Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960)

Mario Bava's Black Sabbath (1963)

Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mario Bava's Kill Baby, Kill (1966)

Sergio Martino's The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)

Luciano Ercoli's Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

Duccio Tessari's The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)

Emilio Miraglia's The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

Peter Newbrook's The Asphyx (1972)

Luciano Ercoli's Death Walks at Midnight (1972)

Richard Friedman's Doom Asylum (1972)

Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972)

Emilio Miraglia's The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Sergio Martino's Torso (1973)

Alfred Sole's Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat (1981)

Juan Piquer Simón's Pieces (1982)

Harry Bromley Davenport's Xtro (1982)

Wayne Berwick's Microwave Massacre (1983)

Joseph S. Cardone's The Slayer (1982)

Stephen King's Firestarter (1984)

Buddy Cooper's The Mutilator (1984)

Larry Stewart's The Initiation (1984)

Steve Miner's House (1985)

Tibor Takacs The Gate (1987)

Ethan Wiley's House II: The Second Story (1987)

Frank Henenlotter's Brain Damage (1988)

Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Juan Piquer Simon's Slugs (1988)

James Isaac's The Horror Show (1989)

Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Lewis Abernathy's House IV The Repossession (1992)

Anders Jacobsson's Evil Ed (1995)

Wes Craven's Mind Ripper (1995)

Robert Kurtzman’s Wishmaster (1997)

Ken Russell's The Lair of the White Worm (1988) Blu-ray Review

Written By Paolo De Rossi

The Lair of the White Worm (1988) on IMDb

"Fancy praying to a God who was nailed to a wooden cross, who then locked up his brides in a convent; did they really enjoy themselves? Poor little virgins masturbating in the dark and then in penance for their sins, indulging in flagellation until their bodies wept tears of blood. Captive virgins in the hands of an impotent God; Dionin will have none of that, Eve..."

Controversial director Ken Russell talks about his adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel The Lair of the White Worm, his love of Derbyshire and a hatred for makeup artists

When nineteenth century horror writer Bram Stoker penned his bestselling novel, Dracula in 1897, the renowned author couldn’t possibly have envisioned the plethora of vampire films, books and plays that would quickly follow, both in an official and unofficial depiction of Count Dracula, indeed, the Gothic author himself would transcribe the first theatrical adaption of his famous character, appearing at the Lyceum Theatre, London, in May 1887, entitled The Undead, shortly before Constable and Robinson would publish the novel; this adaption was performed once and once only in an attempt for the author to establish and maintain any future copyright claims that may have arisen, and as such, he would be proved right.

The first feature film to feature Bram Stoker’s Dracula was Károly Lajthay’s Drakula halála a.k.a Dracula’s Death, produced in Hungry and released in Austria in August 1921, although this film did not follow the storyline of the novel and is now presumed to be lost to the elements of time. In March 1922, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Nosferatu, the first full length vampire film, would be released into German theatres, much to the annoyance of Bram Stoker’s widow, Florence, who would take action against Prana Films for copyright infringement with the courts ordering all copies of the film to be destroyed; thankfully, a few prints managed to escape the cull. Nosferatu is often described as the first unofficial adaption of Bram Stoker’s novel to appear on screen; however the first official adaption would arrive in August 1924, with Hamilton Deane’s stage play Dracula touring the theatres of the United Kingdom before being revised by John L. Balderston in 1927 and reissued in October of that year, appearing at the Fulton Theatre in New York City, with Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi portraying the role of Count Dracula, in what would be his first speaking role.

The first official adaption of Bram Stoker’s novel to appear on the silver screen would arrive in 1931, with Tod Browning’s Dracula, produced by Universal Studios; as with Hamilton Deane’s stage play, Bela Lugosi would play the titular character although he wouldn’t be the first choice for the role, as producer Carl Laemmle, Jr. wasn’t convinced the Hungarian actor could transfer his performance from the stage to the screen. Lugosi, who was in Los Angeles at the time of casting for the picture, lobbied hard and was eventually rewarded for his effort, mainly due to the fact that he would accept the Studio’s offer of $500 per week salary for around seven weeks shooting.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Universal Studios would saturate the market with an abundance of Monster Movies, and to that effect, Dracula would continue to rise from the undead in several mash-up pictures that would include a rich variety of Universal’s Monsters, such as Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and The Invisible Man, where the once fearsome Count would be turned into a comical caricature of his former self, however, that would change in dramatic circumstances with the release of Hammer Film’s 1958 production of Stoker’s novel, in Dracula a.k.a The Horror of Dracula, featuring a stand-out performance from Christopher Lee as the charismatic Count, aided and abetted by Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Abraham Van Helsing; a year earlier, Hammer Films released The Curse of Frankenstein, again featuring Cushing and Lee which had proved to be fruitful for the British studio. As with Universal Studios, Hammer would also saturate the market with several pictures involving Count Dracula, all of which would be straight laced with little elements of comedy, the best of which would be Terence Fisher’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness, released in January 1966.

