Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Horror Of...The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Even though it is Spring, it's still an ideal time for some HORROR. And what better than a story that gets us out and walking in nature? A story about an altogether unnatural bit of nature? A story with sex and violence and a bit of Doctor Who to it?

So while I could go about in these ever warming temps and look for some snakes, let's look for a serpent of a different scale all the way back in 1988. Yes. It is time to delve into the rather strange tale of The Lair of the White Worm.

This is the tame part of this scene in the movie.
The Lair of the White Worm (which I'll be abbreviating from here on out) is an entertaining outing by the somewhat well known director Ken Russell. I'll be honest. I don't really know much of anything about the fellow. He has a certain style and taste, and it isn't something I seem interested in. So beyond the fact he's using a few actors that he's worked with in other Not much else to say about him. He has some curious choices as a director and does seem to enjoy delving (and provoking) when it comes to sex and religion.

And that does mean there are aspects of this movie that aren't for everyone in the audience. The movie makes heavy use of sexual imagery. Also violence. And rape. So, yeah, fair warning. It can create some odd and surreal scenes, but they are most definitely not for all audiences. And when he manages to weave religion into there...It won't be for everyone.

But we are delving into a world of worms. Worms? Well as terminology goes. We have snakes and serpents, and that leads into dragons and worms. Worms, or wyrms, is the Germanic and Celtic term for dragons and serpents. Dragons, from Draco, is the Greek and Latin term. Obviously, for most of us dragon is the go to terminology. Still, in this movie. They are worms.

 Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.
The dragon is ever a classic piece of storytelling. It's use varies around the world. But for this movie we are focused on the variety made use of in tales from Europe and the British Isles. There it has often been the eater of virgins, the hoarder of treasure, and the symbol of... Well, sometimes it's a symbol of a family, or a respected people, or a hated people. In Arthurian legend there is a dream of a great red dragon and a great white dragon in conflict. The red dragon was Briton. The white dragon was the Saxons.

And speaking of dreaded white dragons. The White Worm! The name of this movie is derived from a story of the same name, written by Bram Stoker. Have to honest and say that I have not been particularly drawn to this story. There seem to be at least some consensus that it's not a particularly good tale. But if you disagree, feel free to counter.

The tale is of a struggle over control of the Caswall Estate. There's a mysterious Ms. March (Who becomes Marsh in this movie.) who serves a giant white worm living in caverns under her home. And in the end the beast is destroyed in it's lair with dynamite, while the heroes face off against the creatures more mortal servants.

Stoker and Russell's works share a number of similarities. But the movie does seem to be a more entertaining take. The larger structure and certain archetypes remain, but a surreal and campy approach make for a more welcome way to spend your time.

Both the Stoker tale and this movie make use of existing folklore in the United Kingdom. Particularly, the story of the Lambton Worm. This worm was said to have been caught by the young Lord Lambton while he was out fishing on Sunday morning (which is a bad thing). He caught the worm when it was small, and ended up throwing it down a well. Time passes, and the beastie grows massive. And the day comes when the lord, older and more sober must finally face and slay the monster it has become. This is the background of the movie as well. At least it's the tale the locals tell of the worm.

Also a song about the Lambton Worm ends up making it's way into the film, and is treated as a song about the film's horror. The D'Ampton Worm.

Let's get to know our worm, and his mean protagonistic opponents.

The film's cast fills the movie with a fun sensibility. You have an interesting assortment.

"Have we met before?"

Angus Flint is the main character of sorts. He's a Scottish archaeology student who's in the area studying some Roman ruins outside the local Bed and Breakfast. He ends up finding an altogether unexpected zoological find. A massive serpent skull. From there things start to go mental.

Flint is played by Peter Capaldi. Now he's famous for being the Doctor on Doctor Who. But he also can be found in The Thick Of It, In The Loop, and Neverwhere. He's always an enjoyable actor to find in any show or movie.

And always dashing,

Having Capaldi,a Doctor Who actor, here is so apt. The movie gives us a monster, an isolated spot in England, quasi-vampires, and Capaldi as a science character trying to suss things out. You could easily pretend this was a weird 70's episode of the show.

"Clara! ...You changed your...sweater?"

And did I mention he's Scottish? Doctor Who will fail us all if we never see, like this movie, Capaldi In A Kilt. Kilt? Come on!

And The Proclaimers should be playing!

"Caw blimey...ladies."
The movie also offers us a young and very very British Lord James D'Ampton. His family is tied to the tale of the D'Ampton worm. It's said his ancestor slew the beast. What will the current lord do?

D'Ampton is played by Hugh Grant. Grant is a Go To when you want someone who is very very British. Sadly he hasn't really done a lot of horror. But he has played the Doctor, like Capaldi. In his case it was in the comedy special The Curse of Fatal Death. I do also have to suggest seeing him in The Pirates! Band of Misfits.

