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The Lair of the White Worm


‘…a story that’s part Dr Who, part Nigel Kneale, and mainly Ken Russell…’

The decline and fall of Ken Russell would make a film in itself; once the enfant terrible of British cinema, he ended up making films in his nursing home. The Lair of the White Worm is a very strange late entry from the end of his peak; the 80’s saw him venture across the pond of the excellent Altered States and the oddball Crimes of Passion; returning to Blighty saw him head back to the literary path with Frankenstein creation story Gothic and this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm.

Both have enough baroque imagery to qualify as horror films, although the sight of Peter Capaldi pacifying the giant worm with his bagpipes is likely to create sleepless nights with mirth. Capaldi’s Angus Flint is one of a ground of excavators who come across a giant skull on an archaeological dig; could the mysterious Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who seduces boy scouts in her spare time, know anything about the giant worm the skull might suggest? And does Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant) realise that his family have a history of slaying giant beasts?

Russell’s use of chroma-key effects to create weird hallucinogenic montages of Bacchanalian tableau is hit or miss, but the cast all seem game for a story that’s part Dr Who, part Nigel Kneale, and mainly Ken Russell, having fun with the production design by finding various worms, snakes and all kinds of visual motifs for his story. The cast are game, and if nothing else, you can’t say you’ve seen this kind of story before.

The Lair of the White Worm was less than popular on release, but it’s gained a deserved cult following; the star names involved should draw a crowd to streaming services, and even if the cast don’t all want to remember this film, it’s use of classic British mythology gives it a unique, decadent tone.


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  1. This was a cracker of misconception and I’m sure a good few of the cast look back on it with horror. As well as those named it had Gina McKee, Stratford Johns, Catherine Oxenberg – what a line-up. I have a feeling I laughed myself silly at the goings on.

  2. This was on prime a bit ago and I gave it a watch. Once the evil lady started seducing the “boy” (man, do they grow them boys big in that area) I rolled my eyes and watched something else.

    I liked Fraggles tale. I would say the tale lifted just a bit from the tale of Jephthah the Judge of Israel….

      • John Lambton, heir to the Lambton Estate in County Durham (now Tyne & Wear) skipped church to go fishing in the River Wear. An old man or an old witch, could’ve been either, warns him no good comes from missing church. Whilst fishing he catches an eel/lamprey type creature with a salamander-like head. It was either the size of a thumb or 3 ft long, and had legs, or didn’t. The old man/witch/someone else returns and gives John dire warnings about the nature of the beast after John declares the creature a devil and chucks it down a well. John grows up and does penance for being a bad lad by going off to fight in the Barbary Crusade.

        Meanwhile, back in Co.Durham the worm grows big and the well he’s in becomes poisonous. Lots of the surrounding villages livestock goes missing and then the worm wraps itself around either Worm Hill in Fatfield or Penshaw Hill in Houghton-Le-Spring. It’s body is long enough to go round the hill 7 times! It continues being a nuisance eating sheep, and small children and stopping cows from making milk. Then iit heads off to Lambton Castle where John’s aged Dad Lord Lambton manages to sedate it by giving it 20 gallons, or a filled wooden/stone trough of cows milk every day. A few brave (bonkers) villagers, and visiting Knights try to kill it but the worm depatches them easily enough. If the worm has a bit chopped off, it reattaches it without problem. When it’s annoyed it pulls up trees with it’s tail and uses them as a club to whack about and cause devastation.

        John returns from the Crusades and seven years have passed whereby Dad’s estate is in a bad way and they’re almost destitute.John decides he must fight the beast, but first goes to get advice from a witch in Durham. By this time the worm is living wrapped round a large rock in the River Wear. She tells him to cover his armour in spearheads and fight the worm in the river. As a by she also says after he kills the worm he then must kill the next living thing he sees straight after or his family will be cursed for 9 generations and won’t die in their beds.
        John covers his armour in spearheads and arranges with his Dad that after he’s killed the worm he’ll blow his horn 3 times, and when Dad hears it he must release his favourite hunting dog who will run to John and John can kill it so avoiding the curse. Unfortunately John’s Dad is thick as s*1t and gets so excited when he hears the horn after John kills the worm, he forgets to release the dog and runs to congratulate John. John can’t bear to kill his Dad (I would have- stupid sod) so the curse remains.

        What’s worse is, even though Dad f**ked up they then release the dog and kill it anyway when it was pointless, so as far as I’m concerned they deserve to be cursed.

        Anyways, the curse only lasted 3 generations,
        1st generation: Robert Lambton, drowned at Newrig.
        2nd: Sir William Lambton, a Colonel of Foot, killed at Marston Moor
        3rd: William Lambton, died in battle at Wakefield.

        It came back one last time
        9th: Henry Lambton, died in his carriage crossing Lambton Bridge on 26 June 1761.

        And that my friend, is the legend of the Lambton Worm. Probably better than the movie 🙂

  3. I saw it many years ago. I remember enjoying it. I admired how different it was from every other horror movie, even if it wasn’t very scary. My favorite movie of his is still ‘Altered States,’ but ‘Women in Love’ is very good as well.

    • I’m a fan, and have seen pretty much everything he’s done. Altered States stands up really well today, susprised it’s not been remained. But his films are pretty unique, even if, as you say, this isn’t exactly nerve-jangling.

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