Monster Blog: THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
A lot of actors and filmmakers earn their wings in horror. For most it’s just a stepping stone on the way to more “important” projects. Even Sam Raimi has gone on the record to say he made Evil Dead just as a way to break into the business. While I don’t doubt Raimi’s affection for the genre, it seems for others their stint in horror ends up being nothing more than a trivia question. Hugh Grant supposedly is still embarrassed that one of his earliest roles was in The Lair of the White Worm, which is a shame. Not only is Lair my favorite Ken Russell film, it’s also my favorite film Hugh Grant has ever been in.
Lair is loosely based on the Bram Stoker novel of the same name, and when I say loosely, I mean it. I highly doubt there were tanning beds or flight stewardess cat-fights in Stoker’s last novel. Playing with the source material like that can really peeve some people off, but not me. I’m never a stickler for faithful adaptations. I like it when an artist takes something that speaks to him, but really goes off and does their own thing. That’s precisely what Ken Russell was doing, and he seemed to have a ball in the process. Half the time he’s littering Lair with references to Oscar Wilde, Georges Melies, or Citizen Kane, the rest of the time injecting twisted humor in every vein possible, which is really the true appeal to Lair. Not many films have your lead villain seduce a boyscout only to inject venom in his loins and drown him in a bubbly bathtub. I mean, if there are others, feel free to point them out. I’m all ears.
Ken Russell’s real victory here is getting Amanda Donohoe to play Lady Sylvia Marsh, an immortal snake-woman that serves the ancient god Dionin (which is a giant white worm that lives under her house that she must feed sacrifices to). Without her most of the film would be a total bust. She delivers every pun with grace, and doesn’t bat an eye when she is running around with a sacrificial strap-on in blue body paint, in the nude. She’s what I’d call, “a real trooper”.
The rest of the cast does a fine job backing her up. Hugh Grant is charming and witty as ever, but his character mostly drops off the map in the last act, making it really the Peter Capaldi show. Which you won’t find me complaining about. Being such a big fan of The Thick of It and In the Loop, it’s nice to see Peter Capaldi in his pre-Malcolm Tucker days. In addition to those two, Stratford Johns has a bit part playing a bumbling policeman. It’s the kind of role he’s spent his whole career playing, so it’s no surprise he excels with what little screen time he’s given.
But the best supporting character is Ken Russell’s wackadoo visuals. Anyone who’s seen Altered States knows what kind of eyeball assault Ken can cook up. At one point there is scene of Romans raping in front of a crucified Jesus who’s chilling with a white worm, while the whole sky is on fire. He keeps these strange montages and dreams peppered throughout. It makes for great WTF moments , but it also serves to deepen the mythology of the film.
There are a couple of odd plot holes towards that end that still baffle me. He got the antidote when? Hugh Grant is in that cave doing what? But they’re little blemishes on an otherwise remarkably fun and kinda kinky film. Seriously, Lair has so many not even close to subtle phallic symbols it gives Alien a run for its money. Which is just another reason I like The Lair of the White Worm so much. Horror so often has sexual acts, but rarely are they actually sexy.
Posted on June 22, 2012, in Monster Blog and tagged Bram Stoker, Citizen Kane, Evil Dead, Georges Melies, Hugh Grant, In the Loop, Ken Russell, Lair of the White Worm, Oscar Wilde, Sam Raimi, The Thick of It. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.