Lair of the White Wyrm is a Delicious Horror Classic

Lair of the White Wyrm has everything I want in a campy horror film: snake ladies, music video hallucinations, and lots of great outfits.

Content warning for mention of sexual violence in the movie.

This week on You Love to See It, LB and I watched what is one of their favorite films, which turned out to be one of my new favorite films: Lair of the White Wyrm. It is a positively deranged and wonderful and ridiculous Ken Russell masterpiece starring Amanda Donohoe as Lady Sylvia — a sexy aristocrat/sexy snake demon priestess — a young Hugh Grant as an adventurous rich guy, and an impossibly young Peter Capaldi as a Scottish Archeology student in a kilt. 

When Angus (Capaldi, again, with the cutest hair he’s ever had) finds a massive, snake-y skull in the remains of an ancient convent/Pagan ritual site… all hell breaks loose. It is… very loosely based on a Bram Stoker work. Very.

From the first red scripted letters of the title card to the fever dream/VHS/naughty MTV hallucination sequences to the seductions of Lady Sylvia to the Capaldi “final form” ending, it is a wonderful, campy, bloody delight, and I’m so glad it’s in my life now.

Only… it’s actually been in my life for a long time. Sort of.

I relayed this on the podcast, but I actually encountered the film tangentially as a very young child. Way back, my local drug store had a movie rental section, with VHS tapes aligned on a metal wall. There was a cover for Lair of the White Wrym that I remember, clear as day, from 30+ years ago: especially the image of Lady Sylvia emerging, snakelike, from a wicker… snake casket? Snake basket? Snake receptacle?

I also recall, clear as day, an image of her in full ???? -y regalia, baring her fangs menacingly. My tiny child brain was both very scared, and very, very intrigued by these images.

lair of the white wyrm sylvia snake biting
This isn’t the image from above, but it gets at the essential BITE of the film.

I didn’t encounter this cinematic masterpiece between the very late 80s/very early 90s and last week, when I finally watched it for the first time. Seeing the cover art brought me back immediately, and there it was: my Lair of the White Wyrm journey continued, as if there was no gap in the decades.

There are, absolutely, some not-okay things that happen in the film, which LB and I do discuss, so let that serve as a content warning for references to sexualized violence and all kinds of other violence. But the movie is so stylized, so over the top, and so very tongue in cheek that it didn’t set off my personal “this is gross” alarm. This movie knows exactly what it is, and I get the sense that the actors absolutely did as well, so the fever dream blood orgies read as “ridiculous” rather than “scary.” 

As always, folks’ feelings will vary on that, hence the content warning.

For me, this is what I want to fill up my Shocktober evenings with: 80s excess, unbelievable costumes and sets, talented actors playing deranged games of make believe, and lush cinematography just drinking in it all. Give me Amanda Donohoe snake-dancing in lingerie, or getting ready for arcane rituals with stabby snake strap-ons. Give me Hugh Grant enjoying fever dreams of every lady in the film biting and fighting one another, dressed as flight attendants. Give me Capaldi in a kilt, chasing zombie snake people around.

Give me Lair of the White Wyrm.

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