By the middle of the 1970s, the popularity of Count Dracula began to wane, although the vampire film would be in full flow, with Hammer Films again at the forefront, films such as Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers, featuring Peter Cushing, Ingrid Pitt, Madeline Smith and Kate O’Mara. The picture would be part of a trilogy, known as the Karnstein Trilogy, with Jimmy Sangster’s Lust for a Vampire, starring Yutte Stensgaard, Michael Johnston and Barbara Jefford, and Twins of Evil, featuring twins and former Playboy Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson; all three films would be based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, one of the earliest forms of literature of vampiric fiction, predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by some 26 years. Other notable vampire films of the era included Bob Kelljan’s Count Yorga, Vampire, Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness, John Hancock’s Let's Scare Jessica to Death and Robert Young’s Vampire Circus.

In November 1979, American television network CBS produced an adaption of Stephen King’s novel, Salem’s Lot, featuring David Soul, Reggie Nalder and Bonnie Bedelia. Directed by Tobe Hooper and adapted for the small screen by Paul Monash, Salem’s Lot earned widespread praise, both in terms of direction and atmosphere, and lead to a revival of the vampire film. April 1981 saw the release of Roy Ward Baker’s The Monster Club, a horror anthology featuring Vincent Price in what would be his only role as a vampire, horror veteran John Carradine also starred in the film as author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes. Tom Holland’s Fright Night would be released in August 1985, quickly followed by Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, both of which would be released in 1987, all three films would go on to become cult favourites of horror aficionados across the world.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula wouldn’t be the author’s only literary work, indeed, his writing career would begin some seven years before his famous novel, where he wrote The Snake’s Pass in 1890, which focuses on the legend of Saint Patrick’s defeat of the King of the Snakes in Ireland; the novelist would write Seven Golden Buttons in 1891, followed by The Watter's Mou' and The Shoulder of Shasta, both published in 1895, whilst The Undead a.k.a Dracula would arrive in 1897. Bram Stoker would then write a romantic novel, Miss Betty, in 1898, his next work, The Mystery of the Sea, published in 1902, would contain several elements found within the pages of Dracula, although it would be transcribed as a political mystery thriller rather than a supernatural tale. In 1903, Stoker would return to the horror genre with The Jewel of Seven Stars, in which a young barrister, Malcolm Ross, is called to the home of archaeologist and Egyptologist Abel Trelawny, who is desperate to reanimate Queen Tera, an ancient Egyptian mummy who resembles his daughter Margaret, who appears to be possessed by Tera’s spirit. As with Dracula, the story has a first person narrative, told from the perspective of Malcolm Ross in a series of letters, notes and newspaper clippings, a writing style that the author took the time to perfect whilst working alongside friend and stage actor Henry Irving, in which he served as his business manager and also undertook management duties at the Lyceum Theatre in London. In 1905, Bram Stoker wrote The Man a.k.a The Gates of Life, described as a typical Gothic novel with hints of romance and horror, which was followed by Lady Athlyne and The Lady of the Shroud, an epistolary novel which again follows the first person narrative, told in a series of letters and diary extracts from a variety of characters, most notably that of Rupert Saint Leger, who inherits a million pound estate following the death of his uncle; the novel was published in 1909 by Heinemann.

Bram Stoker’s final novel would arrive in 1911 and would be based on the legend of the Lambton Worm, set in County Durham in North East England, and along the River Wear, it is generally defined as a tale of folklore, in which an heir to the Lambton Estate, John Lambton battles a giant worm that has been terrorising local residents in County Durham. According to legend, local lad and heir John Lambton skipped church on one Sunday morning, deciding to go fishing in the River Wear. Whilst walking along the banks of the Wear, the youngster meets an old witch, who chastises him for missing church, “No good can come of it”, the old hag retorts. Young Lambton fails to catch a single bite until the service at the church has ended, then he reels in a small lamprey eel, no bigger than a thimble. Again he meets the old witch and holds aloft the eel, declaring that he has captured the Devil, which he promptly discards down a nearby well, laughing; the old witch offers a warning about the discarded beast. Lambton grows up and forgets all about the Lambton Worm and joins the Crusades.

