The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

from Johnny Web (aka Uncle Scoopy; aka Greg Wroblewski)
and Tuna (Chris Cochems)

Two thumbs up for a truly goofy movie, with the reservation that this flick might be a lot funnier if you burn a doob before watching it.

SCOOP's comments in white:

Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula, wrote this story late in his life. It's about a giant white snake that has lived in a series of subterranean English caves and caverns since Roman times, fed by a cult of immortal snake-worshippers who bring it virgins. I'm not sure why the virginity is necessary. I mean the frigging snake is a carnivore. What's he gonna do if he shows up hungry and the high priestess brings him a tasty 18 year old who got laid once at her Homecoming Dance? Is he gonna get finicky and refuse to eat, like Morris the Frigging Cat, until he gets the properly unsullied Snake Chow?

Oh, yeah. The snake-people work exactly like vampires. When they bite humans, they can turn the humans into fellow snakepires.

Hugh Grant is the star, but he's not a snakepire. He's some kind of old money aristocrat with a Stately Hugh Manor. Amanda Donohoe lives in the manor next door, venerable Snakepire-upon-the-Moors-and-Heaths-and-Heather. She is a snakepire, in fact she is the esteemed Lady Snakepire, the aristocratic head of the snake cult, and owner of the world's only scary, rotting old castle with a built-in tanning bed. I haven't read the book, but I think Bram Stoker died before WW1, so there may not have been a tanning bed in the original story. Or maybe Stoker was one of those visionaries like Leonardo or Jules Verne, and could predict the modern world's need for tanning beds for vampires. After all, it makes sense. Vampires never go out in the sun, so how else can they look normal among their fellow sybarites? If they didn't tan they'd have to spend their entire lives in the company of Rose McGowan.

Surprisingly, Ken Russell directed this. Remember him? He's the guy who did all the biographies of famous decadent musicians who dreamt about masturbating nuns. Russell brought kind of a savage head-in-the-gutter iconoclasm to his best works, like his adaptation of Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudon, but all that raw energy is converted here into High Camp.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Russell's favorite gimmick is to look inside the dreams and visions of his characters, and he uses that schtick here to show a lame Hugh Grant fantasy abut catfighting airline stewardesses, all of which has almost nothing to do with the plot in either meaning or tone. In the campiest of the film's moments, Grant is doing a crossword puzzle on the plane when the evil stewardess and the good stewardess break into their fight. The pencil in Hugh's lap keeps pointing farther and farther upward as he watches the catfight. I didn't make that up. It really is exactly what happened.

I'm going to take a wild guess and say there weren't any stewardesses in the original Bram Stoker story.

Eventually the good guys manage to defeat the snakepires, of course. How do they do it? You won't even believe it when if I tell you, because it sounds like the kind of crap I'd make up, but I'll tell ya anyway.


In the course of the film, Amanda Donohoe shows her breasts numerous times, her buns, and something the right shape and size where her bush would be. Due to angles and lighting, it is hard to be sure about the pubic exposure.

First of all, they play snake-charmer music, copying a plot from an old Batman episode. Hugh Grant has some old 78s lying around Stately Hugh Manor, which is not illogical. What is surprising is that he just happens to have about a zillion high-powered amplifiers lying around. Apparently he was expecting to host a Metallica concert in his back yard. That Bram Stoker really was a visionary! Of course, Stoker himself preferred AC/DC, and he would often argue in the Astral Plane with Nostradamus and Dionne Warwick and the other psychics who preferred Metallica or The Dead.This plan works temporarily, but the snakepires have a counter-plan. They hoodwink Stately Hugh's butler and commandeer the record player. Those fiends!

The good guys then need to find another way to generate snake-charming music. They elect to use bagpipes. You see, there's this Scottish archeologist visiting Stately Hugh Manor. He has his pipes and his kilt with him on his archeological expedition. Scotsmen never travel without those things. The snakepires can't attack as long as the pipes are keening the greatest snake-charming hits of Roger Whittaker. Or maybe the snakepires just hate bagpipe music. I know if I were a snakepire, I would give a wide berth to bagpipers. I know this because I already give them a wide berth.

But the good guys are not content to simply charm the snake and his faithful snakepires. They need a way to defeat them. Although they are in the rural English countryside, they somehow come up with a mongoose to release in Lady Snakepire's estate. I didn't make that up. About 15 minutes or so after Stately Hugh and the bagpipe-playing archeologist found out about the snakepires, they had rustled up a snake-destroying mongoose.

Oh, yeah, and the bagpiping archeologist also happens to have some grenades. I guess he's a bagpiping paramilitary archeologist. He drops one of them into the mouth of the White Worm when it comes up to eat a virgin, and there you have it.

TUNA's thoughts in yellow

The Lair of the White Worm (1988), according to IMDB, and every reviewer I checked, is a Corman-style horror/exploitation film directed by Ken Russell, and most wonder why the hell he made it. They consider it far too normal compared to his usual work. If I saw it as a horror film, I would reach the same conclusion.

Several things about it are puzzling, though, if it is a grade B horror film.

  • What is the wormpyre (female villain) doing with a home tanning machine in her dusty castle?
  • Why the Snakes and Ladders board game, or a boy scout being the first victim we see?
  • Consider this line from Hugh Grant, "I see you like our local speciality. Not everyone takes to marinated earth worms in aspic."
  • Then there is the pencil getting a hard-on during the flight attendant catfight fantasy sequence.
  • When Russell solved the mystery of what Scotsmen wear beneath their kilts once and for all - a mongoose - I finally knew what he was on about. This is a comedy send-up of the genre.

Possibly I am bent the same way as Russell, but I love Crimes of Passion, which many think of as one of his lesser films, and I thought this comedy was hilarious. Two virgin sisters run a bed and breakfast owned by Hugh Grant, lord of the manor. Peter Capaldi is an archeologist staying at the B&B and excavating in the front yard, where he finds proof of a convent, then, lower, a worm skull and Roman coins. As Hugh Grant explains, "worm is an adaptation of the Anglo-Saxon 'wirm' meaning dragon or snake." Seems there was a famous worm slain by Grant's ancestors, and wormpyre Amanda Donohoe is a modern day worshiper of the beastie. Donohoe's bites can turn people into worm food, or other wormpyres.

Words like "campy" and "tongue in cheek" apply here. It is clearly not just a "so bad it is funny" film, in that it has good pace, good performers, and is a very easy watch. Music also helps to make this film. Capaldi uses the pipes to charm the beastie (until he runs out of breath) and the Celtic rock ode to the worm is a masterpiece. Taken as a genre spoof, this is a very good effort. I must temper that assessment by noting that the humor went over (or under) the heads of most viewers, and mant reviewers took it too seriously, so your mileage may vary.

The Critics Vote

  • Roger Ebert assigned a humor-challenged two stars.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed $1.1 million dollars in the USA, but it was made on a shoestring budget, and probably turned a profit.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. One of the truly great bad movies. Astonishingly juvenile humor, ludicrous horror, copious amounts of gratuitous nudity, and high-level Grade B entertainment from start to finish. Whether it was meant to be funny or not, it certainly is.

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