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The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/31/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/23/2017

The auteur theory of film teaches us that the director is the author of the movie, and moreso, that they give their films a specific. This theory isn't always true in practice. Of all of the directors who have made movies in the past century-plus, only a handful truly fall into the auteur category. With these individuals, one can usually look at the visual style of the movie or search for certain themes and see how the movies from this filmmaker have certain things in common. But, how many of these directors truly put their own stamp on a movie? Very few did so in the way that the late Ken Russell did. This taboo-busting director clearly made films which were all his own, even the almost (and that's a big almost) The Lair of the White Worm.

Archaeologist Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi) has been digging around in the British countryside, on the site of what was once a convent -- and is now a farm overseen by Mary (Sammi Davis) and her sister, Eve (Catherine Oxenberg). Angus is surprised to unearth the very large, fossilized skull of an unknown beast. That night, Angus, Mary, and Eve attend the annual D'Ampton
Worm Festival, which celebrates the legendary slaying of a giant snake. Here, Angus meets Lord James D'Ampton (Hugh Grant), descendant of the famed snake-slayer. Meanwhile, Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) returns to her seasonal home in the region, Temple House, and begins to exhibit some very odd behaviors. As Angus does more research into the mythical D'Ampton Worm, it becomes obvious that Lady Marsh has a nefarious plan involving human sacrifice.

The Lair of the White Worm is two movies in one. On the one hand, we have something which could easily be a Hammer horror film from the 1950s or 60s. The discovery of the skull introduces the idea of a monster roaming the countryside -- an idea which does not come to fruition until the finale. There are gothic castles and a lot of talk of the legend. We have damsels in distress with Mary and Eve and the men who become immediate allies and work well together with James and Angus. (In real life, men don't get along like that.) Even Lady Marsh's headdress in the finale has a retro feel. You could cut out 20% of this movie, change it to black & white, and it would be a G-rated movie from 60 years ago.

It's the rest of the movie which sets The Lair of the White Worm apart. Having helmed movies like Tommy, The Devils, and Altered States, Ken Russell is no stranger to radical ideas and bizarre imagery. And while this movie isn't filled with those things, we get enough to remind us that Russell is behind the camera. The first aspect of this hits us over the head with religious iconography when Eve has an hallucination. It's at this point that you'll realize that this isn't simply a cheezy monster movie. From there, we get several scenes which incorporate blatantly crazy visuals with brazen ideas. It also doesn't take the movie long to let us know that there are a ton of sexual overtones here. While there isn't a true sex scene here (there is implied rape in Eve's hallucination) and no nudity until the finale, the entire movie is filled with sexual imagery. Russell does not shy away from the fact that the "white worm" could be a penis. And no opportunity to involve white worm visual puns is ignored. If there is some sort of white tube, it's featured in this movie. (I can't believe that David Coverdale didn't show up at some point.)

To put it very mildly, The Lair of the White Worm is not your average B-movie. The film is very loosely based on a novel by Bram Stoker, but it leaves any 19th Century pleasantries behind. The combination of a throwback monster movie with a sex-crazed modern experimental film yields a movie which is wildly uneven at times, but is never boring. Even though James' dream-sequence throws off the pacing of the film (and contains the most heavy-handed imagery of all time), it is still visually interesting. This film's odd nature have kept it from finding the audience which it deserves, but in today's world, where so many movies and television shows embrace weirdness, it's time for a new generation to discover The Lair of the White Worm, if for no other reason than to see baby Hugh Grant.

The Lair of the White Worm certainly redefines wacky on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate, as part of their Vestron Video Collection. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and a few, very, very mild defects from the source materials. The film is a study in light and dark and the transfer handles this well. The colors look great, most notably the blues and greens, and the action is always visible in the nighttime scenes. The image does not show that "flat" look which can haunt older films and the level of detail is fine. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2-channel stereo track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While we don't get a ton of dynamic effects here, there are some moments where things are highlighted in the left and right channels and the score never drowns out the dialogue.

The Lair of the White Worm Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director/Writer Ken Russell. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY featuring Lisi Russell and film historian Matthew Melia. "Worm Food" (27 minutes) offers (separate) interviews with Special Effects artists Geoffrey Portass, Neil Gorton, and Paul Jones. They talk about how they got involved with the film and then discuss their approach to the effects on the film, especially with a limited budget. "Cutting for Ken" (10 minutes) offers Editor Peter Davies an opportunity to discuss his experience with assembling the film. "Trailers From Hell" (3 minutes) has Producer Dan Ireland providing audio commentary over the preview for the film. "Mary, Mary" (16 minutes) catches up with Sammi Davis in a modern-day interview. The extras are rounded out by a THEATRICAL TRAILER and a "Still Gallery".

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long