Several years have passed and eventually the Lambton Worm has grown to an enormous size, whilst the well has become toxic and poisonous; worried residents report the disappearance of their livestock and small animals, they also discover the Worm has outgrown the well and has now coiled itself around a local mound in nearby Fatfield, Washington, which the locals name Worm Hill. The Lambton Worm continues to terrorise the nearby townships and villages, feeding on sheep, cows and even snatching small children and babies from their bedchambers. Now at a ferocious size, the Worm heads for Lambton Castle, and the Lord of the Manor, who manages to sedate the creature by offering the Worm milk from nine cows. Eventually, the residents decide to rise against the Lambton Worm and attempt to destroy it but are simply no match for the creature, which dispatches them with ease; the Lord of the Manor calls for Knights to help in the fight but they too are overpowered.   

Seven years later, John Lambton has returned from the Crusades where he discovers his father’s estates almost razed to the ground, laid waste by the ferocity of the Lambton Worm. Realising that he is to blame for the terror that his friends and family have faced, John decides to make a stand against the creature and sets off towards the River Wear, again he comes across the old witch, who tells him how he alone is responsible for the Worm and that to defeat it, he must adorn his armour with spearheads and that the battle should only take place on the River Wear. Once the Worm has been defeated, the old witch tells John that he must kill the very first thing that he sees afterwards, or he and his family will be cursed for nine generations, “none will die in their bed”, the witch states.

John Lambton returns to his father’s estate and prepares to face the giant Worm, he follows the old witch’s instructions and lines his armour with spearheads; he then explains to his father that once the Worm has been defeated, he will sound his hunting horn three times, and on this signal alone, the Lord of the Manor is to release his favourite dog so that it will run to John and he will kill it, thus avoiding the witch’s curse. John Lambton heads to the River Wear where he faces the giant Worm which instantly coils around him, in an attempt to crush the brave warrior but it cuts itself to pieces on the armoured spearheads with the River Wear washing them away, the Lambton Worm is finally defeated. Victorious, John sounds his horn three times to notify his father, who, in turn, rushes out in great excitement to meet his son and forgets to release the hound. John, however, refuses to shoot his father and so, the pair decides to kill the dog as planned, leaving them to face the curse of the witch.

Whether you believe in myths and legends or not, the tale of the Lambton Worm certainly held credence for members of the Lambton family as four members of the establishment were struck down by “the curse”, Robert Lambton drowned at Newrig, Sir William Lambton was killed at Marston Moor, William Lambton died in the battle of Wakefield and Henry Lambton was killed whilst crossing Lambton Bridge in June 1761; there is little doubt that these four deaths would ultimately contribute to the popularity of the Legend of the Lambton Worm.

Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm was first published by William Rider and Son of London in 1911, adorned with colour illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith and was also released with the title The Garden of Evil, although the novel is based on The Legend of the Lambton Worm, little actually remains of the folkloric tale, aside from a giant Worm-like creature that dwells in a deep pit located within the grounds of Arabella March’s home in Diana's Grove, with the White Worm feasting on whatever and whoever is unfortunate enough to be thrown down the pit. Unlike Bram Stoker’s previous works, The Lair of the White Worm was critically panned, and although most critics noted the potential of the story, it was often described as “rambling and incoherent”, however, perhaps this is due to the fact that publishers William Rider and Son released an abridged version of the novel in 1925, some thirteen years after the death of the author, in which several chapters were either shortened or removed entirely, leaving the written word of Bram Stoker as “abrupt and inconsistent.”

Dan Ireland is often portrayed as the man who saved the career of Ken Russell and after signing a three film picture deal with Vestron Pictures, the first of these films was released in June 1988, entitled Salome's Last Dance, based on Oscar Wilde's 1893 play Salome, featuring Glenda Jackson, Nickolas Grace and Stratford Johns. Russell’s second picture for Vestron would be The Lair of the White Worm and that would be followed by The Rainbow, released in May 1989 and starred Sammi Davis, Amanda Donohoe and Paul McGann; both Davis and Donohoe would feature in The Lair of the White Worm. Dan Ireland would also go on to produce Russell’s 1991 film, Whore, which starred Theresa Russell as Los Angeles prostitute, Liz, and was based on David Hines' monologue, Bondage; although the picture wasn’t a great success, Theresa Russell’s performance was praised by both The New York Times and Roger Ebert and led to the actress landing a role in Steven Soderbergh's Kafka (1991) opposite English actor Jeremy Irons. Unfortunately, Ken Russell’s career didn’t follow suit as the director was left in the world of documentary filmmaking and television movies but perhaps this was where he saw his future, as he started out filming documentaries and other television shorts for the BBC, where he developed a partnership with Dick Bush, who would go on to be a regular Director of Photography for Russell, working on several pictures which included Tommy, The Savage Messiah, Crimes of Passion and The Lair of the White Worm.

