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Film / The Lair of the White Worm

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Good luck trying to charm her.

Lair of the White Worm is a 1988 horror comedy movie directed by Ken Russell; starring Peter Capaldi, Amanda Donohoe and a young Hugh Grant, and loosely based on a novel by Bram Stoker.

The film begins with Angus Flint (Capaldi), a Scottish archaeologist, discovering a large reptilian skull in the backyard of English sisters, Mary and Eve Trent. The Trent sisters share with him that their father disappeared in a local legendary cave while on expedition and believe the skull might be connected somehow. This cave was on the property of the D'Ampton family, nobles in the area and the subject of a local legend. Centuries ago, a D'Ampton fought a giant snake in the same cave and killed it by cutting it in half with a sword. This giant snake is referred to in legend (and a rock'n folk song) as the D'Ampton Worm. They soon meet James D'Ampton (Grant), the current heir to the property, and attempt to unravel the mystery.

Meanwhile, returning from a vacation, Lady Sylvia Marsh (Donohoe) returns to her mansion next to the D'Ampton home. Lady Marsh is a well respected member of the area and, of course, happens to be a vampire. It also just so happens that she worships the D'Ampton Worm and is keen on its return. She has her eyes set on James D'Ampton and the sisters, particularly Eve. As it turns out, Lady Marsh needs the blood of a virgin to release the D'Ampton Worm and Eve fits the bill. What follows is a surreal, tongue-in-cheek horror movie filled with the occult, blood sucking, a giant snake, and Amanda Donohoe with a strap-on.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Angus pats Mary's head after rescuing her and Eve.
  • Ambiguous Ending: We have no idea Angus is now infected with the vampiric essence or whether it will have any effect now that Lady Sylvia and the worm itself are dead? Even if he is we don't know if James will be able to overcome him? The door is very definitely left open for a sequel which never happened.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: The final shot is of Angus in full-fledged vampire mode. It creates a bit of a Bolivian Army Ending.
  • Ankle Drag: Sylvia drags Angus to her sacrifice location.
  • Badass Bookworm: Angus is pretty nerdy but isn't afraid to fight vampires and giant snakes.
  • Batman Gambit: Angus and James' preparation to take down Lady Marsh involves research, careful planning, and giant pairs of balls.
  • Between My Legs: A shot of Eve toward the end as she is prepared to be sacrificed.
  • Big Bad: Lady Sylvia Marsh, a reptilian vampiress plotting to summon her dark god.
  • Body Motifs: As is to be expected when Ken Russell does a film about a giant snake, there is a massive amount of phallic imagery.
  • Bound and Gagged: Eve and Mary at the climax of the film.
  • Brave Scot: Fluffy and nerdy Angus turns out to be one.
  • Break the Cutie: It seems this happens to Eve after her virginity is nearly taken away by Lady Marsh.
  • Camp: Quite intentional.
  • Campbell Country: D'Ampton is a small town in rural England and also the site of an ancient dragon and his vampire worshippers.
  • Cat Fight: James has a dream about Lady Marsh and Eve as wrestling flight attendants.
  • Creator Cameo: Director Ken Russell is seen walking past the farm in the beginning.
  • Curse That Cures: Angus does not need his glasses after being bitten.
  • Daylight Horror: The vampires can function during the day. The cop-turned-vampire going after Angus is a clear example.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Lady Sylvia Marsh is perfectly willing to seduce men to acquire sacrifices, but prefers virgin women. Said sacrificial ritual involves raping the virgins to death with a spiked strap-on.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: James' reaction to Sylvia's The Importance of Being Earnest reference.
  • Eerily Out-of-Place Object: Played with. When Angus finds the large snake skull in his backyard archeological dig, the assumption that it's some kind of dinosaur is quickly put down when he points out that the skull dates back from Roman times.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Angus kills Lady Marsh and the White Worm, only to learn that he mistakenly injected an arthritis cure into himself instead of the antivenom that was supposed to prevent him from being vamped.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: As Roger Ebert says in his review, "It has a lair, it has a worm, the worm is white".
