When Ken Russell gives you the likes of Sir Oliver Reed as a psychosexual priest lusted after by a nun in The Devils (1971), an LSD-induced adaptation of the rock opera Tommy (1975), and an Earthbound Kubrickian mind trip with Altered States (1980), is it any wonder he gives you a vampish sociopolitical satire on British class struggle, along with his opinions on the medical profession, law enforcement, and examinations on human sexual behaviors?
If this is how Russell rattles Stoker’s bones . . . well, Sherdian Le Fanu (And Die of Pleasure) would rattle an eternal cacophony for his work being given an analogous, cheeky treatment.
So do go into this vamp soiree knowing that when Russell took his keystrokes to an obscure Bram Stoker vampire tale first published in 1911 (based on the Northern England folklore-legend The Lambton Worm), he’s not giving you the dark, brooding vampires of Herzog-Kinski’s (Nosferatu the Vampire) interpretation of F.W. Murnau’s plagarism (Shadow of the Vampire) of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: he’s giving you the-no-other-woman-in-the-history-of-cinema-or-the-real-world-rocks-a-boy’s cut-sexier-than-her Amanda Donohoe (in place of Hammer oh là là-vamp Ingrid Pitt) as the lesbian-starved Lady Sylvia Marsh. And for the innkeeper’s kidnapped daughters-in-distress you’re getting Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis (double oh là làs). And for the dashing Lord James you get . . . Hugh Grant?
Yeah, you get Oxenberg in ropes . . . and a worm . . . but you also get Hugh Grant.
And that’s this movie’s kicker for most horror hounds: Hugh Grant. Women love him. Men hate him.
“He’s a rom-com guy! What in the hell is he doing in a vampire movie?” the detracting cries of Dracula’s minions echoed across the Carpathian’s Borgo Pass (aka Tihuța Pass).
But Grant—detractors be damned—is a great comedic actor who, along with the equally affable Donohoe, Oxenberg, and Davis, as well as co-star Peter Capaldi (as Grant’s sidekick Angus Flint) deliver Russell’s cheeky, sometimes groan-inducing black humor with self-confidence. It’s that Brit-thespin’ that gives us a vamp-com not as silly as the vamp-coms Love at First Bite (1979) and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), or as inept (sorry, Mr. Olen Ray; love ‘ya, but in this context, it is) as Beverly Hills Vamp. Courtesy of A-List special effects and make-up (as you can see: Donahoe’s blue-skinned work is a show stopper), Russell’s created a pumped-up version of Dan Curtis’s TV serial Dark Shadows, one that serves as a great double-feature companion to the de jour of vamp-coms, Fright Night (1985), which, in itself, was more silly than scary—and fun and loving it. As is this Stoker-Russell collaboration.
You can watch Lair of the White Worm as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTv.
So, “Two Thumbs Up,” right Sam? And I’ve decided: You’re the “Ebert” here. And instead of a “Dog of the Week” hailing a bad movie, we’ll have a “Blender of the Week” to hail a good movie. I’ll bring the fruit concentrate. You bring the vodka. Bill Van Ryn, bring the chips and dips. “Nostrovia, podrooga! Let the movie-themed drinks pour until sunrise!”