Jessica's May Pick: Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Ken Russell’s 1988 film Lair of the White Worm is a trippy ride based loosely on Bram Stoker’s 1911 novel of the same name. It is focused around the English legend of the Lambton Worm, a giant worm (dragon) that terrorised local villages on the English countryside. However, in this film, the worm is a giant snake-like creature who is worshiped by the seductive immortal priestess Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohue). It also stars both a young Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi. Lair of the White Worm follows the same flamboyant and controversial style of Ken Russell like his earlier films Women in Love (1969) and The Devils (1971) with images of Jesus on a cross wrapped in a serpent, displayed among a scene of Roman soldiers murdering and raping scantily clothed nuns. Controversial indeed! Also, this is one of the reasons why I enjoy this film so much. As shy and naive I may come across, I tend to be intrigued by directors who create controversial films. While it can be called a black comedy, I consider this film to be folk horror because of the overarching story focusing on an English folktale of the Lambton worm, the pagan ritualism conflicting with Christianity as displayed by Lady Sylvia ,and the terror that is unleashed on an unsuspecting quaint English village.
My first interaction with this British horror film was when I was a pre-teen scrolling through the satellite menu on a Saturday afternoon looking for something to watch. On the Syfy Network (we had American satellite at the time), was a film called Lair of the White Worm. I remember clicking the INFO button and reading the synopsis that made mention of a vampire. This was early in my fledgling love for anything that had to do with vampires, so I decided to click on it. What I saw on the screen was not what I was expecting! I just happened to start watching at the point where Amanda Donohoe (playing our vampire creature) bares her fangs and chomps upon the crotch of the man she was about to give head to. I was shocked! As well as afraid of being caught watching this very adult film. So I remember changing the channel right away and listening for my parent’s movements. The way I watched the rest of the film was by going back and forth between channels, because I knew I was watching something that would land me in BIG trouble. So you can say that I never really got to see the film properly, but that one scene stuck with me for years!
Fast forward to Jessica in her early thirties meeting up with a new friend and fan of horror to discuss movies for the podcast we were planning to start. This was called The Dark Spectrum and was focused around a horror veteran showing a new fan obscure horror films from his collection. So when I brought up this memory to my ex co-host, who had an extensive collection and knowledge of obscure films, it turned out to be Lair of the White Worm! And after years of being involved in the horror community and learning more about Ken Russell, it is no wonder that imagery has been imprinted on my brain.
When I started to collect horror movies and expand my library, this was one of the first ones I sought and purchased. So I have a bit of a fondness for it because it was one of those images from a horror film that stayed with me for decades. It was one of those memories that confirmed my early interest in the horror genre. By secretly sitting and watching this controversial horror film, I had experienced an similar introduction into the horror genre that other long fans of horror had also experienced.