Ken Russell might be (rightly) held in higher regard these days as a truly creative one-of-a-kind but at the time of The Lair of the White Worm in 1988, it was most certainly not the case. The Devils and the censorship row that followed in the early seventies cast Russell out for the most part into the critical wilderness. Following the home release success of Russell’s earlier Gothic in 1986 he was encouraged to make another horror film and he decided to very (very, very) loosely adapt Bram Stoker’s final novel.
The plot finds Peter Capaldi’s archaeological student Angus Flint working on his own dig on land owned by Hugh Grant’s newly-minted Lord James d’Ampton. His ancestor, as legend has it, defeated a giant snake-like creature many centuries ago. Flint is staying with the Trent sisters in their house. The sisters’ parents disappeared without a trace a year before. Meanwhile, Amanda Donohoe’s Lady Sylvia Marsh has returned early from her ‘winter hibernation’. When Angus digs up the skull of a snake-like creature it will set off a chain of events that brings everyone together in a tale of vampirism (of a kind) and human sacrifice.
It was made for nowt but Russell turns that into an asset and doesn’t let it temper his ambition as he simultaneously tells an admittedly silly horror film (but with a knowing nod and plenty of humour) and comments on paganism versus Christianity, with a few sequences of the ‘outrageous’ imagery he had become known for. A caveat for those unfamiliar with Russell’s work is that you might wonder what it’s all about and very possibly consider this all a bit rubbish. But if you’re a Russell fan you should know what you’re in for and, overall, it’s a well-constructed, entertaining film. And the cast are great, with a seductive Donohoe the stand out performer.
The picture is sharp and clear on this release and shows off Russell’s imaginative direction, and the beauty of the scenery (cheap it may be but Ken could do wonders with very little). This release also comes with a good number of extras. There’s a lively, information-packed and funny commentary with the witty and great fun Russell recorded some years ago, as well as a new commentary with Lisi Russell and historian Matthew Melia. For featurettes, we get a couple of short pieces, on the editing and an interview with producer Dan Ireland. There’s a 15-minute interview with actress Sammi Davis and a 25-minute piece on the films’ effects work. Add in the trailer and a stills gallery and it’s a fine package for fans of the film and comes recommended.
THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KEN RUSSELL / STARRING: AMANDA DONOHOE, HUGH GRANT, CATHERINE OXENBERG, PETER CAPALDI, SAMMI DAVIS / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 26TH