Friday, October 23, 2009

Film Review: THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988, Ken Russell)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis (Charlie's mother on TV's LOST), Gina McKee (NAKED, CROUPIER, MIRRORMASK).
Tag-line: None that I could find.
Best one-liner: [throws Snakes n' Ladders into the fireplace] Rosebud.

Now, I've never read Bram Stoker's (final) novel, THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and bet that the finale doesn't involve a giant, prehistoric strap-on. No one would ever accuse Ken Russell (British madman, provocateur, and director of THE DEVILS, TOMMY, and WOMEN IN LOVE) of subtlety, and what he lays out here is aesthetically and conceptually astounding, and ranks among his best works. Visually, it feels almost as if the CREMASTER films were infused with camp: there's classical, painterly compositions; frantic dream sequences approximating 2-strip Technicolor and involving nun rape, the Crucifixion, and a ravenous albino serpent;

jaw-droppingly beautiful shots of yawning caverns and the tranquil English countryside; the disorienting grandeur of the fishbowl lens; and puppet effects that are at once hilarious and macabre.

Hugh Grant is Lord James D'Ampton, our snobby douche hero who faces off against an immortal worm-god with the sort of mild bemusement that only a Brit can get away with.

Peter Capaldi (LOCAL HERO, DANGEROUS LIAISONS) is our bag-pipe playing, snake-charming Scottish archeologist and Catherine Oxenberg (CHARLES AND DIANA: UNHAPPILY EVER AFTER) is our damsel in distress.

But stealing the show is clearly Amanda Donohoe (THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, Roeg's CASTAWAY) as our slithery snake-woman: spitting urine-looking venom on a crucifix

(I think even Andres Serrano is impressed), playing snakes n' ladders, perching herself in trees whilst wearing high heels, seducing boy scouts,

slinking about, wriggling here and there,

and sinking her fangs into a host of fleshy parts.

Yeah, this movie is ludicrous. But it's intellectual, too- surface imagery of white vacuum tubes, hoses, and other snake-like visual puns gives way to a latent primordialist exploration (á la ALTERED STATES) of hermaphroditism, pagan rituals, human sacrifice, original sin, and ingrained Ophidiophobia. Whew! Four stars.

-Sean Gill

2009 Halloween Countdown

31. PROM NIGHT (1980, Paul Lynch)
30. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)
29. HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)
28. SILENT RAGE (1982, Michael Miller)
27. BASKET CASE (1982, Frank Henenlotter)
26. THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983, Douglas McKeown)
25. PELTS (2006, Dario Argento)
24. ANGEL HEART (1987, Alan Parker)
23. KILLER WORKOUT (1986, David A. Prior)
22. FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991, Rachel Talalay)
21. THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, Robert Fuest)
20. FRANKENHOOKER (1990, Frank Henenlotter)
19. HELLRAISER (1987, Clive Barker)
18. GEEK MAGGOT BINGO (1983, Nick Zedd)
17. ALLIGATOR (1980, Lewis Teague)
16. LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971, Lucio Fulci)
15. THE CARD PLAYER (2004, Dario Argento)
14. SPASMO (1974, Umberto Lenzi)
13. C.H.U.D. (1984, Douglas Cheek)
12. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III (1982, Steve Miner)
11. SWAMP THING (1982, Wes Craven)
10. DIARY OF THE DEAD (2008, George A. Romero)
9. THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988, Ken Russell)

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