The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

whitewormKen Russell’s “The Lair of the White Worm” is indeed an interesting breed of film. Made in 1988, this film seems to be calling back to the horror traditions of B-movies from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Of course, this direction does come across as a bit cheesy, and it seems more like a tame vampire film without a vampire, but it’s the kind of B-movie that, though it’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, is nonetheless a playfully entertaining film, even if the actual horror is in short supply here.

The plot of the film is somewhat interesting. Near a bed and breakfast owned by two sisters, an archaeology student named Angus Flint discovers an oddly shaped skull at the ruins of a convent, and he believes the skull is connected to the legend of the Lambton Worm. The site is shortly visited by Lady Sylvia Marsh, and while various people start disappearing, the skull is stolen. With the help of neighbouring nobleman Lord James, Angus manages to find a link between the skull and an ancient cult that worshipped giant worm that lives below the Earth, and finds himself racing to save the Trent sisters from the clutches of Lady Marsh, who turns out to be a snake-like demon with plans to sacrifice them.

The film certainly matches the pace of an old-fashioned gothic horror film, beginning with a slow start and creeping toward a rather surreal and spooky finish. There’s no denying the originality on display, but just because a film has original ideas doesn’t mean that its totally effective in the execution of its ideas. The problem, as I see it, is that the film seems to revel in its kitsch a bit too much, almost as if this was being written as a comedy-horror film, but with few traces of either, and plenty of bizarre psychedelic dream scenes.

The acting isn’t too bad, and I’ve noticed that some of the films’ better performances come from a younger Peter Capaldi. I should also single out Amanda Donohoe as the film’s villain. In a way she sort of reminds me of Catherine Deneuve’s character from The Hunger, but I think she makes for a much better antagonist here, what with her subtle, serpentine demeanour. The other characters perform fairly well too, but they don’t make that much of an impact.

The special effects are quite ridiculous, and the nightmare scenes are perhaps the worst example, as they are littered with cheesy-looking special effects. I’m sure that’s basically just for the sake of abstraction, but it doesn’t work in any way, and just comes across as an accidental joke. While the nightmare scenes are a psychedelic mess, they show up infrequently, and the rest of the film looks alright, with decent production values all the way. It’s just a shame that the film sort of underperformed in terms of actual horror or humour, because I think this film could have been quite a good one. To be fair, it is actually pretty entertaining, but in many ways it fell short of what it could have been.

  • Score: 64%
  • Grade: C
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