  • Eye Scream: The aforementioned vampire cop happens to land on a sundial, ripping an eye out of his socket in a particularly gory shot.
  • Fanservice:
    • Every scene with Amanda Donohoe. This being Amanda Donohoe in The '80s, it was only to be expected.
    • The young landlord portrayed by Hugh Grant has a shirtless scene.
    • Under normal circumstances Catherine Oxenberg spending an appreciable amount of screen time in her underwear would definitely be this but given she plays the imperilled virgin Eve...
  • Faux Affably Evil: Lady Marsh is very friendly to everyone, but is still a vampire who wants to sacrifice virgins to her snake god.
  • Feed It a Bomb: Angus disposes of the D'Ampton Worm by feeding it with a hand grenade.
  • Folk Horror: Lady Marsh's cult worshipping the Worm is referred to as pre-Christian Paganist, but it's portrayed as part-Lovecraftian, part-Satanic.
  • Foreshadowing: During the party there is a sketch, where the worm is trying to eat Eve (who's having a lot of fun) and James cuts it into halves, bravely rescuing his Damsel in Distress.
    • Played straight: James does cut an evil creature into halves with a sword.
    • Subverted: Eve is to be eaten by the worm for real, but it's Angus who saves her and kills the monster.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Lady Marsh attacks while at least partly nude in the end.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Unless it deals with virgin sacrifices.
  • Good Lips, Evil Jaws: Lady Marsh's transformation into gaping-jawed reptilian horror.
  • The Great Serpent: The titular Worm is a giant snake that slumbers in the Earth, the Worm portrayed as a Lovecraftian God that was once worshipped by the Pagans that lived in Derbyshire before Christianity came to England. Its only surviving worshipper is herself an immortal, vampiric snake woman that can disguise herself as a human, this implied to be in result of her faith.
  • Groin Attack: The poor guy Lady Marsh bathes gets it. An oral attack from a vampire even... Ouch!
  • Human Sacrifice: The D'Ampton Worm needs one in order to come back. It's preferable that the human is a virgin.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Lady Marsh attempts to sacrifice Eve to the D'Ampton Worm, but after a final confrontation she ends up becoming the Worm's snack via Angus slicing her hand off.
  • Homage: The D'Ampton Worm story is very obviously based in part on the legend of The Lambton Worm.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Angus tries pickled earthworm (a local specialty) before he realizes what it is. He doesn't take it well.
  • Kick the Dog: In Roman times, Lady Marsh ordered a group of nuns trying to build a convent on her land raped and slaughtered. Near the end it's revealed that her sacrifices don't have to be raped to death either, she just likes the ceremony.
  • Lesbian Vampire: Lady Marsh has sex with men but that seems to be a means to an end when it comes to feeding. She takes a more particular liking to Eve.
  • Light Is Not Good: The D'Ampton Worm is a gigantic white snake with pale eyes, and its light body gets positively drenched into the Sickly Green Glow of the cave during the climax.
  • Man in a Kilt: Angus during the party and the climax. In the end of the movie James pulls the kilt up by accident and sees the bite. Wouldn't work with trousers.
  • Monster Progenitor: It's implied that the D'Ampton Worm spawned the snake-like vampires shown in this film. It's also possible that Lady Marsh was one of the first or possibly the first.
  • Mrs. Robinson: A very dark example.
  • Mushroom Samba: Touching the acid left behind by Lady Marsh makes people hallucinate briefly.
  • Nature Abhors a Virgin: Lady Marsh mocks the idea of virginity and is delighted in sacrificing virgins to her snake god.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The D'Ampton Worm is a giant serpent and is worshipped by, and possibly created, a race of reptilian vampires.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're Lizard Folk, apparently. The usual weakness toward Christian crosses is also averted as shown when Lady Marsh dissolves a crucifix by spitting acid on it. They can be charmed by listening to rhythmic music, apparently (which isn't how snake charming works, but whatever). They don't drink blood (their fangs are for injecting venom). Oh, and these vampires function in daylight. Lady Marsh at one point is even seen using a sun bed!
  • Painful Rhyme:
''And when at night it crawled about a-lookin' for some booze,
If it fell dry upon the road, it milked a dozen cows.''
— The Ear Worm song... ear worm, get it?

Alternative Title(s): The Lair Of The White Worm