In this movie he is the very very British lord. Charming. Rich. Titled. And, a military man. He's largely following in the family line. He also has an odd dream/vision where the female characters of the movie dress as flight attendants and have a cat fight...Did I mention this movie has sexual issues.

"I'll drink to that."

Then we get to Ladyy Sylvia Marsh. She's the owner of the Temple House, which lies between the Bed and Breakfast and D'Ampton Manor. A curious and libertine person, she is our deadly feminine foe. A creature of the D'Ampton worm (It's name is Dionin, her god.). She's the priestess that oversees the creature, and feeds (sacrifices to) it. She also has impeccable fashion sense.

The character is great fun. A villain that is matter of fact, while also tongue in cheek. She has a job to do, and she has long enjoyed it. She has been in residence in the area since before even the D'Ampton family.

I guess snakes also mark their territory.

She's played by the always engaging Amanda Donohoe. She's one of the film's actors who has a history with the writer/director.

Her character is the most dangerous force in the movie. When it comes to the leading cause of death in the movie she either directly acting, or moving the pieces around, most of the time.

Her character is a vampire, of sorts. Much like Doctor Who and it's various vamps, the movie gives us characters with fangs, that feast on humans, and turn people with a bite...sometimes. Sometimes it just paralyzes them, so they can be given up to the worm. Sometimes they become a hissing fiend.

Ceremonial paint, or actual form. I have no idea.
Donohoe has fun camping up her character, with her overtly sexual ways and agenda to seduce and kill those that she needs to. A good menacing baddie is fun. And one that relishes their role in the world can be quite entertaining.

And in the role Marsh/Donohoe give us a character that is vamping it all up. She also is feeding us most of the altogether unsubtle allusions to sex.

Marsh seems to have been around since the Romans controlled the region, leading her cult in it's worship. And through the centuries she's continued in her role, keeping the old ways alive (And the old god.).

"If this was Midsomer, we wouldn't have snake monster." "If
this was Midsomer, we''d have more dead bodies."
Our other main characters are Eve Trent and Mary Trent, played by Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis. The pair are sisters who run the local bed and breakfast. The year before their parents vanished. What they don't know is that they are victims of Lady Marsh, who now makes use of them in her machinations.

And we should give a shout out to our other character in the movie. Constable Erny. He's played by a very good character actor, Paul Brooke (Phantom of the Opera - multiple, Return of the Jedi, Blackadder, Campion, Marple). He's the local police force. He first meets Marsh's return (She likes to slither off when winter comes.). He helps search for the Trent parents. And he is a victim of Marsh when he becomes a problem. Then he becomes a problem for the rest.

But it leads to this fight.

"You canna best a piper!"

As the story progresses, D'Ampton comes to realize that some dangerous force is at work. In part this is thanks to visions he has that, literally, connect the dots for him. Then he and Flint try various means to drive off and defeat the creature, and it's worshipers. Snake charm music. Bagpipes. Swords. Smoke. Finally, a grenade. But will it be enough to extinguish this millennia old blight?

All the while Marsh, and her ilk, are snaking it up. Punning. Moving like a charmed snake when the right music is played. Hanging out in sunbeds (Cause snakes love heat.).Going all fangs and red eyes. No local constable, boy scout, or local virgin is safe from their plotting. After so long, is this the end for Marsh?

For me, the way it ends offers up the interesting possibility of a sequel. A one final battle for Lord D'Ampton against the Horror the White Worm has brought his lands. (But that never came to be.) Watch the movie and see what you think.

"What could I represent,
viewers at home?"
The movie is not a subtle efforts. I joked to myself at the start of the film that a long shot of a large cave opening was an accidental metaphor for the vagina. Then I watched more and more of this film. From the vision of the destruction of nunnery to the dildo/sacrificial weapon of Lady Marsh...This movie isn't trying to be subtle in the least. They even play Snakes and Ladders (It's the original name of the game Chutes and Ladders) in the movie.

Freud once said (Or so it's claimed.) that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. This movie is an attempt to refute that idea.

You either enjoy the mix of the giant snake in the ground trying to get out (More symbolism!), the campy villain, very British and Scottish leads, surreal and ridiculous imagery, and some troubling sexual imagery, or you don't. I can only assume this movie is not uniquely divisive in the director's cinematic retinue.

But if you are in the mood for such a mix, this is definitely a fun horror outing.


Doctors in Review:

5th: "Oh, dear. That was awkward. I know that a snake god can be tricky to deal with..."

7th: "Yes. And vampirish creatures are tricky. But you just need a little belief in your companions, and a cracking game of chess."

11th: "It's all cool. Vampires are cool...Especially fish vampires...until you have to wipe out their species..."

5th and 7th: "You've got to lighten up."

11th:"Or what?"

7th: "We'll make you watch a Patrick Troughton horror movie."

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