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Ken Russell budget films

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

"Ken Russell's phallic farce starring Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi is drearily sexist, accidentally absurd and undeniably a stinker. But its defiant disrespect for plot and taste win me over"  (Peter Walker,The Guardian, 2 Mar 2018)

The Lair of the White Worm from 1988, a filming of Bram Stoker's badly written novel from 1911. Strange considering Ken found Stoker's most famous book Dracula to be boring.  The worm is actually a snake, and a snake woman searches out sacrifices, and Russells moves the film from gothic to modern times.

Amanda Donohoe in Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

Lady Sylvia Marsh, played by Amanda Donohoe, emerges from a sunbed just as Dracula emerges from his coffin.

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

Her car, moving through the night with green headlamps looks like a snake ("I change my cars like a snake sheds its skin"). With her make-up she looks sexy but not frightening, but it doesn't matter as the film becomes a horror-comedy.

Hugh Grant plays Lord James D'Ampton, the lord of the manor, who slays a symbolic snake at a party (in a scene based on Lang's Siegfried).

Catherine Oxenberg in Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

Peter Capaldi, much later a Dr. Who, plays Angus Flint and together with the Trent sisters Mary, played by Sammi Davies, and Eve played by Catherine Oxenburg (above).

Peter Capaldi Sammi Davies in Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

A very young Peter Capaldi and Sammi Davies.  Together they investigate the legend of the D'Ampton worm.

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm  Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm
Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm  Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

Worm imagery appears throughout the film from Roman coins to snakes and ladders.

Catherine Oxenberg in Ken Russell Lair of the White Worm sacrifice

Because Oxenberg refused to appear nude we have the unique sacrificial scene where the executioner is naked, but the victim, tied and bound and waiting to be sacrificed to a giant worm, still wears her bra and knickers.

Ken Hanke says "While it's one of the filmmaker's lighter works, it's also the Ken Russell picture that turned a lot of younger viewers (who aren't so young anymore) onto his great films from the 1960s and 70s. It's also just plain, cheeky fun and was Russell's favorite of his later period films - in part because he was pleased with his extensive hand-held camerawork in it. (In a Ken Russell movie, whenever the camera comes off the tripod, you can be almost certain it's him filming the scene.)" (Mountain Xpress 20 Jun 2015 click here).

All images from the DVD of the film, Russell quotes from the DVD commentary.


Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

Amanda Donohue is superb as the Snake Woman.  Hugh Grant plays a grinning Englishman with a cute hairstyle.  Unknown Sammi Davis is good in the role of helpless female. Catherine Oxenberg of Dynasty is not especially good and has difficulty with the role.

Russell regulars Imogen Claire and Christopher Gable have minor roles in the film though Imogen Claire was also resonsible for the choreography.  Linzi Drew, from Aria, plays a maid and doubles as a nun in a fantasy sequence.  Straford Johns, also in Salome's Last Dance, is the butler.

Music includes The D'Ampton Worm performed on screen by Emilio Perez Macado, Stephen Powys and Louise Newman.

Further music is by Stanislas Syrewicz.

Other music includes
bagpipe music by Ian Fleming and harmonica by Harry Pitch - both used to control the snake woman.

Ken produces and directs and wrote the script based on Bram Stoker's novel.

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

He has a cameo role walking by on the right in the distance (above, hand raised).

On the DVD commentary he says the location was "a stone's throw from my home".  Part of the film is in Thor's Cave, as seen in the title credits above “The name of the cave is somewhat of an enigma. Although it evokes links with the Norse god Thor or his Anglo-Saxon equivalent, Thunor, there is no evidence to support this etymology. Nevertheless, the cave was in use in Anglo-Saxon times with Early Medieval artefacts uncovered there… The evidence from the cave suggests that it was in use well into the Iron Age and Roman periods. This bone comb possibly dates to the Iron Age, though the ring-and-dot decoration is a style that endured from the Iron Age into the Anglo-Saxon and Post-Medieval periods" (from Wonders of the Peak, edited by AF Taylor, 2 Jun 2020, click here).

The Director of Photography was Dick Bush.  Ken praises Bush, one of his regulars, highly.  He says he and Bush were unhappy with the camera operator and Ken took over.  The editor was Peter Davies- Ken says "I edit my films in my head before filming" so he rarely wastes a shot making editing relativley easy .

Best Image

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm  Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

The hands of the watch turned into a snake.
The hose-pipe writhing like a snake.

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

Site visitor Francesca (thanks Francesca) says "I would like to suggest another best image for Lair of the White Worm. You feature a picture of Amanda Donohoe hissing on the crucifix. When she draws back there is a shadow on the wall from a spider plant. It forms a man's head with a starburst for an eye. It's a neat image. And quite low budget".

Best Scene

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm 

The folk band performing and the ceremonial worm being cut in half.

Ken Russell Lair of the White Worm

Lady Sylvia Marsh as she sees a crucifix.


Fritz Lanf Siegfried

The party sequence with killing the ceremonial worm is a homage to Fritz Lang's Siegfried from 1924.

Ken Russell Lair of the White Worm

The furniture in drapes was first used in Ken's Elgar (below) from 1962.

Ken Russell Elgar Portrait of a Composer

There is a lame Rosebud joke.
Lots of snakes, the game of snakes and ladders. A nunnery and a dream sequence featuring nuns, rape, crucifixion and snakes.

The caves and lighting are similar to the caves in Altered States.

Sammi Davis in Lair of the White Worm

Ken often uses mirrors for artistic effects.

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

A figure silhouetted against a door is a favourite image of Ken.

Georges Méliès film

Georges Méliès film

Ken Russell The Lair of the White Worm

The film includes part of a silent Méliès film, and Russell copies the woman emerging.  The imagery in Salome's Last Dance is also a homage to Méliès.


Other films released in the same year include Rainman, A Fish Called Wanda and The Last Temptation of Christ as well as Russell's Salome´s Last Dance.

Rainman  A Fish Called Wanda  The Last Temptation of Christ  Salome's Last Dance


More films

Click title for film French Dressing * Billion Dollar Brain * Women in Love * The Music Lovers* The Devils * The Boy Friend * Savage Messiah * Mahler * Tommy * Lisztomania * Valentino * Altered States * Crimes of Passion * Gothic * Aria * The Lair of the White Worm * Salome's Last Dance * The Rainbow * Whore


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