It was probably inevitable that Ken Russell would adapt Bram Stoker's story, based on the title alone. "Lair of the white worm" as a phrase could be interpreted two different ways and this film gives us both options. Horror pops up, but there's no denying the sleaze factor of this film, although it's filtered through very British sensibilities and disguised as garden hoses and cave openings. Douse with buckets of camp comedy and you've got White Worm.
Mary (Sammi Davis) and Eve (Catherine Oxenberg, mmm) have had it rough recently. Their parents disappeared on the walk back from a pub, plus Mary's boyfriend died in some kind of piping accident. There's a Dickens/Sade streak to their run of bad luck, but now young Scots archaeologist Angus (Peter Capaldi) has arrived to dig up the lawn. He finds the skull of some thing, dating from the Roman occupation of Britain.
Oh yeah, and this area, Mercia, also has a famous legend in which John Dampton slew a giant white worm who was eating cows and wenches. That's his descendant down there, played by Hugh Grant. Grant would go on to denounce his horror past, much like Renee Zellwegger, and would also get smacked hard by karma for it. The actors are all pretty admirable, especially in these early scenes, where they have extended dialogue-exchange scenes that get practically Shakespearean.
My VIP pick, though, is Amanda Donohoe as evil monster Lady Sylvia Marsh. Donohoe would go on to a successful stint on the TV show L.A. Law, but spitting venom at crucifixes and dancing to Turkish flute music in her underwear had to have been her favorite part of her career, no?
Donohoe carries a lot of the film, since the titular worm stays in its lair for most of the running time. Thankfully, she's committed to the role and keeps a good balance between camp, sensuality, and menace. She was perfectly cast. PS I love that this movie has a Chekhov phallus.
Sex is prominent here, but it's weird dreamy British Ken Russell sex, like a super-fetishy dream that involves airplane bondage and stewardess catfights in the aisles.
The film, with its many concerns about pagan/Christian altercations, half-naked Catherine Oxenberg, the corruption inherent in the moneyed aristocracy, fully-naked and blue Amanda Donohoe with fangs, and mockery of local customs and awful British food sometimes gets a little fuzzy and unfocused, much like this sentence.
But don't worry, because there's always a bisected vampire or lines like "It can't be much fun playing with yourself!" to save the day.
Or a weaponized phallus.