Ken Russell would make several alterations for his adaption of Bram Stoker’s final novel and also to the Legend that the writing was based upon; first he moved the location from the North East of England to the plains of Derbyshire, and then changed the name of the legendary critter from the Lambton Worm to the D'Ampton Worm. The protagonists of both Stoker’s novel and the Lambton Worm Legend would also change, from Adam Salton and John Lambton, an heir to the Lambton Estate to that of Lord James D'Ampton; antagonist Arabella March becomes Lady Sylvia Marsh. Ken Russell would also update the setting from the 1860s to the 1980s, adding a modern environment which would be interconnected with Roman architecture and the British stately home, coupled with a sense of bleakness which spreads throughout the Derbyshire countryside. Finally, the director would add several new characters to populate his film, such as Scottish archaeology student Angus Flint and sisters Mary and Eve Trent; although the cast members brought in to portray these characters are extremely well known today, the likes of Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Sammi Davis and Amanda Donohoe were all relatively new to the film industry when shooting began in early 1988.

Actress Sammi Davis who played Mary Trent in The Lair of the White Worm recalls how Ken Russell was a funny and adorable man who would always push the limits of an actor in an attempt to enhance the performance depicted on screen, “He would ask you to do it again but do it better,” the actress states, “I first met Ken in the autumn of 1987 which seems like a hundred years ago now but I remember distinctly it was for The Lair of the White Worm and it was a beautiful sunny October or November afternoon, it was gorgeous and I remember thinking that I'm meeting this man, I've seen some of his films such as Women in Love which I adore; I had seen Tommy and I had seen the Music Lovers which I am absolutely still madly in love with and is my favourite Ken film and so I was nervous and I was young and I went to his office and it was a really beautiful little place and I walked in and there he was, this white haired incredible man just sitting there and so we had a conversation and I hadn't done that much work that I considered to be anything great but he had seen some of it and he was really flattering, really intelligent and I just thought my goodness this man is amazing.”

“Anyway, I said goodbye and I left and I thought I would just pop in to see my agent and twenty minutes later I arrived at my agents office and she said “Oh hello Sammi, Ken's just been on the phone, he's offered you the part” and it was just like that, it was amazing.” Sammi Davis admits that her first thoughts on The Lair of the White Worm were slightly subdued, “When I first read it, I was like this is hilarious; I had never read anything at all like it in my life; I mean I actually knew of Bram Stoker so I was aware of Bram Stoker and I had read bits of his stuff but Lair of the White Worm I had never heard of and so I just read the script and I obviously knew that it was Ken Russell and my agent said “You know what, this is just going to be a blast and it would be amazing to do it and it's Ken” and I loved every second of it and it's me, the part that I played was very sweet and there's one scene which was kind of like, quite strange, when she has a vision but apart from that, Mary is a pretty simple, sweet character. I didn't have to do the same things in terms of Amanda's role, which was really stepping up and doing something extreme, but for me, it was just like, I can do this, I could do this, I could easily be this person.”

Sammi Davis explains how she had the choice of which character to play, either that of Mary Trent or her sister, Eve and whilst the role of Eve eventually went to American actress Catherine Oxenberg, Davis feels the role of Mary was right for her, “She wasn’t that difficult to play, she was just really nice and I loved just being in old woolly jumpers and woolly hats, warm coats and things like that but the funny thing is, for Catherine, because Catherine came over from America, she was freezing cold, absolutely freezing cold for the whole shoot and I think we English were, you know, more used to the weather here, but Catherine is from California and so we all took care of her because she was so cold and I think that she did brilliantly. She was so funny in the film as well but she had these silk, pure silk leggings and I had never seen silk thermal underwear before; I was very impressed.”

Several of Ken Russell’s associates, whether that be producers, actors or editors have spoken of the fear of getting on the wrong side of the director, he was well known for his outbursts but Sammi Davis only remembers Russell with fondness, “The filming of The Lair of the White Worm was just the funniest, I can’t actually think of a film that was as fun, I loved Ken’s personality and his quirkiness, I just found him to be so intelligent but some people were scared of Ken; sometimes the crew would run away from him because if they weren't doing their jobs, if they were chatting in a corner, he would look at them and say “Have you lost your legs, get over here” and he would do that but he knew that he could but it was always in a teasing way.”

The actress thoroughly enjoyed working with Ken Russell and shooting The Lair of the White Worm and she especially loved filming in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, where she and her fellow cast members spent time at Thor’s Cavern in the Manifold Valley of the White Peak in Staffordshire, “Oh the caves, shooting in the caves was fantastic; I loved it but it was ultra-freezing cold but at the same time it was really cool but I'd never really been anywhere like that before and it was eerie and it was great and we were there all day long. I think we were there for a couple of days and I loved it, it was amazing, it was an incredible cave.”    

