Lair of the White Worm

Before He Was the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi Fought Giant Worm Gods in LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM

Main cast: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant

Director: Ken Russell

You ever have that movie that follows you through the decades? You’re not sure what it’s about, have no idea who’s in it, but you recognize the title and every so often you’ll see it listed somewhere and think “I want to see that.” I have several movies like that, and today I finally get to scratch one off my list.

Ken Russell’s 1988 Lair of the White Worm, loosely based off the Stoker novel of the same name, is one of those movies you have to REALLY want to see to make it through. It’s not that it’s bad, but it was 1988 and, let’s face it, Russell makes interesting movies, but they’re not always action packed. I mean, Altered States is one of the trippiest, headscratchinest movies ever, but there’s no denying it’s a horror classic.

So Lair of the White Worm deals with an archeologist, Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi, “Doctor Who”), who has discovered the skull of what appears to be a giant snake in the back yard of a cozy English B&B he’s staying at. He thinks this skull may have something to do with the local legend of the Lambton Worm, but it’s stolen from his room before he has a chance to fully study it.

The culprit is Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe, Liar, Liar), a local who lives at Temple House. She’s been away for a while, but is home now and, while a local girl, lives a solitary and enigmatic life in her castle. As it happens, Lady Sylvia is an immortal creature, priestess to the snake god Dionin, and she’s preparing for the return of her lord.

Meanwhile Angus, along with B&B owners, the sisters Mary (Sammi Davis, “Lost”) and Eve (Catherine Oxenberg, “Dynasty”), and local “royalty” James D’Amato (Hugh Grant, you know who he is) are deep in the mystery of the disappearance of the girls’ parents, which looks like it might have some connection to Temple House and Stonerich Cavern, a cave system not far from there. How all this ties back to Lady Sylvia, the protagonists are desperate to discover, before it’s too late.

I’d give this movie a solid 3 stars out of 5. It’s well produced, and Russell injects his flare for the psychedelic, but there are long stretches–at least they SEEM long–where not much is happening and the pace feels like it’s screeching to a halt. Somehow this 93-minute movie manages to feel like 2 hours or more.

The dialogue gets pretty silly sometimes and the acting of all involved is over the top, especially Donohoe who, while it feels like she was born to play Lady Sylvia, yeah, she’s having a little too much fun, I’d say.

Capaldi is strangely charming while Hugh Grant just can’t help reminding you he’s Hugh Grant and what the hell is he doing in this movie?

Overall, I think Lair of the White Worm is a great English monster movie, reminiscent of the Hammer movies of the 60s and 70s and whether that’s accidental or by design, it’s where the movie’s real charm originates. But it’s also got that Ken Russell what the holy hell have I gotten myself into and what did I miss quality that sets it apart from just about every other horror movie you’re likely to see. That being said, it does have those dull stretches that make you want to scream at the screen GET ON WITH IT, ALREADY, I DON’T CARE ABOUT THIS. So it all balances in the end, and what you’re left with is a watchable horror movie from someone who’s already proven himself in the genre, if you’ve got the fortitude to stick with it. It all pays off in super cheesy fashion in the third act anyway.

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