Funny, gruesome, sexy, campy, hallucinogenic, uneven, and twisted are just a few of the adjectives I'd use to describe The Lair of the White Worm. Directed by Ken Russell, this 1988 horror film is supposedly based on a Bram Stoker novel of the same name, and I say supposedly because, although I've never read Stoker's novel, the plot summaries I've reviewed bear almost no resemblance to the movie.
The basic plot summary is as follows: A visiting student archeologist (Angus Flint) uncovers the skull of an enormous snake while excavating the buried remains of an ancient Roman temple in the quiet, pastoral village of Derbyshire. His find lends weight to the old Derbyshire folklore that a knight named John D'Ampton slew a great man-eating-worm/wyrm (i.e., dragon) that terrorized the countryside centuries before.
Angus is staying in the home of two comely lasses named Mary and Eve, whose parents disappeared a year earlier while walking along a wooded path near the home of the mysterious Lady Sylvia. Sylvia is soon revealed to be a vampiric snake-woman and worshipper of the ancient snake god Dionan. Sylvia later captures Eve as a living sacrifice for Dionan, and it's up to Angus, Mary, and James D'Ampton--the many-times great-grandson of the legendary hero John D'Ampton--to stop Sylvia and destroy the ancient evil dwelling in the dark caverns overlooking Derbyshire.
I strongly urge highly religious people (and, in particular, devout Catholics) to steer clear of The Lair of the White Worm since it contains some sadistic, fever-dream flashbacks of cruelty, murder, and worse inflicted on nuns and other religious symbols/personages. But if you can overlook these elements, and a couple of other bizarre and mostly nonsensical cut-scenes/dream sequences (which include an erotically-charged lesbian wrestling match in the interior of a Concorde jet), The Lair of the White Worm has a lot to offer.
For all its faults, I find The Lair of the White Worm compulsively watchable and enjoyable. Here are some of the reasons why:
The Lovecraftian vibe. The Lair of the White Worm has a strong "Thing that should not be," mythic, elder-evil feel to it, starting with the opening credits, red letters superimposed over a menacing cave mouth that portends something evil lurking within. Russell smartly and humorously inserts snake-like imagery and serpentine allusions into the film, building up to the "big reveal" at the end. He also succeeds in infusing the action with the dark history of Derbyshire, a small town that nearly two millennia ago was the site of a Roman-era cult dedicated to the worship of the snake-god Dionin. You could run a great (albeit half-slapstick) Call of Cthulhu game following this script.
Hugh Grant. I liked Grant in this, even more so because the actor who went on to star in safe, family comedies like Nine Months doubtless would like to forget ever being in this film.
The bad effects. Most of the "special effects" in this film aren't so special, but I like them all the better for it. One of my favorites is a scene in which James D'Ampton cuts a snake-woman in half with a sword, leaving her legs and upper body writhing a pool of blood. Only it's painfully obvious that the two halves were created with two actors sticking up their legs and upper body through the floor of the set. It's a scene that's sure to bring to a smile to fans of schlock horror.
To read more about this fine (?) film, I recommend this Web site: http://www.geocities.com/lairof/frame.htm