Tuesday, August 9, 2011



Yep, I’m a sucker for Ken Russell films. I’ll admit straight off the bat that before popping this DVD in I was already predisposed to enjoy it. I’m pretty sure his version of “Lair of the White Worm” (1988) has little to do with the book even without reading it. Aside from things like cars (which it’s safe to assume weren’t around during Stoker’s time) and the gratuitous nun rape, it’s stylistically too much of his for there to be much room for the original story. And, not going into this looking for a loyal adaptation, I had fun with this absurd bit of film.

Russell is famous for directing hyper-stylized movies like “Tommy” and “The Devils”, both of which make a lot more sense than “Lair of the White Worm”. The plot is that, at a Scottish castle, the skull of a large snake is unearthed. Then the next-door-neighbor turns into a snakewoman and starts eating townsfolk, save for one blonde virgin who is to eventually be a human sacrifice for a large worm. How does this gel with his spontaneous images of nuns being raped by Romans while a giant snake wraps around Jesus on the crucifix? Or how or why playing bagpipes can hypnotize the snake people? Probably best not to ask these questions. I honestly don’t know if Russell himself knows the answer. As far as I can tell he just had fun putting these images together. In fact, he paid more attention to the visual details of the random scenes that make no sense whatsoever than he did to the parts advancing the story.

Can I recommend “Lair of the White Worm”? Probably not to fans of the book because they will not be happy. And definitely not to people who like their movies to stay linear. But if you like to look at strange things then absolutely, get a hold of this movie and have fun. Same goes for if you are currently intoxicated, or will be by the time you get your hands on the DVD.
-- Jenny

BOOK: The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker (1911)

Now I know where Dark Shadows got its start.

The book centers on a young, wealthy Australian who is encouraged to visit his ancestral British home by his Great-Uncle. Simultaneously, the inheritor of the nearby castle is arriving to take his own ancestral home.

Enter the Lady Arabella March and her hatred of mongooses. Her previous marriage went south and she's desperate for money. She intends to get that money by marrying the very eligible Lord Caswall. Our hero, Adam Salton, is in love with local girl Mimi. Mimi is very protective of her sister, who has drawn the attention of Lord Caswell.

Like I said, Dark Shadows. But this is a Dark Shadows where one of the characters can turn into a giant serpent. Unfortunately for the reader, that supernatural element isn't properly addressed; instead it's treated like a natural evolutionary development. Giant snakes would obviously develop intelligence and from there the ability to transform themselves between reptillian and human forms. Of course.

Stoker also drops the "N bomb" a number of times in the story, particularly toward the center and end of the book. While it is true that the term was more commonly used and often without intentional malice back at the turn of the 20th century, Stoker here shows some prescience because he treats the word like one of the most terrible insults available. It does jar the reader out of the story, though.

Most of the story focuses on the interaction and interplay of the main characters, followed by a relatively quick denouement. It's not a bad story, but it's barely memorable.

Three stars out of five.

-- Bill