ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, DEC. 2, 1988
By Steve Newton
Ken Russell, the man who blew minds with his hallucinatory Altered States and then twisted them with his erotically charged psycho-sexual drama Crimes of Passion, has really gone out of his way to freak people out this time.
With The Lair of the White Worm, a film loosely based on an obscure novel by Dracula author Bram Stoker, the controversial filmmaker comes up with a totally strange, gore-drenched horror/comedy about ancient pagan rituals that leaves you with only one certain thought in your head: that Ken Russell is one very bent fellow.
The plot of this bizarre excursion into Russell’s fantasyland revolves around a prehistoric skull of indeterminate species that is unearthed by Scottish archeologist Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi). Flint is visiting the small village of Derbyshire, England, as the guest of sisters Mary and Eve Trent (Sammi Davis and former Vogue model Catherine Oxenberg), who were orphaned when their parents mysteriously vanished at nearby Stone Rigg Cavern.
Not far away in a sinister Gothic mansion lives Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe of Castaway), a sensuous, slithery beauty with vampiric tendencies whose job it is to sacrifice virgins to her snake god, the White Worm. In her spare time she enjoys playing Snakes and Ladders and sinking her curved fangs into the private parts of young boys.
When Lady Sylvia steals the mysterious skull, the desire of the others to find its connection to the disappearances leads them into all manner of danger. Lucky for them, most of the really nasty things that happen occur during wild hallucination scenes–ones that feature such unpleasant images as nuns being raped by soldiers and then impaled on sharp spikes (as if Russell didn’t squeeze enough nun-bashing into his rude ‘n’ crude 1971 feature The Devils).
The low-budget ($2-million) Lair of the White Worm is basically a take-off on the classic horror films, in the same way that Monty Python’s The Holy Grail was a take-off on the knightly adventure, and as such it would probably appeal to the same sort of crowd.