The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Directed by Ken Russell
Adapted from the Bram Stoker novel of the same name, The Lair of the White Worm is directed by Ken Russell, who also brought us The Devils, The Who musical Tommy and Liztomania.
The film opens with a young Scottish archaeologist, Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi), who is excavating the ruins of a convent in the front garden of a Bed and Breakfast in Derbyshire, called Mercy Farm. Whilst unearthing some unusual Roman coins, Angus discovers an animal-like skull which he first presumes is a dinosaur, then discredits yet is unsure what creature it could be. The Trent sisters, Eve (Catherine Oxenberg) and Mary (Sammy Davis), run Mercy Farm and invite Angus to Lord James D’Ampton’s (Hugh Grant) Ball, where he discovers the legend of the D’Ampton Worm, a man-eating giant snake/worm type creature that James’ ancestor slayed. Angus toys with the idea that the skull is that of the D’Ampton Worm, and is further fuelled by concerns when the skull is stolen from his room. Elsewhere in the village, Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), returns early to her stately home, Temple House, after being away for the Winter. Her arrival coincides with some strange goings on, including the discovery of the Trent’s late father’s watch in Stonerich Cavern, miles away from the location which their parents went missing. Who stole the skull and what happened to the Trent’s parents? And what links Lady Marsh to the sinister goings on?
For years now, The Lair of the White Worm has been a film I’ve absolutely adored and I’m so pleased to see it finally get a bluray release it has so longingly deserved with a few enticing special features to boot.
Taking a hint of Stoker and a huge dollop of Ken Russell craziness, The Lair of the White Worm is one of those fun-filled horrors that doesn’t shy away from the absurd – it embraces it. Like a grown up version of kids action horror films where they must fight and beat the villainous creature of their nightmares, our band of adult friends must too try to make sense of the weirdness going on in the village to discover the truth about the disappearances of the Trents and the legend of the D’Ampton Worm.
The film plays host to a fabulous range of actors, including a lovable Peter Capaldi of ‘The Thick of It’ and Amanda Donohoe as the sultry Lady Sylvia Marsh, who in most recent years starred in Emmerdale of all things! I was initially surprised to see Hugh Grant in this film, after all this is a horror and Hugh is known for his Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ type film work. To see him in something different is great and even though he plays a comfortable role in the character of Lord James D’Ampton, it suits him well.
The film has many funny moments, fueled by Ken Russell’s playful dry wit, and is not meant to be taken absolutely seriously, although there are parts which are so surreal and explicit you begin to wonder what kind of film you are watching. There’s flashes of nuns being battered and raped by Roman soldiers whilst a crucified Jesus figure is being suffocated and eaten by a white worm; visions which are so brilliant and bold, you can’t help but be hypnotised by them. Even though these moments are few and far between, they really add some pizzazz to the whole feel, and create an other worldliness, which is what the film is about. The story treasures its past, and you will discover what the D’Ampton Worm really is about.
The thing which impresses me is, whilst this film is pretty small and close knit, it builds a mythology that has no loose ends, and makes a well rounded story. It may not be a groundbreaking film but I was so impressed when I initially discovered it, I watched it twice in the space of 30 hours. Now that’s a sign of a great film!
Its visual flair, tongue-firmly-in-cheek humour and the mesmerising performance of the alluring Amanda Donohoe really grabs the viewer and straps them in for this weird yet wonderful ride. It’s so good, it’d charm the D’Ampton Worm itself!