Another in a series of essays about vampire films that should be remake, better. I formally give permission for anyone and everyone to use any ideas contained herein to make such a film, without credit or acknowledgment or recompense to myself.
Lair of the White Worm was late film director Kenneth Russell’s deliriously over-the-top homage to Hammer Horror. Starring Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe, it took the seed of Bram Stoker’s last novel and just went wild. Psychodelic visions of roman soldiers raping Dark Age nuns while a serpentine vampire woman gleefully watched was just the least of it. One touch was that as a serpent, the vampire was entranced by music. Imagine then someone breaking into her mansion armed against her–with bagpipes!
So why remake what counts as a cult classic?
Well, it really bears little or no resemblance to the novel!
Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm makes for some odd reading. Like any novel it needs adaptation, and in this case one should probably cut out the overt racism. Some believe this was Stoker’s attempt to recreate the artistic success he’d had with Dracula. Not sure if I disagree. But it certainly also plumbs into taboo territory. Not least is the idea of a subtly powerful female protagonist protecting another young woman (shades of Mina Harker).
The novel takes place in 1860 Derbyshire, with Australian Adam Salton contacted by his great-uncle Richard. A local estate, Castra Regis (“Royal Camp”). has a new heir named Edgar Caswall–a malign and possibly insane eccentric involved in a triangle of sorts. Arabella March intends to marry Edgar, but both he and she seem fascinated with a local girl named Lilla Watford. Her sister, Mimi, seeks to defend her as does Adam with the help of a scholar named Sir Nathaniel de Salis. Arrabella has some connection with snakes, at one point tearing a mongoose in half with her bare hands. All this has something to do with a prehistoric underground serpent.
A madman in his estate, the mysterious deaths of children, a seemingly endless spiral staircase underground, lightning destroying a mansion that contains dynamite–this is all good gothic stuff! But quite different from the Russell motion picture.
I propose someone take the bones of this tale and turn it into a motion picture. The revived Hammer Studios might be a nice choice! In the time-honored tradition of combining characters for dramatic effect, let our here Adam be Edgar Caswall’s nephew. One can make much of an orphan returning to his family’s country, hoping to find his roots, only to become wrapped up in a supernatural mystery. I think Russell had a good idea in making Arrabella some kind of vampire, associated with snakes (evidently as a child she was bitten by many of the things and somehow survived, but changed). Imagine Sir Nathaniel as the man who treated her for those bites, to this day baffled by what happened. Adam would need to prove himself different from his bizarre uncle, presumably in the process falling for one of the sisters. Perhaps this could be a portrait of a man looking into the past, learning it contains far more power and mystery than he’d ever suspected. The modern coming to see the ancient as having its own worth.
For fun I’ll even cast the thing, at least for now. How about Elijah Wood as Adam? His malign uncle might be Jeremy Isaac (Captain Hook in Peter Pan and of course Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter). Sans the white wig, the two even look a bit alike. Along those lines Sir Ian McClellan might make a wonderful Sir Nathaniel.
The other three major roles are all female–sisters Lilla and Mimi, then the evil Arabella. For the first two I’d choose Rachel Hurd Wood and Chloe Grace Moretz. One is English, the other can do a fine English accent. Both are good actors and frankly the resemblance between them really means they should play sisters (a nice counter-point to the Caswall men).
As for Arabella, and since this is an imaginary film with an imaginary budget, let us go with Anne Hathaway. I’ve a feeling she’d enjoy playing a villain for a change–and she certainly has the acting chops to do it!
So what do you think? Would this be a film you’d like to see?
And for the record, anyone wishing to read the actual novel of Lair of the White Worm can find it for free right here via the Gutenberg Project. You can download a free audio recording at Libravox here as well.