Hi-Definition News: The Lair of the White Worm

Not long after I saw a 35mm screening of Ken Russell’s still neglected and maligned masterwork The Devils in Chicago, something strange and wonderful has been happening.  The floodgates previously kept under tight lock and key holding back what Spanish auteur Guillermo Del Toro dubbed ‘a neglected artist’ seems to finally be opening wide.  With the recent BFI UK blu-ray release of Russell’s most celebrated classic Women in Love hitting the shelves as well as his BBC television work also finally making it’s high-definition home video debut and the recent Arrow Video release of Crimes of Passion, one of the director’s most entertaining and beloved farces from the 1980s is at long last making it to blu-ray: The Lair of the White Worm.  Loosely based on Dracula author Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name, the film was intended to be a silly headed creature feature vampire flick with his usual blend of sex, nudity, over the top bombastic images and old fashioned monster movie lore.  After the success of the director’s return to British cinema with Gothic, Vestron Studios offered to finance Russell’s planned prequel to Women in Love should he devise another horror movie. 

Featuring a less-than-well-known Hugh Grant in the leading role, Amanda Donohoe as the sultry snakelike seductress and Catherine Oxenberg as the prototypical damsel in distress, The Lair of the White Worm is as close to a 1960s Hammer Horror flick with more than a little bit of old fashioned carnality thrown in for good measure.  We also get his usual penchant for subliminal blasphemous psychedelic images of hysterical nuns and the demonic white worm twining around crucifixes before going back to the campiest creature feature rollicking since the ape-man detour in Altered States.  Up until this point, Russell’s campy tongue-in-cheek romp made in the same spirit as say, The Boyfriend, is among the director’s most accessible films and the least serious minded in his oeuvre has all but been only available on a Pioneer Special Edition DVD.  

With the recent announcement of Vestron Video’s partnership with Lionsgate to release a number of their titles on limited edition blu-ray, The Lair of the White Worm marks the company’s sixth release in the series and comes stacked with a wealth of extras including an audio commentary with Ken Russell and the director’s widow Lisi Russell, a special effects featurette and interviews with editor Peter Davies and actress Sammi Davis.  Personally, I can’t wait for this to come out, slated for January 31st, 2017, and plan on preordering as soon as possible.  For Ken Russell fans and die-hard horror fans of the 1980s, The Lair of the White Worm is an enormous gift for cinephiles eager to consume anything and everything that is Ken Russell cinema!

- Andrew Kotwicki