The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm ★★★★

When I was a little kid, I was on vacation with my parents in Reno, Nevada. There was a weird little mall in the subterranean level of what was then the MGM Grand Hotel. They had a giant arcade, a place where you could take a photo with a real lion (a thick pane of glass between you and the lion that wouldn't show up in the photo), and...an alluringly strange movie theater. Already a movie nut, my attention was immediately drawn to this, but what were these movies? I had never heard of any of them. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was my first look at an independent theater. One of the movies they were advertising was Ken Russell's THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, and as a horror fan, I was especially drawn to this. Mom was really good about taking me to R-rated movies that were within reason, but I knew there was no chance she would let me into this one. The poster, the stills they advertised (a nun impaled on a phallic stake!), even the TITLE; all these things just seemed so perverse and forbidden for reasons that my little brain couldn't comprehend yet.

When I finally saw it years later, I couldn't help but be disappointed. I had been expecting the most disturbing movie ever made and this was campy, funny...GOOFY. Not what I had been expecting. However, seeing it again with a clearer mind I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Based on one of Bram Stoker's novels that isn't DRACULA (but really seeming more like something in H.P. Lovecraft or Clive Barker's wheelhouse), it involves the unearthing of an ancient serpent deity's skull by a Scottish archaeologist (Peter Capaldi), which is stolen by an immortal serpent-woman (a wonderfully scenery-chewing Amanda Donohoe) who is passing herself off as a wealthy noblewoman and eager to reawaken her snake god by sacrificing a virgin to him.

Add a then-unknown Hugh Grant (!) as a descendant of the knight who originally slew the beast, and his virginal girlfriend (Catherine Oxenberg) who is kidnapped by the serpent woman and dangled over the pit from which the giant white worm will soon reawaken, sprinkle in some awesomely disgusting and perverse dream sequences that recall Russell's masterpiece ALTERED STATES and some extremely unsubtle sexual symbolic imagery, some twists and some snake-bit vampires, and you've got a wickedly weird and entertaining film.

It may not be the movie I imagined when I gazed in awe at the promotional display at the (literally) underground theater when I was a kid, but it's pretty cool anyway.

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