The Lair of the White Worm (Great Britain, 1988):

It was only a matter of time for Ken Russell, with his prurient penchant for phallic symbols, to come up with an entire project around a metaphor for big swinging dicks (with various caves thrown in for good measure). Transplanted from Bram Stoker's original to modern-day Scotland, the plot kicks off with archeologist Peter Capaldi unearthing a boulder-sized, vaguely reptilian skull in one of the lands owned by young lord Hugh Grant. Turns out the land was previously (like, during ancient Roman times) the preferred site for a sacrilegious snake-worshipping cult, complete with virgins ceremoniously tossed into the maws of a gargantuan white worm. Slinky Amanda Donohoe soon materializes on the premises and, when not busy hissing venom onto crucifixes or sucking off Boy Scouts with two-inch talons, looks for sacrificial lambs to resurrect her scaly god -- virginal sisters Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis will do just fine. The movie doesn't lack for Russell's trademark psychedelia (of nuns gang-raped by Roman thugs while a puppet snake coils around a writhing Christ, of Grant's pen tilting smirkily upwards during his dream of dueling garter-belted thighs), though by now he can only address his pet themes (the eruption of pagan sexuality in corseted civilization) in shrill self-parody mode. Still, the film's self-stroking campiness is almost redeemed by Donohoe's provocative-nonchalant acceptance of (and revelling in) the ridiculous, a performance as faultlessly pitched as Maria Montez's in that other serpentine classic, Cobra Woman. I still smile just remembering Donohoe's undulating room-crossing, leather-wrapped and stiletto-heeled, helplessly charmed by belly-dancin' beats. With Stratford Johns.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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