A long time ago, in a land far, far away, there lived an impressionable young girl with far too much curiosity…
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Sometime around 1990, in the cosmopolitan burg of Montreal, I was a sleepless nine year old who sneaked into the hallway and took a peek at the movie my mother had fallen asleep watching. In that strange and curious film there were weird songs about worms, people with near incomprehensible accents (to a kid at least), strange images of cartoon flames, a naked blue lady with fangs who really really loved someone named Dionin and snake/vampire/demon people…oh and naked nuns.
The next morning, I was pretty sure I had imagined it all. After a quick conversation with my bestie James (love you James), she and I came to the conclusion that nothing so messed up could be real; I was a total weirdo, we agreed, I must have dreamed it.
At that age I was fair certain that I did not have that much of an imagination, but I wasn’t about to admit to my mother that I’d been up late or ask what movie she’d been watching…rational reactions have never been my mother’s strong point…so I decided to forget about it.
And I did, for almost a decade the little movie that couldn’t be, existed only in very vague memories (and one mid-teens dream where the naked blue lady was chasing me through school…I was also naked and blue, but let’s not get into that).
Then, in late winter of 1999, I got a job at my local video store, which came with the supremely awesome perk of unlimited free rentals (we’re not talking blockbuster here, just a small local shop with a killer horror section). My mission was a simple one, to watch every single horror movie in the joint; funnily enough, I stumbled on The Lair of the White Worm in my very first week there.
As it turns out, I didn’t imagine a damn thing…
Loosely based on a novel by Bram Stoker (very loosely based), Lair revolves around two young sisters Eve and Mary (Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis) living in the small town of Danton, England who, with the help of a friend (Peter Capaldi…I think he was one of the Dr. Whos), discover a giant snake skull in their backyard. This skull is that of the mythical “white worm” which plagued Danton ages ago until Hugh Grant’s great-great-etc grandfather cleaved it in twain; all of that is explained in song, so pay attention.
Enter Amanda Donohoe (who for some inexplicable reason scares the heck outta me) as Lady Sylvia Marsh, an often be-fanged, constantly nude, amazonian (in height) worshiper of “the god Dionin”, which also happens to be the aforementioned white worm.
Coincidentally, this is where the movie begins to get a little, how do I say this…fuckety. Now the weird dreams with cartoon flames begin. Naked nuns are being impaled on spikes by…Roman soldiers? Um, okay. Hugh has a quasi wet dream about stewardesses wrestling on a private jet, Amanda kidnaps Eve and waxes (nude) philosophical about virgins and false gods…and then begins felating a very large, very pointy, blood covered phallus (of sorts). Oh and did I mention the dancing, naked blue snake men? Blink and you’ll miss them kiddies, so eyes to the screen.
In case I’ve been too subtle in my description, this movie is pretty damn fucked up, which is kind of director Ken Russell’s calling card…but holy crap this movie is fucked up. And although it’s listed as a Horror Comedy on IMDB, it’s not really scary nor all that funny, it’s just mostly, well, you know, fucked up.
Strangeness aside, there is actually a lot to like in The Lair of the White Worm, not the least of which is Donohoe herself as a scenery chewing yet wickedly fun to watch villain. Tall, dark and overtly sexual, Donohoe’s Lady Marsh is every inch the embodiment of 80’s excess. In glaring contrast to the rural lifestyle and colloquial speech of the rest of Danton, Lady Syl’ enunciates every syllable with haughty disdain, jets around in a flashy Porsche and plays Snakes & Ladders in thigh high leather boots and not much else. She’s a wicked, evil bitch but it’s hard not to love her, even when she’s spitting venom at crucifixes or sucking off big pointy spikes.
Despite it’s rough patches, this movie is soooo unbelievably cheesy and the key performances are so fabulously over the top that it is almost impossible not to enjoy watching it. Even Hugh Grant, who currently annoys the ever living fuck outta me, has his earnest yet dorky charm turned on full, and as such he’s a perfect contrast to Donohoe’s condescending vixen. Funnily enough, the remainder of the cast play it straight and without a hint of irony, which is perfect to balance both Grant and Donohoe; had everyone been hamming it up I really doubt the movie would have worked as well as it does.
And it does work in the end, almost certainly because of director Russell who, although undoubtedly bizarre, has been at the helm of many a classic film (Women in Love, Altered States & Tommy to name a few). In less capable hands, I don’t believe for a moment that The Lair of the White Worm would have been nearly as entertaining as it is.
It doesn’t make all that much sense, and you’ll have to suffer on more than one occasion through the wretched sight of Amanda Donohoe’s perfect (ridiculously perfect) naked body, but despite that horror (seriously just perfect…ugh), Lair is a messed up, kinda gross, somewhat naughty, boob infested funfest of a film that I totally recommend.
Oh, and no matter how fucked up you are when you watch it, trust me, you didn’t imagine a damn thing.