The Lair of the White Worm Blu-ray Review
Charming snakes, Ken Russell-style
Bram Stoker's poorly-received The Lair of the White Worm earns an equally flawed, although unabashedly psychedelic adaptation courtesy of eccentric Brit director Ken Russell.The odd story, which has all the tropes of Stoker's classic Dracula but lacks any resonant romantic depth, follows an archaeology student's (Dr. Who's Peter Capaldi) discovery of what looks to be a dinosaur skull in Derbyshire, soon becoming embroiled in the supposed truth behind the local legend of the White Worm, a mythical snake-like creature said to have been slain by the ancestors of the local Lord of the Manor (Hugh Grant). After a spate of recent snake bites plague the local villagers, suspicion begins to fall on a certain Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), a mysterious and eminently seductive woman who has more than a healthy interest in snakes.The Lair of the White Worm is crazy and clumsy in equal measure, which just about sums up most of Russell's mid-range work. Boasting all of the famously over-the-top director's most common proclivities - naked bodies, sexually-charged same-sex wrestling, a phallic symbol in every shot and some pretty heavy-handed religious slights (including, here, an entire snake-wrapped-around-Jesus-on-the-cross and Roman soldiers raping nuns 'dream' sequence) - it only vaguely works as a light horror, at its most captivating as the striking Amanda Donohoe struts her dominatrix stuff in possibly her best lead role, but ultimately losing all hope with bagpipes and bad effects.
Picture QualityLionsgate investigates The Lair of the White Worm on Region B-locked UK Blu-ray, complete with a strong but inescapably flawed 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen.
The comparatively low budget thirty year old flick can clearly only look just so good, and this - what looks like a newly minted remaster - is it as far as presentation goes, with the source material's clear limitations putting a stop to anything strikingly impressive, and leaving the remainder veering between sporadic but still persistent instances of dire video effects, shoddy dream sequences and badly realised darker-lit scenes, and the mainstay which is, thankfully, fairly decent and pretty good for its age and budget.
Undoubtedly the best the film is ever going to look
Detail during these better scenes - quite obviously the better lit sequences fair better, whether indoors or outdoors - is rather good, bringing faces and background nuances to life, with the richly textured lavish manor backdrop observed right down to the minutae. Some of the close ups are really quite striking, often involving Amanda Donohue, scantily clad, in different lighting, with or without fangs (there's one late stage shot of her in blue which is in excellent shape), but, conversely, there are plenty of softer focus mid-range shots, impinged upon by ill-advised lighting conditions or the unavoidable shadows of the stately homes. It's the effects that really fall down though, with the video-based dream sequences looking outright awful (the practical effects, whilst cheap, are far more acceptable) and irredeemably so. It's the best the film is ever going to look, even if that's almost damning it with faint praise.
Sound QualityThe Lair of the White Worm's accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track does a solid job at both remaining faithful to the original stereo sound design of the piece and also revitalising the older material with some lossless pzazz.
Faithful to the original stereo sound design
Dialogue remains clear and coherent throughout, notwithstanding the somewhat questionable accents affected (oddly not the only time bad accents have damaged the credibility of a Stoker adaptation - Keanu Reeves in Dracula), whilst effects, no matter how limited, do give some scant life to the proceedings. The backdrop helps somewhat, with the echoey halls of the mansions, the crunch underfoot in the woods, the reverberations in the caverns, and the throaty growl of the classic sports cars. It's not much, and hardly electric, but gives the track a little more to do. Some rather questionable soundtrack choices - not just the live band but the bagpipe 'weapon' in the final act - at least deliver further material to light up the track, and are arguably even amongst the highlights. This is a solid and faithful presentation of the source material in the best shape it's likely to ever be in.
ExtrasLionsgate provide a healthy selection of extra features headlined by not one but two Audio Commentaries. The first is the old DVD Commentary provided by the late Russell himself, whilst the newly-recorded alternative comes from his last wife Lisi Russell and film historian Matthew Melia, who talk at length about the director's proclivities, interest in British history, religious symbolism, and familiarity with horror works.
There's a healthy selection of extra features
Worm Food - The Effects of The Lair of the White Worm offers up half an hour of behind the scenes into the effects, with the effects artists, whilst Cutting for Ken spends 10 minutes with the film's editor, whilst Mary, Mary spends a quarter of an hour in interview with actress Sammi Davis. There's also a brief Trailers from Hell clip with Producer Dan Ireland, which offers a trailer-sized summary of the film and its background which is more fun than the full Commentaries. The disc is rounded off by a Gallery and Trailer.
Blu-ray VerdictCrazy and clumsy in equal measure, which just about sums up most of Russell's mid-range work
Lionsgate's UK Blu-ray release of Ken Russell's The Lair of the White Worm provides the film with the best video and audio it's every likely to receive or achieve, and a great selection of extra features, leaving it a superb package for fans of the film, and fans of Russell's work - the good and the bad.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £13.30
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