Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Lair of the White Worm


I'm so sorry to have been out of communication with my fan base over the holiday season but there's been so much to do around Chateau Maine that I simply haven't had a chance to sit down at the keyboard and type in weeks. With Epiphany finally past, I've been able to draw a little breath and get back on track with my life. Getting my charming little home ready for the holidays is a problem, even in a normal year, but this year my dear chum Annie Leibowitz chose my fabled decorations as her subject for a layout in one of the finer home design magazines. I'm not at liberty to say which one. They're still negotiating with the publisher who apparently has somewhat restricted phone privileges at the West Virginia resort and spa where she's currently staying. I suggested just text messaging her on a Blackberry, but apparently the reception in that part of the country is not what it is here in the LA basin. 

Normy and I and Jerry the housekeeper and the staff went all out turning Chateau Maine into a veritable winter wonderland. We flooded the front lawn after installing a cooling system to make a vast skating rink. I then hired a number of unemployed Ice Capettes to perform a little ice spectacular entitled 'The King and Ice' for which Normy composed special music. They looked enchanting in their Thai silks and with their traditional head dresses lacquered red with little white Santa pom-poms on top. The interiors were a salute to Christmas around the world, starting with a marvelous Italian crèche in the foyer using celebrity mannequins as the traditional figures. I was incredibly cross with Madame Tussaud's after word leaked out and they stole my idea of using Madonna for the Madonna. 

I did have a couple of spare moments and collapsed in the home theater (a salute to Christmas in Saudi Arabia with lots of miniature oil wells outlined in green and red bulbs) with the remote and the cable channels. One film I was able to catch in its entirety without falling asleep was Ken Russell's The Lair of the White Worm from 1988 starring the young Hugh Grant. This gothic little horror story, taken from a Bram Stoker, novel, was given Russell's usual over the top visual style making the somewhat thin material vaguely interesting, or at least never dull. 

Hugh Grant is a young Scottish Laird who is descended from a family known in local legend to have killed a local dragon, the Dampton worm some centuries ago. On his property reside a couple of sisters (Sammi Davis and Catherine Oxenberg) who run a guest house, their current lodger being Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi), an archaeologist who has unearthed an ancient pre-Roman temple and strange skull in their back garden. They're upset over the recent mysterious disappearance of their parents. Things get interesting when Lady Sylvia, an aristocrat with sleek and sinewy tastes in cars and clothes, takes the neighboring manse. Our four heroes and heroines start to suspect that she may have something to do with the disappearance, the legend, and that her predilection for snakes has a somewhat sinister motive. 

The tale is more or less a retread of Bram Stoker's Dracula with a female protagonist and serpents standing in for bats. No viewer with more than a third grade education can fail to connect the dots and figure out the plot and dénouement long before our thick witted heroes get there. As a horror film, it's not especially scary, although there are a couple of moments of eerie frisson that make the viewer a bit uncomfortable - especially the fate of a lumpy boy scout (Chris Pitt) and a rather bizarre dream sequence that takes place inside an airplane. 

Ken Russell is in his element. Always the most visually brazen of directors, he enjoys staging over the top moments including the rape of a convent, a snake woman with an over sized ivory strap-on phallus, a dance party with disco lighting and a dancing dragon, and Amanda Donahoe slithering through her house like a cobra to the strains of a flute. Amanda Donahoe is more than game to go all the way. She relishes every word of her somewhat hokey dialogue and has such fun reveling in her monstrosity that you feel like cheering whenever she's on screen. Unfortunately, the film keeps going back to our heroes who are nowhere near as interesting. Hugh Grant is all floppy haired earnestness, Catherine Oxenberg a boring non-entity, Sammi Davis a perky refugee from a shampoo commercial and Peter Capaldi all Scots burr and squinty eyes. 

The film is perfectly enjoyable as a diverting entertainment on a rainy evening when nothing else is scheduled, but not something one should seek out unless one is either a Hugh Grant or Ken Russell completist. 

Found watch. Jaguar driving. Venom spitting. Snake and cross. Bloody nuns. Shirtless Hugh Grant. Dangling Catherine Oxenberg. Zombie stewardesses. Wet boy scout. Impaled policeman. Amplified folk song.

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