The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm ★★★★½

Hooptober: Legend of the 7 Golden Mozzies.


I'm not sure I can properly articulate why this movie holds such a strong appeal to me. There's something so eccentrically British about it, and that's before you even take the trademark Ken Russell lunacy into account. Actually, it's easy to compartmentalise these two aspects, because long stretches of this movie feel like they could have been made by anyone. And then you get those sudden bursts of hallucinogenic, campy exuberance which could only come from Russell.

There's an odd, very British sub-genre of television which centres around someone (usually from the city) moving to a rural area full of quirky characters and strange black comedy shenanigans tend to ensue. American TV has the same phenomenon (shows like Northern Exposure or even Twin Peaks), but in the UK there seem to be hundreds of shows like this. Lair of the White Worm is like one of these cosy BBC dramedies on bad acid.

Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi, both somehow staying upright under the immense weight of those hefty mop tops, bring a touch of class to the enterprise. It's hard not to feel in safe hands with those two around, which helps when everything else is so off kilter, not least Catherine Oxenberg's whiny dubbed line delivery. But no one can hold a candle to Amanda Donohoe - talk about a take-no-prisoners performance, she is fucking awesome. She throws out sex appeal like a human aphrodisiac and steps fearlessly into whatever crazy shit Russell asks her to do.

The overwhelming hallucinations that characters experience whenever coming into contact with the venom of the snake people are something I don't think anyone who sees this film can ever forget. Filmed jarringly in video, complete with oversaturated colour, crazy super-impositions and borderline pornographic levels of phallic imagery (at one point, Donohoe fellates a giant blood-oozing dildo)... all I can say is get ready for some awkward silences if you put this on for movie night with Gran.

Live folk punk shindigs, snake people with oversized fangs, earthworm h'ors deuvres, giant rubbery monsters, gratuitous spelunking - what doesn't this movie have? If you thought Coppola was over-egging the hallucinogenic qualities of Bram Stoker's writing, just look what Ken Russell did with it. Is there another movie quite like Lair of the White Worm? I can't think of one. Perfect October viewing, as far as I'm concerned!

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