Although Hugh Grant and Catherine Oxenberg may have distanced themselves from working on The Lair of the White Worm, neither speaks very highly of the picture, Sammi Davis recalls how well she got on with everyone on set, and especially with Peter Capaldi, “Peter is fantastic,” she beams, “He’s such a great actor, he was just funny, he was joking all the time and his accent is so brilliant; we got on really well together and it was just really easy because with some actors you really don't have that but with Peter, he was just really relaxed he was really easy going, he knew his lines all the time and I love that too because I do too and so we were good friends and we had a great time.” Sammi also had a fondness for Hugh Grant, and appreciated his sense of humour, “Both Hugh and Peter had a sense of humour that was unique to them, they were like two boys, you know, they were like two brothers, almost like my brothers and they just played around and laughed; they made me laugh, they were constantly egging each other on or when we'd rehearse, we would have the trailer to go into and we be studying our lines and going over stuff and then we’d just chat and laugh and I loved Peter’s accent, his real accent and also Hugh’s accent but of course he's made his living off that accent and he really is like that, he says funny things like he does in the film; he's brilliant.”

Out of all of the scenes that Sammi Davis took part in, one thing stands out more than the rest and that is when the subject turns to snakes, she was absolutely terrified of the slithering serpents although Ken Russell believed the Mongoose was the real creature to fear, “I remember being scared of the snakes, I remember the scene with a snake, filming the snakes and Ken would be joking around, he was like “Don't worry, they're not going to bite you” and then he would walk miles away and left me like thinking where is the snake going to come out, where is the snake but the thing is, it was a low budget film and so I think particularly when you compare it to these days, it was all very low key and so climbing up the rocks, doing everything else, it was just like “Oh just go and do it” and I think that softened us somewhat, I think it made it easier in a way but the snakes, they were a bit scary because they had around twenty snakes that they wanted to just slither around and then they, I think the guy who had the snakes he said “We can't really just let them loose, I have to go and keep control of them” and I thought, oh my goodness, so that was funny.”  

Vestron Pictures would provide Ken Russell with a working budget of around $2,500,000 with the director stating that it was never going to be enough for a film which would rely heavily on special and visual effects and as with several of the cast members, many of the crewmembers at Image Animation, the company tasked with bringing Russell’s visions for the picture to life, were new to the industry. Special makeup effects designer Geoffrey Portass remembers Ken Russell as a larger than life character, flamboyant and incredibly fascinating and with a taste for the odd bottle of champagne in the early hours of the morning, “He was exactly as you expected him to be, he was volatile, he was creative and funny”, Portass tells us, “The Devils was one of my favourite movies and when I was a young kid, I actually got the film for the school film society and I had to put out a disclaimer when the pupils went to see it because obviously of the content within The Devils, but I was always a big fan of Ken Russell; I had worked on Salome's Last Dance but didn’t have the opportunity to meet him and so when The Lair of the White Worm came up, I thought that I would love to do this film.”

Geoffrey Portass recalls one particular meeting with Ken Russell which took place at the workshop of Image Animation, where the director arrived with Dan Ireland and a couple of other producers, to talk about the special effects for the project, “Whenever you have a set budget, I always like to inform people what you can do and what you can’t do and of course, Ken was like, “We can try this or we can do this”, and I would have to turn around to him and say “I am really sorry but you can't afford that, we just can't afford that,” and every time I had to say this, I can remember Ken becoming slightly more angry and in the end, he turned around and said to me, “I don't like your bloody attitude,” and this would continue for quite a while until he would start ranting and raving at someone else but we simply could not afford to do the things that he wanted on the budget that he had provided and so we had to do the best we could; we got on with it, we did the job and that was it.”    

Visual effects modeller Neill Gorton enjoyed his time working with Ken Russell on The Lair of the White Worm although he admits it was organised chaos, “We were a very young crew and I was eighteen at the time, building all of these main things and we generally didn't know what we were doing and so it usually ended up in utter chaos but we got there in the end.” On creating the legendary White Worm, Gorton tells us, “We built three puppets for the worm itself which included the life-sized version which had a huge head; it was about seven feet from neck to nose so that was the big head which had to be there at the end to swallow Amanda Donahoe, they built the set with cones reducing down so you had the impression of the worm being further down so there was a full size head, a middle sized head, which was about three feet long and was probably approximately about half scale and then we had the hand puppet version which was used for both the perspective set but also as the head of the worm on the cross so there were three versions which we had and we tried to make them all look the same but I think if you really take a look at them, they all look completely different, but I don't think it really matters, not really the kind of thing that you noticed. Nowadays, we would probably do things a lot different, but back then, we were kids and we didn't really know what the hell we were doing but looking back now, it's like my God, I can't believe it even worked but we would probably approach it massively different now.”

