently she is a worshipper of the worm god and wants the skull in order to conduct a ceremony to revive the legendary worm, which lays dormant in one of the nearby caves. But she has a nemesis in the form of Lord James D'Ampton (Hugh Grant), whose ancestor is the worm slayer of local legend.

A battle of wits ensues, with Lady Marsh kidnapping the Trent girls in order to perform her heinous rituals, leaving a kilted Angus Flint (who plays the bagpipes to charm the vampire-creatures!) and Lord D'Ampton to rescue the girls, slay the resurrected White Worm and its mistress, and generally save the day.

Ken Russel directs with his usual flamboyance, but somehow seems to completely miss the mark with this one. He directs with far more convention than usual, but still manages to throw in some of his trademark surrealism at various points throughout the film. Sadly, the film as a whole just doesn't work. The acting is stilted (and not very good really) with only Donohoe bringing any credibility to her role. Overall I found the characters rather shallow and one-dimensional and by the finale couldn't give a toss what happened to them, to be honest. Would you trust a bag-piping, kilt-wearing Scot and a lame-looking Hugh Grant to save you from the powers of evil? Not me!

The uneasy mix of English whimsy, vampirism, folklore and surrealistic imagery just never come together as a cohesive whole. The film does have its moments, however, particularly the sequence where Lady Marsh takes home the Boy Scout and offers him oral sex - not an offer you should take up from a snake-like vampire creature.

It's an odd film for sure, but I found it tedious for the most part, despite the fact that the subject material should have made for a genuinely unique and interesting film. Ken Russel is definitely not suited to the horror genre, what with this and the appalling Gothic, I think we can safely say that Ken should leave well alone.

I'm not going to say this a bad film, as such, because I think many people will find much to enjoy here, but I really didn't like it at all unfortunately. Possibly one for Hugh Grant completists..?
The disc boasts a very nice anamorphic transfer, it's free of any defects or print damage with stable colour throughout. Very little grain is evident and overall looks very good. Not quite in the league of new Blockbuster releases - but never the less is a fine transfer.
An unexceptional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is provided, which is more than adequate for the presentation. The dialogue is crisp and clear and the music is reproduced with decent enough fidelity. If you're expecting some impressive audio dynamics, then you'll be sorely disappointed, but as it stands, it's a perfectly acceptable audio presentation.
Extra Features
None. No, I really mean none. Nothing at all. Unless you count scene selection as an extra. It's a shame really as its R1 counterpart had a Russel commentary and some other features, which are not present here.
The Verdict
As I've already said, I really didn't enjoy this at all. I found it tedious and boring with very little of interest in it for me. The film just never seemed to be able to make up its mind what it wanted to be and suffered as a result. Ken Russel really isn't very good with this kind of material in my opinion and should leave well alone. I think there is a definitely an appreciative audience for this out there somewhere, but it did absolutely nothing for me. However, having said that, Amanda Donohoe is outstanding and it's almost worth enduring the rest of the film just to see her performance. Bagpipe snake charming indeed!
Movie Score
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