Thursday, October 17, 2013

Monster Serial: THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, 1988

Hello, boils and ghouls! October is upon us and that means one thing: HALLOWEEN! While most holidays get a measly day or two of formal recognition, orthodox Monster Kids prefer to celebrate it in the tradition of our people: By watching tons of horror movies. This month at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY, we're going to be discussing some of our favorites every day until Halloween. So, put on your 3-D spex, pop some popcorn and turn out the lights .... because we're going to the movies!

“To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about.”
        — John Waters

So, yes, let’s talk entertainment.

To wit, a dream of a film: based on a final work by Bram Stoker, this one shows a brave aristocrat (Hugh Grant) and his archaeologist pal (Peter "Dr. Who" Capaldi) taking on sexy snake-vampire-priestess Lady Sylvia (Amanda Donohoe) who wants only to sacrifice descendants of nuns (?!) to a living serpent god, Dionan.

LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM tells the kind of story Hollywood provides again and again.  Okay, maybe we don’t see it that often.  Or ever, really.  And yet it feels wonderfully familiar.  In the hands of master director, Ken Russell, it’s an hilarious and exciting romp full of pulp and pinups.  We’ve all seen the covers for old SPICY DETECTIVE-style pulps.  I’ve never read one, and I fear that it would let me down.  LAIR delivers what I always hoped they’d have secreted within.

I've never understood "bad taste."  I understand bad and good. I understand success and failure. But the concept of bad taste eludes me, except that it seems to exist at the intersection of art and entertainment, and is often the common denominator of things I profoundly enjoy.

LAIR actually might have been standard horror movie territory except for director Ken Russell, who was like Baz Lurmann with talent.  (Haw!)  Sir Ken, despite his Oscar nomination for the period drama WOMEN IN LOVE, was perhaps the original (and most original) British madman auteur.  We can thank him for TOMMY, THE DEVILS, THE MUSIC LOVERS, ALTERED STATES, and a host of other memorable films.  (LISTZOMANIA, anyone?)  Caught between Merchant Ivory, Peter Brook, Andy Warhol, and Benny Hill, Russell and his movies are a perfectly perverse blend of sexuality, endearingly obvious (almost ritualistic) music hall humor, deliberate pacing (aka, sometimes slow), Catholic guilt, and visions that collide Bosch with Charles Addams. The jokes are smutty, leaden, and obvious, like so much in Russell's oeuvre, and you know what?  I love every minute of it.

How can you not enjoy a movie by a man detailed in a study entitled, PHALLIC FRENZY, a book on the shelf sure to inspire constant conversation?

Russell twists every expectation possible, delighting in the profane and confounding audiences.  Well this is often alienating, in LAIR, he actually makes it accessible and friendly to any fun-seeking audience. Why?  Movies have “good parts” and necessary parts.  LAIR, for me, is only the good parts.

The vampires in the film are not based on bats are canines, but rather snakes. The evil lady Sylvia sleeps in a basket, like some sort of cobra, hangs out in tanning beds, and can be hypnotically summoned by the sound of a flute, as if drawn by a snake charmer. Everything about her, including her car, it is beautifully serpentine.  She lounges in lingerie (or less), devours boy scouts, and thanks to the intelligence and strength of actress Amanda Donohoe, does so with an intelligence that is far more intimidating than her formidable fangs.  Just as snakes hypnotize, so does Lady Sylvia.

But does she steal the movie?  Not from folk-rock histories of the worm, snakewomen fought more with bagpipes than garlic, Hugh Grant (who’s performance is so light-but-sincere that his first name might as well be Cary), the earnestly lovely Sammi Davis, and the wholesomely heartbreaking Catherine Oxenberg.  (And for the kind of entertainment men like, keep your eyes peeled for a ravished nun played by Linzi Drew, the 1980’s Nina Hartley of England.)
Is this movie obvious at every turn?  Yes.  Does it use any subtlety whatsoever?  Never!  As such, it respects the audience by daring to show them a great time.  Infinitely rewatchable, LAIR is a bad movie for people with no sense of fun, humor, or the madcap.
Sometimes a lurching and surging snake god is just a lurching and surging snake god.  But not in the case of Ken Russell.  Thanks, Sir Ken!

PATRICK McCRAY is a well known comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

1 comment:

D.W. said...

Hello. I'm looking for readers and insights of what was enjoyed to something I've been told is very, very different. I never intended to create it but The Muse tends to have her own way in these things. It should be easy to find online. The title is "Margaret Josette Dupres". Thank you. D.W.

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