Artisan // 1988 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // November 14th, 2003
"Don't worry, it's only an old fossil. It won't bite." -- Mary Trent (Sammi Davis)
Every town has its legends, and Dampton has a doozy. In the olden days of knights of yore, the local lord slew a turgid, pulsing worm. Years later, archeologist Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi) digs in Eve (Catherine Oxenberg) and Mary (Sammi Davis) Trent's garden. But he's looking to pull something out and not plant any seeds. Meanwhile, young nobleman James D'Ampton (Hugh Grant) thrusts himself stiffly upon elegant Eve, while Angus...
Okay, that's enough. If Sigmund Freud could get it up from beyond the grave, then The Lair of the White Worm would keep him going all night. Based on an awful novel by Bram Stoker (who wrote plenty of crap that was only redeemed by the probably accidental brilliance of Dracula), this horror farce was cooked up by Ken Russell. It seems odd to think of it, but there are almost two Ken Russells. One makes intelligently erotic literary adaptations (Gothic, a string of D.H. Lawrence novels); the other seems to embrace camp more readily than a college town Rocky Horror audience (Tommy, Lisztomania, Crimes of Passion). Both Russells are capable of making damn interesting movies (and very bad movies occasionally), even if they all share an obsession with sex that, well, makes you wonder why Russell has not yet directed a musical of the life of Freud himself.
The Lair of the White Worm is no exception. You cannot take anything in the movie seriously. Phallic jokes abound, from Mary tripping over a garden hose, to the local constable complaining about his broken bicycle pump, to the scariest strap-on seen this side of Se7en.
And yes, it is about a great white worm that lives in a moist cave, guarded over by the slinky Amanda Donohoe, who has as much fun as the rest of the cast slithering around pretending this is a serious vampire movie. But how can you take it seriously when Hugh Grant (who was born for the role of the facetious playboy hero) spouts lines like, "I like Mr. Flint's hole" (in reference to Flint's archeological dig, you pervert) or asks his virginal girlfriend Eve "how could you keep me up all night" (referring to her dancing, duh)?
The actual horror parts, including some graphic hallucinations of a monstrous crucifixion and the titular worm itself, are deliberately cheesy. And Russell has the whole cast play at full tilt, like the disco Scottish reel that forms the movie's would-be theme song.
Pity Artisan's release of the film sucks, and not in the good way (jeez, it is getting hard -- I mean, tough -- to write this review without every line turning into a double-entendre). The prior DVD release (from Pioneer) featured an anamorphic transfer and a wacky commentary track by Ken Russell. Artisan cannot even get it up long enough to include a trailer. Nothing. No subtitles to puzzle out the thick accents even. The transfer cranks up Russell's garish color palette until it nearly bleeds. And the audio mix is so flat that the synthesizer score sometimes buries the dialogue. I had to turn my stereo up to maximum to even hear some of it.
I have long been a closet fan of this campy send-up of vampire movies (not that there is anything wrong with that). The Lair of the White Worm can be a lot of fun, one of those silly movies that succeeds in spite of own excessive vigor. But Artisan makes this DVD release hard to like. Indeed, my rating for the film is not so much another bad joke as an admission that this film, although fun enough on its own, does not pass muster in this particular DVD edition. If you can find the old Pioneer disc, grab it. But do not spend any more than a rental for the Artisan version. Invite over a few friends and have at it. You know what I mean (*wink*).
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Lair of the White Worm Fan Site