Thursday, September 15, 2011

Notting Worm

I’ve never thought myself to be much of a Hugh Grant fan (namely because the man spent enough time with Elizabeth The Demon Hurley to probably be one knicker in hell already). But put him in a Ken Russell-directed horror film about ancient worm things where the fluffy Brit gets to make jokes about how his slutty maids should be wearing ancient chastity belts, and I’m kind of sold.
Quick Plot: A young Scottish archaeologist-in-training named (of course) Angus is sifting through the yard of a quaint bed and breakfast run by sisters Eve and Mary. The ladies have been spending the summer searching for their missing parents, while Angus is all about excavating a dinosaur. Meanwhile on the more mansion-y side of town, Eve's rich boyfriend John (Grant) is throwing fancy dance parties to celebrate the local legend of a giant worm.

It's a way more happening place than Dogpatch, especially when the mysterious 
Sylvia Marsh arrives in town to make a whole lot of double entendric statements about snakes. See, as you'll find out near immediately, Lady Sylvia is a bit of a worm devotee, a reincarnated or really ancient evil thing that sacrifices virgins (obviously) to the famed worm of John's fiesta happenings. Surely she has NOTHING to do with the disappearance of the wait a minute! symbolically named Mary and Eve's parents (and eventually, Mary and Eve themselves).

Directed by the generally much more experimental Ken Russell (The Devils, Tommy, Gothic), The Lair of the White Worm is an odd little hybrid that has justifiably earned a minor cult reputation. Aside from the future Divine Brown Toy For a Day, I imagine a good deal of its appeal comes from the simultaneously light-hearted and gruesome tone. 
Despite being based (loosely, I'm guessing) on a Bram Stoker novel, The Lair of the White Worm is horror comedy in its truest form. Yes, there's nun-rape, but it's so theatrically presented that it's hard to think of the scene as disturbing. The blossoming romance between Mary and Angus is sweet and without irony, while Grant's take on the wannabe detective John is never dull. The effects haven't exactly aged well--any scene that lingers on the titular monster ends up feeling more Bert I. Gordon than Tremors--but the violence has an entertaining gooeyness that nostalgically holds up.

High Points
It's quite easy to see why Hugh Grant went on to success with slightly morally askew but lovably fumbling British gent roles. As the rich but not cruel playboy, he brings a wonderful dryness to the part, proving that few men could deliver a line like "I like Mr. Flint’s hole. It's rather fascinating," with the same naughtiness

Low Points
Sure, there's something to the whole displaced knight thing, but it would've been a tad more interesting and modern to not have to watch the two female characters spend the last third of the film cowering in fear and crying through gags

Lessons Learned
Contrary to popular belief, Romans did not keep pet dinosaurs
Snake cultists are incredibly creative when it comes to I mean Tetsuo levels of creativity

In order to play the bagpipe, one must don a kilt (duh)

The Deadly Doll's Dating Advice

And to anyone (most likely male) who has been made to sit through other Grant fodder like Notting Hill or Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, might I recommend proposing this to the missus for movie night? Simply sell it as "A young Hugh Grant!" and offer to nuke the popcorn yourself. You will get some (of what I dunno, but you know....some).

The Lair of the White Worm isn't a masterpiece, but it has a wonderfully cheeky charm about it that has aged well. Sure, the bargain priced practical effects are somewhat analogous to the terror of cheap modern CGI, but the actors--Grant in particular--understand how to spread the humor, making it feel almost in tone with a British version of Fright Night. Sadly the DVD is barren of any special feature (including subtitles! and isn’t Scottish its own language?) but if you haven't seen the film, it's certainly worth a rental.


  1. The Romans didn't have dinosaurs?!?! My mind has been blown, everything I know about history has been wrong!

    ...As for the Lair of the White Worm book, I have a copy but I've never gotten around to reading it (a fate reserved to just about every book that I own), I'll make sure to possibly attempt to read it at some point in the near future.

  2. And did you also know that the Pilgrims and Indians were only kinda sorta friends, and most of that was just for food? Then it was all "I'll scalp you!" and "I'll rape your land!" and nobody remembered that delicious sweet potato pie.

    Growing up is hard.