Special makeup effects artist Paul Jones recalls his experience of working at Elstree Studios for the first time in his career, “I remember the set being incredible because I had hadn't done that many big movies at the time and this was like my third movie and I had only ever worked at Shepperton Studios and I didn’t see any big sets being built because I was mostly working in the workshop so this was my first time on set. The set was around three storeys high, it was all faux rock and granite and there were like stone steps carved into all of this plaster and there was this big pit and all of the scaffolding and I just remember it being like I was in the middle of Oz or something as it was a such a strange place to be and then all of a sudden, there was this big wooden frame and you step into it and then you were inside a cave, it really was the freakiest thing of all.”

One of the more controversial aspects of Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm was the theme of Christianity versus Paganism that ran throughout the picture and as with his 1971 film, The Devils, Lair faced similar issues with both the Catholic Church and the British Board of Film Censors and Producer Dan Ireland had to plead with Ken Russell to tame the scene down as originally, it was to be more violent and more extreme; Paul Jones recalls working on this particular scene and tells us, “The crucifixion scene was very eye-opening for many reasons, the main scene was a bunch of nuns being raped by a bunch of Centurions and so we had a bunch of extras dressed as Centurions and a bunch of nuns who were essentially Page Three girls; these girls were glamour models who were famous for being topless so obviously there was nudity. So they would hire these girls to come in and we would be puppeteering but one of the puppeteering rods came out and there was no way of fixing it from this side of the wall so I had to walk around the wall and I distinctly remember having to tiptoe through twelve completely naked actresses looking rather bored to make my way to the wall because they were all crammed in, there is literally nothing between them to reach in and fix the bloody wire so I can actually puppeteer and then running back behind the wall again; that was pretty eye opening for a nineteen year old kid.”

Tasked with putting Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm together was Peter Davies who had worked as an editor on several James Bond pictures, including Octopussy (1983) A View to a Kill (1985) and The Living Daylights (1987) and he remembers being somewhat surprised to be asked to edit for the director as he explains, “Ronaldo Vasconcellos, who was one of the producers on The Lair of the White Worm rang me and said Ken Russell is coming down to see you and he asked me where I was; it took me by surprise a bit and then the receptionist of this post-production house, where I was working, came in and said Ken Russell’s outside to see you, so I was quite excited about that. Ken came in and literally asked me what I was doing and I told him, he spent two minutes and asked if I wanted to work on the film and I said “Yes I would love to,” and then he left and then the next minute, half an hour later when Ronaldo phoned me to say Ken wants you to do the film so it was a short and sweet but incredible news for me.”

“I remember the first week of working on the film and we were shooting the hallucinatory scenes and I went over to the set which was at Elstree Studios and I walked across to one of the stages and just as I walked on, there was Ken Russell on a ladder with a megaphone and all the extras were waiting below and he just shouted out “Alright Romans, bonking positions” and that was typical Ken and then all the raping was going on but I can just see him now, it was such a laugh; it was just so wacky.” Although Peter Davies and Ken Russell had a constructive relationship, things would become strained at times with the director often flying into a rage, “It was quite difficult with Ken to start with because he doesn't take fools gladly and I had heard rumours that in previous editors, you've had more than a few in tears and if you showed any insecurity or you weren't too sure about anything, he would come down on you and he would make your life hell. After about a week of shooting, he came to see a cut sequence that I had put together and he immediately started screaming and shouting at me, “Did I shoot this fucking thing, did I shoot a fucking close up there,” and I would turn around to him and say well you did it Ken, you did it, “Then why the fuck haven't you used it,” and that's how he was. I changed it and changed it and a couple of weeks later, he came in and he told me about the sequence and said that I had put it together perfectly, he would then say “Why the fuck have you used all that material there,” and I would say you shot it Ken so I've used it and from that moment on, he just said touché and said that I'll just let you use what you want to use, and from that moment on, we got on, but you know, if I had sort of collapsed at the first point of argument then I think my life would have been hell but from then on we got along very well and after that he trusted me.”

Following the release of The Lair of the White Worm in September 1988, where it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before its general release a month later, the critics of the day were none too kind with Roger Ebert asking why on earth would Ken Russell want to make this kind of film, describing it as a throwback to “the kind of movie that Roger Corman was making for American International back in the early 1960s, when AIP was plundering the shelves of out-of-copyright horror tales, looking for cheap story ideas. Corman would have found The Lair of the White Worm on the shelf right next to Dracula, as both books were written by the same strange man, Bram Stoker.” Roger Ebert’s argument was The Lair of the White Worm may have been a better film altogether had Ken Russell’s name not been attached as the director’s reputation had been tarnished by his earlier films, most notably with The Devils; the critic notes that Russell is a lover of the bizarre, the gothic, the overwrought and the perverse. “The strangest thing about The Lair of the White Worm is that, by his standards, it is all rather straight and square.” It’s probably true to suggest that Roger Ebert’s knowledge of both Ken Russell and The Lair of the White Worm is limited, since he states that the film “begins on an archaeological dig in the wilds of Scotland,” neither film, novel or indeed Legend takes place in the wilds of Scotland.

