Release Date(s)1988 (January 31, 2017)
Studio(s)Vestron Pictures/Lionsgate (Vestron Video Collector’s Series)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
The Lair of the White Worm is another in a string of visually-striking Ken Russell films, a director whose efforts have yielded some of cinema’s most talked about and divisive oddities. Very loosely based upon Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name, the movie is a mix of dark humor, drama, and horror set within the Scottish countryside. The discovery of a large skull that once belonged to a mythical snake-like worm creature called The D’Ampton Worm triggers a deadly snake woman named Lady Sylvia to take up residence in an area not far from where the underground dwelling of an actual subterranean living worm creature resides. Biding her time with wayward victims, she eventually requires a female sacrifice for the worm, but is met with resistance from a local archeologist and his friends.
It’s fair to say that I’m not an enormous fan of Ken Russell’s work, but being that I’m a bit open-minded when it comes to cinema at large, I usually appreciate his movies more than I actually like them. Such is the case with The Lair of the White Worm. It’s certainly not a movie that’s unmemorable. The gonzo imagery and camera work make it a distinctly visual movie with mostly strong performances, including those from Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, and Amanda Donohoe as Lady Sylvia. However, it ultimately lacks in its plotting and its pace. It moves relatively slowly, which feels deliberate, and not everything about it is clear, including the thickness of some of the characters’ accents. When I first saw it some time ago, my general reaction to it was lukewarm. After allowing some time to pass before seeing it again, I still kind of feel the same way, even though there’s some effective scenes on display. It only goes to further prove that when it comes to Ken Russell, your mileage may vary.
The Blu-ray debut of The Lair of the White Worm features a transfer that’s quite satisfying. Grain levels resolve well most of the time while being a little chunky at others. There’s an overall softness, mostly due to the use of opticals, which show their age quite a bit. Detail is still abundant, but shadow detail can be a little lacking. Black levels are solid and color reproduction is fairly strong, while brightness and contrast levels are pleasing. It’s also a fairly clean presentation with only some mild speckling leftover. However, compression artifacts do tend to crop up from time to time. It’s also a bit unstable towards the beginning, but manages to even out along the way. The audio is presented on an English 2.0 DTS-HD track, which delivers an excellent stereo presentation. Dialogue is rendered well, but the soundtrack’s true strengths are its use of sound effects and score. Ambience, echoes, and other background sounds are abundant in spots while low frequency effects are very active, particularly during the song at the beginning of the movie. And for those who might need them, subtitles in English SDH are included.
For the supplemental material, there’s an excellent audio commentary with director Ken Russell; another audio commentary with Lisi Russell in conversation with film historian Matthew Melia; a set of new featurettes, including Worm Food, which contains interviews with special effects artists Geoffrey Portass, Neil Gorton, and Paul Jones; Cutting for Ken, an interview with editor Peter Davies; the Trailers from Hell version of the trailer featuring producer Dan Ireland; the original theatrical trailer; and a still gallery.
While many will likely discover it for the first time, or possibly even rediscover it and appreciate it more fully on a new format, I prefer to think of The Lair of the White Worm as a good-looking curiosity more than an outright masterpiece. It’s got all the hallmarks of Ken Russell’s sensibilities as a filmmaker on full display, and with a healthy transfer and extras to go with it, it’s worth your time to seek out.
- Tim Salmons