For reasons I will not go into when I first learned about Ken Russell’s Lair Of The White Worm in the pages of Fangoria (issue #79) it was during the personally bad winter of 1988. That’s probably the main reason I remember this movie in conjunction with that Fangoria article. Though I still cannot remember if I was buying Fangoria back then or getting it in the mail via a subscription. I know at one point I finally decided to subscribe because that meant I wouldn’t have to keep going down to the bookstore and checking to see if the new issue was in yet, I could just get the damn thing in the mail.
This is a movie I just knew I was going to like, and I knew it the instant I turned to the article and saw that giant snake on the first page. But it wasn’t until 1993 when I finally saw it. I have this memory of being at Saturday Matinee at the mall, the go-to place for buying VHS, and coming across the tape. It was never aired on cable, which I always thought was strange. I took it to the register and this hot chick commented how good it was as she rung it up. Watched it that night and I was right—I loved it! I had all but forgotten about the movie after that. It hit DVD in 1999, but I had initially ignored the release, then one morning, six months later, I was looking through my tapes and suddenly focused on it. I watched it the following morning and was surprised to see Hugh Grant in it. Of course he didn’t register back in ’93 because he hadn’t gotten famous yet in Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994). At any rate that revisit reminded me of how great the movie was and I ordered the disc later that day.
And now with Peter Capaldi having gotten famous because of his role as the Doctor in Doctor Who he too was in Lair Of The White Worm!
Full article from issue #79. Click photos to enlarge and read.
The movie isn’t quite horror, and isn’t quite comedy, though there is more of the former than the latter, and the comedy is quirky enough to not sink the entire ship. It makes a great double feature viewing with Hammer Films’ The Reptile (1966), and if you want to go with a triple feature may I suggest adding Rawhead Rex (1986), not for the “reptile theme,” for there isn’t one, but for the mythology of Pagan Gods coming back and unleashing holy hell on modern day humans.
Archaeology student, Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi) having gotten permission from sisters, Mary (Sammi Davis) and Eve Trent (Catherine Oxenberg), to excavate the property on their farm has discovered what he thinks is a dinosaur skull, but the location corresponds with an ancient convent/Roman villa. Later, in the same spot, deeper down, he also unearths a mosaic of Christ crucified and entwined by a giant, white serpent. His working theory being there was an ancient pagan temple here once that was overtaken by the Romans. But what does that have to do with dinosaur skulls?
In this little town there is mythology of the D’Ampton Worm, and how this great white serpent was slain in ancient times by Sir John D’Ampton. It was rumored to make it’s lair in Stonerich Caverns which isn’t far from the farmhouse. But isn’t this worm just mythos? Not necessarily. It may have been an actual creature that existed at one time.
On a more personal front Mary and Eve lost their parents a year prior. They headed out from the pub on their home and simply disappeared. The sisters have been making ends meet by turning their house into a Bed & Breakfast and surviving from the help offered by Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant) who’s just inherited the property and has now taken up residence not too far away in his new digs. He’s a pilot and fancies Eve. So, where did their parents disappear? They were taking a shortcut home that runs near Temple House.
Enter Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) who’s an immortal being with vampiric tendencies, more like a “snake vampire,” but she doesn’t need to drain blood to survive, or sleep in a coffin, or come out only at night. Her vampire side only extends to the display of fangs, crazy eyeballs, the ability to hypnotize, and to “vampirize” others she bites thus turning them into “low-level snake vampires.” Her venom can also induce crazy hallucinations, even if touched, which are the weird highlights of this flick. There’s three of them, two suffered by Eve, one when she touches the venom Marsh spit at a crucifix in her house, and another when Marsh spits it in he face near the final act, and one suffered by Mary also in the final act after being bitten. All three hallucinations are religious psycho-sexual acid trips, like the one below depicting crucified Christ having the “white worm” attack him on the cross as Roman soldiers rape a bunch of nuns. Mary’s hallucination is bloody and more psycho-sexual in nature as she is depicted being attacked by white worm pagan worshipers who bloodily rape her body with lethal, ancient, dildos strapped to their junk.
Marsh’s connection to the worm is never fully explained. We just now she’s immortal, and worships the worm known as the God Dionin, and that it lives in Stonerich Cavern having been trapped there for centuries, apparently growing in size all that time. Marsh occasionally comes back to town every spring, hunts down food for Dionin (seducing and paralyzing her victims) and then chucking their bodies into this pit where Dionin lives. But every so often a virgin must be sacrificed, and Eve is surprisingly that virgin, with all virgin sacrifices being given to the worm alive! Plus Marsh has been harboring a grudge against Eve. Since she’s an immortal being she’s seen the same souls reincarnate in different bodies and it looks like in one incarnation Eve was responsible for defiling Marsh’s pagan temple in a past life.
Hugh Grant’s character is the one who puts a lot of the pieces together, linking the discovery of the sisters’ father’s watch in Stonerich Cavern to Temple House, Marsh and the actual existence of this giant worm!
To add insult to injury Marsh may have given the sisters’ father to Dionin to eat, but she vampirized the mother and Mary comes face to face with her in Marsh’s house one night as they lure her out with music designed to charm a cobra.
Most of the gore and monster FX happens in the final act and it delivers, with D’Ampton cutting the mother of the Trent sisters in half when she comes to feast on him, with both halves still kicking about and rearing up; the sacrifice of Mary that finally gives us a really good look at this giant, white worm slithering up its tunnel, and the severing of one of Marsh’s hands by Angus as she hangs on for dear life to Eve’s ankle as they both dangle over the worm’s open mouth.
The movie even has a “twist ending” where one of our main characters has been vampirized, but didn’t think he was because he thought he had been given the right antidote. The lab calls and tells him the wrong was given to him. Whoops.
Pioneer Studios was the first distributor to put this on disc here in the U.S. back in 1999, when that went out of print Lionsgate released it, but without the extra features Pioneer’s version had. This January 31st Lionsgate releases it on blu-ray for the first time through their new Vestron Video Collector’s Series banner!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 high definition widescreen—2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English SDH subs only.
The remaster looks fantastic!
Extras included . . .
- Audio Commentary With Director Ken Russell
- Audio Commentary With Lisi Russell, in conversation with Film Historian Matthew Melia
- The Effects of The Lair Of The White Worm (27:08)
- Interview with Editor Peter Davies (9:32)
- Interview with Actress Sammi Davis (15:42)
- ”Trailers from Hell” featuring Producer Dan Ireland (2:45)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery (2:59)
NOTE: In lieu of this version not being able to get actress Amanda Donohoe here’s an interview Shock Till You Drop did with her back in 2015 regarding Lair Of The White Worm.
NOTE: And here’s a video from 2014 showing FX artist Alec Gillis with an old worm head prop from the movie he just refurbished.
Not sure how Capaldi rates this movie in his career, but I think we all know how Hugh Grant might feel about it. And if you didn’t, Producer Dan Ireland actually states in his commentary/interview Grant is indeed embarrassed by it.
I would also add Q, The Winged Serpent (1982) to that list of movies that has a similar theme. It too is about an ancient monster who also has “followers” who pray and sacrifice to it. In Q, however, the followers believe it’s their Aztec God, Quetzalcoatl.