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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
James D'Ampton: Do you have children?
DVD ReviewBy the time his adaptation of Bram Stoker's final novel, Lair of the White Worm, was released, director Ken Russell already had a lengthy career in television, plus a notable collection of diverse features including his Oscar®-winning adaptation of D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love, the Who's rock opera, Tommy, and the bizarre Roger Daltry vehicle, Lisztomania (both 1975), Altered States (1980), and Crimes of Passion (1984). Casting a then relatively unknown Hugh Grant (whose only feature starring role by then was Merchant/Ivory's Maurice) opposite Amanda Donahoe (later of L.A. Law fame), Russell this time takes on the genre of gothic camp with a flair that ranks Lair of the White Worm as an all time classic.
While lodging at the home of sisters Mary and Eve Trent on a field expedition searching for ancient Roman ruins, archaeology student Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi) unearths the skull of an unidentifiable reptilian creature on the grounds. According to local folklore, the site was once the sacrificial alter of a great serpentine godhead known as the D'Ampton Worm. When Lord James D'Ampton (Grant), the descendent of the slayer of the legendary beast and recent heir to the property, learns of the discovery, his ancestral heritage is brought to the fore.
With the unexpected reappearance of the owner of Temple House, Lady Sylvia Marsh (Donahoe), the skull's disappearance is but the first of strange events to unfold. Eve endures a frightening hallucination, and the search for the Trent girls' parents, who had mysteriously vanished a year prior, is reinitiated when their father's watch is recovered from a cavern rumored to be the lair of the great white worm. With James in the lead, the gang set about uncovering the truth about the legendary creature before it claims any more victims.
While the tone is generally low key and tongue-in-cheek, Russell crafts his production with imagination and flashes of spectacle. The legend of the White Worm is exposed through the lyrics of a song during the opening party, and the various dream sequences and rare gore is explicit and no holds barred, rife with sacrilegious and phallic imagery. Special effects are fairly cheesy, which adds to the charm of the picture. Costuming is equally audacious, particularly Donahoe's ever diminishing wardrobe. The cinematography relies on plenty of extreme wide angle shots, giving an unsettling and unnatural feel to the look of the scenes. Dialogue is witty, and filled with double entendres, which perfectly match a classic Hugh Grant performance, as he delivers his trademark dry humor and stoic characterization in brilliant counterpart to Amanda Donohoe's scene stealing and over the top Lady Marsh. Abounding with nudity and some eye-popping gore, Lair of the White Worm won't be a film for everyone, but its style is Russell at his best, and the film belongs in any collection of off-the-wall comedic horror films.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Artisan delivers a nice new anamorphic transfer here, which is a definite upgrade from the previous Pioneer release. Colors look natural and not over saturated, though the source looks a little murky in a few places. Detail is excellent, with no annoying transfer issues smearing fine lines or backgrounds. Grain is also naturally rendered, giving this a very respectable presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: English audio is presented in the original prologic surround, which works nicely. Dialogue is clear, the soundtrack appropriately directional, and there were no technical problems observed.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: Where this release disappoints is in the lack of extras, including the great Ken Russell commentary available on Pioneer's previous release. This is about as bare bones as they get.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsWith its improved transfer, Artisan's reissue of Lair of the White Worm is a justifiable upgrade for fans, but those wishing for a definitive edition will want to procure or hang on to the old Pioneer disc for its superior extras.
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