    The only Stoker I've read was Dracula, which was aight. I don't *really* have a desire to delve further into reading gothic horror, as it doesn't necessarily excite me on the page, but if you EVENTUALLY open the book yourself, let me know if it's worth paying my library fines for.

  3. This is a great flick that I haven't watched in far too long. That rollicking song about the Dampton Worm gets stuck in your head. I've read Stoker's novel and it is, in my estimation, definitely worth your time. Although the seed of the idea is in there, Mr. Russell has definitely taken liberties with the source material.

  4. I LOVED that song! And I imagine the novel is quite different (probably less nun rape and dildos, unless that's what caught Russell's eyes in the first place). I'll be on the lookout for the book!

  5. I haven't seen this film in years, but I have distinct memories of certain scenes and images. Many of them phallic, of course. I don't remember there being much humor, but I was also quite young and may not have understood it at the time. Thou shall watch Lair again in the future of neareth, and for your review, I greatly thank you, Emily of Dollness.

  6. I saw this back in the day as well. Great Russell madness. I remember this one and Gothic(1986) most vividly from my childhood.

    I think Lair was the more critically admired of the two.

    Phallic symbols for all!!

  7. Yup Matt, there's definitely a whole lot of very dry humor. Easy to miss without an aged and dirty mind. I'm glad you correctly noticed the phalluses though!

    I watched Gothic on my Mill Creek pack a few years ago and might actually delve back into it soon. Russell is one of those great ballsy (or really, phallusy) filmmakers that doesn't usually make perfection, but always creates something interesting and one of a kind.

  8. That band was great, I'm definitely going to have them play at my next caley. I love how the singer pronounced 'cows' as 'coos' - hey, Scottish is a different language! Also, Angus was played by none other than the fantastic Peter Capaldi from In the Loop, but he'll always be Danny from Local Hero to me. This had to be Amanda Donohoe's wackiest role ever, just the costumes alone...
    Finally, I have snakes where I work (not kidding, a co-worker got bit last month) and I desperately need some bagpipes PDQ!

  9. What's a caley?

    I love how Angus was so overwhelmingly Scottish. He wears a kilt just to play the bagpipes! Was I wrong, or did he even at one point say something about haggis?

    I love the sound of bagpipes. They seem like the hardest instrument in the world to play, but hey, if you got snake problems, it might be worth the investment.

  10. I represent the rare male who enjoys Hugh Grant...why? Perfectly honest: I'm a sap, so I'll watch some sap from time to time. However, I think Grant can (and most likely will) do more than the standard personae. (Come to think of it, About a Boy was a great example of that.) Seeing him out of context (in a Ken Russell horror flick) is a good reminder of the fact that he does have some talent. This one is also a good place to start with Russell, too. It's almost normal...before you get to Altered States or the The Devils and say WTF?

    What did you think about The Devils, by the way?

  11. I like Hugh Grant but not for the sap. I think he has excellent talent when it comes to dry humor, something that really shows in White Worm. I also loved him in About a Boy. He's a VERY specific type when it comes to casting, but I guess like a lot of name actors who patent a type, as soon as he takes it into a slightly different direction, his talent really shows.

    Still haven't seen Altered States, but I REALLY dug The Devils. It kills me that I had to see it on a fuzzy VHS transfer, but all the footage (save for the bone masturbation) was there, so at least that worked. Loved Oliver Reed, adored the visuals and music. It's one that I really look forward to rewatching sometime soon.

  12. Altered States is probably more "fun" than The Devils...just because it fits into the conventional sci-fi thriller mold. But still weird. Man, The Devils put me on sensory overload the first time I saw it (understandable, I guess). I've grown to have a pretty great appreciation of it, though. So happy you got to see the bone life is complete without that!

  13. Oh wait, you MISSED the bone masturbation...yikes, gotta get on that.

  14. Ken Russell deserves to be crowned king of England. Fuck whoever is in the royal palace now.

    I go the other way on the dating advice. I tell her the movie's got some nun rape in it, and if she's game, I know I got a winner. Saves time and weeds out the boring normal people.

  15. Well OBVIOUSLY the true test of a relationship is how it thrives with nun rape, but if you're just looking for TV rights for an evening, playing the Hugh Grant card at least gets you a better movie!