Ken Russell is one of those directors who in theory is a genius, but I often find myself struggling with many of his films. He is definitely a visual master but often loses his way with the story, something my favourite director, Terry Gilliam, is always unfairly accused of. Russell is at his best when he has a solid story to back up the visuals, which is the case in films like The Devils or my personal favourite, Altered States.
Dan Ireland at Vestron Pictures was able to get Russell a three-picture deal in the ’80s, after the company was successful with video releases of his film Gothic. Lair of the White Worm was the horror film he was asked to make for the deal to be approved. It’s very loosely based on the Bram Stoker novel, which itself was loosely based on the folklore of the Lambton Worm, which was said to exist in and around Washington, a village between Sunderland and County Durham. Russell was far less interested in the worm or the original novel, but more focused on invoking the spirit of an old favourite of his, Oscar Wilde—his last film was a reimagining of Wilde’s play Salome as Salome’s Last Act. However, it’s not in the same league as Wilde’s wit.
The action was moved to Derbyshire, with the creature called the D’Ampton Worm. It’s a very silly film, with every shot featuring some kind of phallic symbol. An archaeologist (Peter Capaldi) finds a skull, and all sorts of trouble ensues. A woman called Lydia Sylvia Mars, played by Amanda Donahoe, appears and she turns out to be an immortal representative of the ancient snake god that locals had called a worm. She steals the worm’s skull.
Hugh Grant appears as the heir of the D’Ampton estate, and apparently, is pretty embarrassed about it. The worm was, oddly enough, painted over a Volkswagon Beetle.
It’s all over the place, and doesn’t know what it wants to me—a horror movie or a comedy. It doesn’t gel enough to really combine the two effectively. Still, it’s fun, campy watch. There is literally a phallic object of some kind in nearly every frame for the film’s 90 minute running time.
Special features include a commentary with Ken Russell, which was recorded for the older Pioneer DVD, and a second commentary by his fourth and final wife, Lisy Russell. Interviews with the editors, one of the actresses, and one of the special effects artists are also here. Perhaps most fun is a ‘Trailers From Hell’ commentary by Dan Ireland.