The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm ★★

Imagine you awake to find yourself in a darkened theater, with no idea how you got there. Then, the lights come up, and you discover you are in a high school theater. And on the stage are a handful of trembly-voiced, midwestern American fifteen-year-olds with stage fright, reciting dialogue from classic episodes of Dark Shadows using their finest, uncoached British accents, clearly having been given only the direction of, "faster, and more Britisher."

Welcome to most of the acting in The Lair of the White Worm, which is the most fake-seeming British movie that I have ever seen, which is weird considering that I know the thing is stacked with honest-to-God British and Scottish people like Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi, and Amanda Donohoe. I have to imagine they dumbed themselves down so that Catherine Oxenberg didn't sound quite so much like a luuded up Valley Girl.

In the British countryside village of Stereotype-on-Wot-Wot, backyard archaeologist Peter Capaldi finds some kind of a dragon skull. Then he immediately goes to a party at his aristocratic neighbor, Hugh Grant's, house, to celebrate the prehistoric slaying of The White Worm. Then there's a weird neighbor lady with a vintage Jaguar, a friendly demeanor, a set of fangs that would make a dentist dream dreams of Ferraris and, ironically, a taste for virgin wang. Something vaguely resembling a plot follows.

Here's the deal: director Ken Russell heard the title of Bram Stoker's other novel, "The Lair of the White Worm," and being Ken Russell, he thought, "PENIS," and proceeded accordingly. This whole flick is about snakes and wangs, which might make a delightful board game for the bent children of perverted libertines, but as a skeleton to hang a major motion picture on, it's a little shaky.

This flick does have a couple of things going for it, and most of them are Amanda Donohoe, who is obviously just having the time of her life playing a dork-crazed snake lady, making a meal out of Russell's ham-fisted double-entendre that he passes for dialogue. She's game as hell, mincing about with the ridiculous fangs and silly costumes, and dancing like a baffled snake whenever anyone plays harmonica, the bagpipes, or the Dropkick Murphys. Donohoe's all in for this movie, and that spirit keeps the movie out of the gutter it so desperately want to wallow in.

Another positive winds up being the appearances of Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi, almost in spite of themselves. Grant is playing Hugh Grant: a non-offensive English cad who fancies himself a ladies man, but who would go whimpering and fetal after fifteen minutes with Tommy Lee. And then there's Capaldi, who looks remarkably like Grant in this movie, and yet now has more wrinkles than Tom Baker's sack. If there was a victim of vampirism in this thing, it was Capaldi. No wonder he soon became known for angrily shouting profanity whenever a camera was around. But still, seeing those guys in their infancy was kinda fun, even though I suspect Hugh Grant would rather see his name in another story about Devine Brown than anything about this flick.

Beyond that? Hot mess, man. Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis might've been easy on the eyes in 1988, but if I witnessed someone cut their legs off, I wouldn't believe them if they told me they needed a ride. These are women from England, and I honestly believed they were Americans who were cast by gobbling some producer or another until I Googled it.

The special effects are dicey - the sudden cuts to low-fi video footage to demonstrate hallucinations is interesting visually, except Russell uses these sequences to showcase special effects that just look terrible in VHS - and there's a twist ending that's just completely unearned. It's just a trainwreck... and yet, it is a somewhat entertaining one, thanks to the casting. I wouldn't go into this sober - God knows I didn't - but thanks to one or two people saying, "Fuck it, I'm gonna have a good time earning this empty paycheck," you can have a halfway decent time with it.

Rob liked these reviews