Meanwhile, Variety described The Lair of the White Worm as a “rollicking, terrifying, post-psychedelic head-trip, and features a fangy vampiress of unmatched erotic allure,” and states that Amanda Donahoe’s performance as the “Vampire seductress projects a beguiling sexuality that should suck the resistance out of all but the most cold-blooded critics; she is also hilarious, a virtue shared by everyone and everything in The Lair of the White Worm.” Ken Russell often felt that his films were sneered upon by the British Film Industry and film critics and Dan Ireland somewhat agrees, believing that the director was often ridiculed and criticised in the United Kingdom but always felt a degree of respect from his peers in the United States of America, especially those in and around New York City, where film enthusiasts were always talking about The Lair of the White Worm.

Indeed, Russell would often describe himself as the forgotten man of British film, “I don't really consider myself to be part of the industry here, and never have, because all my films but one have been financed by Americans. In England, the critics always accused me of being operatic, operatic to them was a dirty word, but I took it as a compliment. Maybe I was born in the wrong country, as I'm not into small-time no-hopers and the dull and boring things that seem to interest English film directors; I don't see any point in making films about people painting electricity pylons in northern England, it’s ludicrous, and that's the British film industry.”

We can’t talk about The Lair of the White Worm without mentioning Emilio Perez Machado’s sensational track, entitled The D'Ampton Worm and which takes place during the festivities marking the slaying of the legendary beast. Machado arranged and performed the song alongside Stephen Powys and Violinist Louise Newman; the group that we see on-screen are called Bluegrass. The origins of the melody dates back to 1867, it was written by songwriter and librettist Clarence Leumane and is sung in a Mackem dialect:

“One Sunda morn young Lambton went a fishing in the Wear, an catched a fish upon he's heuk, he thowt leuk't vary queer, but whatt'n a kind ov fish it was young Lambton cudden't tell, he waddn't fash te carry'd hyem so he hoyed it doon a well.”

Ken Russell states that the actual folk song and lyrics were discovered in a place in London called Cecil Sharp House, “where every folk song that has ever been recorded in England or on the British Isles is available for anyone foolish enough to want to find it. There is an old folk song call the Lambton Worm and worm meant in ancient parlance any dragon-like or snake-like creature and so we're not exactly sure of what it looked like but maybe in ancient times there was a creature that struck terror into the hearts of the natives and maybe that's what got Bram Stoker going on the story because all of his stories, well a lot of his stories, are based on true facts.”

“I always find if there's a grain of truth in a story, then I can work with that, I started working in documentaries and somehow that makes it more real to me and so I concocted this back history if you like about the origins of the worm and the end of the worm and as I said before, the lyrics of the folk song were not changed for this film and could be remembered by everyone in the village around D’Ampton where this Legend has been a local event; people come from far and wide to see this place, where this strange half worm, was it a worm or was it a dragon, existed and it's not that far from the domain of the Loch Ness Monster and this is a story about the unearthing of the monster which is thought to be long extinct is actually lurking under their very feet.”

On February 26th, Vestron Pictures and Lionsgate Home Entertainment will be releasing The Lair of the White Worm on Blu-ray and DVD and we’ll take a look at the film before its general release and we’re promised a wealth of special features, both new and old, which includes an archival director’s commentary with Ken Russell, recorded in the mid 1990s; it’s very tongue-in-cheek and clearly, the director takes neither the film or his commentary track with any seriousness. We also have the usual array of interviews with both cast and crewmembers, all of whom speak highly of their time working on Ken’s self-proclaimed masterpiece. The Lair of the White Worm arrives with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1, and features a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack; the colourisation process often leaves the film looking slightly dull in parts whilst being vivid and rich in others, this is especially so with the outdoor scenes and although the film suffers with occasional grain, it doesn’t distract from the viewing experience. For a film that is almost forty years old, you would expect the special and visual effects to look a little dated, and unfortunately that is the case here and they often appear a little washed out, but again, I think this only adds to the quirkiness of the movie. The film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack offers the viewer an effective experience, both in terms of dialogue and sound effects, which are both clear and effective.

