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‘Lair of the White Worm’ is a Gory Opus of Sexual Surrealism

A serpentine seductress terrorizes the English countryside to resurrect a snake god in this mesmerizing Ken Russell classic

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at The Lair of the White Worm, Ken Russell’s seductively serpentine Bram Stoker adaptation, currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Sisters Eve and Mary Trent have been running a bed and breakfast in the English countryside of Derbyshire ever since their parents disappeared. One day, archeology student Angus Flint (Pete Capaldi) unearths a strange ancient skull in their yard, shaped like the head of a massive serpent. 

That evening at a local festivity, Flint learns of the town’s local folk legend, The D’ampton Wyrm. It’s a dragonian beast that once terrorized the village, but was slain by Sir John D’Ampton, whose descendant Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant) now stewards the grounds. But it turns out the Wyrm is more fact than fiction, as the skull is stolen the next day by the enigmatic and seductive Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who’s secretly an immortal snake woman that worships the ancient serpent god Dionin and plans to resurrect him with a virgin sacrifice.

As a filmmaker, Ken Russell is known to be a provocateur with a tendency toward blasphemous sex in all its forms (his most famous film is the X-rated Catholic historical drama, The Devils). Based loosely on a latter-day novel from Bram Stoker of Dracula fame, White Worm is no exception. Dionin serves as a more lurid version of the serpent from the Garden of Eden, and the entire picture maintains a steady stream of sadistic sexual surrealism that constantly dunks on the Bible. 

In a way, White Worm feels like a horror film that’s bedding you itself. It seduces you with intrigue and builds up a steady rhythm through dramatic tension before bringing you to climax with an overload of charged visuals. For example, a moment where Eve is overcome by a vision depicting a fiery inferno in which Jesus Christ is being devoured on the cross by a massive white snake while droves of nuns are raped by Roman centurions. 

White Worm is also stuffed with phallic imagery, but rather subversively, the cocks are consistently associated with women, particularly Lady Sylvia. She expresses absolute disdain for Christ, insinuating that he’s an impotent god who can’t even pleasure his own wives, and in more than a few scenes, she gores holy women with spears that are clearly shaped like pointed dickheads. Donohoe is mesmerizing as Lady Sylvia, a woman who so fully embodies her ravenous depraved sexuality that she’ll devour you. When she wields a massive stake-shaped strap-on with which she intends to deflower her virgin sacrifice, it’s hard not to be a little hypnotized over how horrifying she is.

Even so, White Worm isn’t a film that demands overanalysis. Rather, it’s a film that, in totality, feels like little more than a vehicle for blasphemous, sexually lurid imagery. There are no lessons to be had, no learnings to impart — it’s just pure, indulgent, horrifying excess. Which is what makes it such a stimulating ride. 

All I know is that the next time I have sex wielding an extra large dildo, I probably won’t be able to stop myself from referring to it as the D’Ampton Wyrm.

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.