Friday, October 10, 2014

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

It's unfortunate that this movie doesn't have a more respectable reputation. Are people so immature that they can't take the concept of a virgin sacrificing cult of giant snake worshippers seriously? That they feel compelled to laugh at the visual effects rather than allow their imaginations to get absorbed into them (and for all their limitations, the effects are pretty effective)? The movie is not pretentious - it doesn't take itself too seriously, and incorporates a good bit of humor - but at the same time, the concepts involved are fascinating, and its execution as a film is very well accomplished

Certainly more so than I was expecting, going partly off its reputation, and partly off my vague memories of it. I swear I saw this film once on television when I was young, and I hadn't remembered it until coming across it more recently. It made an impression on me for its unflinchingly erotic approach to the subject matter, and it's probably one of my earliest memories of seeing nudity on film, and may in no small part have contributed to my interest in erotic fantasies involving pagan rituals concerned with virgin sacrifice.

You might be surprised to learn that The Lair of the White Worm is actually adapted from a Bram Stoker story (not Dracula, obviously) - albeit one that doesn't have so great a reputation. The movie begins with a Scottish archaeologist (Peter Capaldi) finding the skull of what appears to be a giant snake dating back to the Roman occupation of Britain. Local legend tells of the "D'ampton Worm", a giant snake that was named for the man who slew it (whose descendant is played by Hugh Grant). Stories of dragons (and their slayers) and other mythological creatures are not uncommon in the English countryside. But some recent disappearances seem to lend evidence that maybe some offspring of the legendary D'ampton Worm has survived underground in a nearby cavern.

Enter Lady Sylvia Marsh, who wastes no time revealing to the audience that she is some kind of priestess of a cult that worships the serpent - representing Lucifer, and manifesting in the form of a white worm that tormented Jesus on the cross, and may live on even today as the descendant of the D'ampton Worm. Unlike the Christians, this snake cult seems to revel in their own sexuality, and Amanda Donohoe seems reassuringly comfortable in the highly fetishized role of the priestess. I would be willing to bet, on the other hand, that the only reason the virgin sacrifice is stripped only to her underwear is because the actress that played her had a "no nudity" clause in her contract. Which is really rather unfortunate. Prudish movie critics always complain that nudity or sexual scenes are not "necessary" to the plot, but this sort of thing (and it is frequent in movies) just takes away from the story.

It would be easy to write this movie off (as many do) as a cheesy softcore porno with a ridiculous plot and silly effects. But frankly, I think the plot is intriguing (who doesn't love a bit of cryptozoology?), and the characters and their dialogue and their motivations are all refreshingly logical and believable. I watched it for reasons of nostalgia, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it is a decent movie in its own right - both fun, and engrossing. It's not "so bad, it's good"; I genuinely think that it's just plain good. I recommend it with confidence.

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