The Lair of the White Worm opens with Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi), a Scottish archaeology student who is excavating the site of a historic convent at the Derbyshire farmhouse of Mary and Eve Trent (Sammi Davis and Catherine Oxenberg) where he unearths a mysterious skull which has the appearance of a large snake-like creature. Flint believes the skull may be connected to the local legend of the D’Ampton Worm, a mythical being that was supposedly slain at Stonerich Cavern by John D’Ampton, whose descendant is James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant), the current Lord of the Manor and whose estate the skull was originally discovered. Lord D’Ampton is initially unmoved by the heroics of his ancestor and the slaying of the White Worm, however, that begins to change when a pocket watch is found in Stonerich Cavern, which belonged to Mary and Eve’s father, Joe Trent, who had disappeared a year earlier, his last known whereabouts being near Temple House, the stately home of Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who immediately takes a shine to the mysterious skull, which does in fact belong to Dionin, an ancient snake God of which Lady Sylvia is an immortal priestess, both beautiful and seductive and as deadly as a Black Mamba. As Angus, Mary and James search for answers within the vast chambers of the underground caverns, Eve is quickly abducted by Lady Sylvia who plans to sacrifice her to the snake God, Dionin, whilst a suspicious Mary is also captured and now it’s up to Angus and James to enter the Lair of the White Worm, save the girls and end Lady Sylvia’s devious plans for good.

Ultimately, The Lair of the White Worm is a film that never really takes itself seriously, and we would suggest the majority of the viewers would also have a similar outlook on the movie and whilst the subject matter of Christianity versus Paganism may have raised a few eyebrows at the time of its release, it all seems rather tame now, especially when compared with Ken Russell’s The Devils, which still to this day has not been released in its full uncut format, a film that still manages to raise the hairs of both the Catholic Church and the British Board of Film Classification. Overall, The Lair of the White Worm is a fun filled 93 minute romp with terrific performances from a cast that includes many of today’s top actors, including Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi and Amanda Donohoe, whilst Sammi Davis’ Yorkshire dialect will have you roaring with laughter.

Released through their Collector’s Series label, Vestron Video, together with distributors Lionsgate Home Entertainment, have brought another entertaining package to the market, with a vast array of special supplementary features awaiting the viewer. We have two very different commentary tracks available, the first being an archival track with Ken Russell, where the director gives us an insight into the workings of a film, photography, editing and such like, it’s very entertaining, very funny and not at all serious, well worth a listen. The second commentary track comes from Film Historian Matthew Melia and he is joined by Ken Russell’s fourth wife, Lisi Tribble Russell and is far more restrained and deals with the production aspects of the film, although Melia seems to mumble his way through the majority of the commentary whereas Lisi Tribble Russell is very clear and concise in her musings and offers great insight into the mind of Ken Russell.

We have the first of three supplementary features available in Worm Food, which looks at the special and visual effects of The Lair of the White Worm and contributions come from special makeup effects designer Geoffrey Portass, visual effects modeller Neill Gorton and makeup and effects artist Paul Jones; running at just over 27 minutes, all three men remember the film with a fondness but recall how Ken Russell could be highly demanding with his visions for the picture, very informative at times. Cutting for Ken is the second feature and runs just short of ten minutes and sees Editor Peter Davies reminiscing about his time with Ken Russell and the battles the pair would often endure as a result of Ken’s ability to edit the film in its entirety in his head; it’s an interesting supplement if a little on the short side. Finally, we have Mary, Mary, an interview with actress Sammi Davis and she is absolutely infectious, always smiling and laughing, her admiration and appreciation of Ken Russell is very much apparent, and whereas Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi and Catherine Oxenberg may well look back on the film with a tinge of embarrassment, Sammi Davis cherishes her time working on the movie; again, it’s a little short at just under sixteen minutes, but it’s well worth watching. We round up the Blu-ray package with Producer Dan Ireland’s Trailers from Hell, a Theatrical Trailer and a Still Gallery, all of the supplementary features are encoded in 1080p.

Overall, Lionsgate Home Entertainment and Vestron Video have brought another fine package to their Collector’s Series label and joins Tibor Takács The Gate and Robert Kurtzman’s Wishmaster in a thrilling horror collection although The Lair of the White Worm’s supplementary features perhaps aren’t as strong as their peers, where the film really comes into its own is with Ken Russell’s commentary track, it’s worth the price of admission alone.

Recommended

Special Features and Supplementary material includes...

• Audio Commentary with Director Ken Russell
• Audio Commentary with Lisi Russell, in Conversation with Historian Matthew Melia
• Worm Food - The Effects of The Lair of the White Worm (1080p; 27:08)
• Cutting for Ken (1080p; 9:32)
• Trailers from Hell Featuring Producer Dan Ireland (1080p; 2:45)
• Mary, Mary - An Interview with Actress Sammi Davis (1080p; 15:42)
• Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:11)
• Still Gallery (1080p; 2:59)

Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles
English SDH

Discs
Blu-ray Disc
Single disc (1 BD-50)

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