An Early Hugh Grant Film that Turned the Vampire Genre on its Head

Anyone who knows me and my predilection for vampire movies knows that I am a genre purist. That means I don’t like it when writers or filmmakers color outside the lines or break the “rules.” The contrarian in me would ask how you can have rules when it comes to fictional things? So, rather than break the rules, I like stories that play around in the margins a bit. This perfectly silly film does just that.

30. Lair of the White Worm – 1988

In 1988, Hugh Grant starred in Lair of the White Worm with Amanda Donohoe, Peter Capaldi (yes, he’s related to singer Lewis Capaldi), and Sammi Davis. Grant plays the descendent of the local lord and keeper of the folklore of the D’Ampton Worm. Capaldi’s archaeologist Angus Flint discovers a giant snake skull that dates back to the Roman occupation of England. Flint is a guest at the local B&B run by sisters Mary (Davis) and Eve Trent (Catherine Oxenberg).

Enter Lady Sylvia Marsh (Donohoe), who oozes dominatrix sexuality and seductive charm. In typical wolf in sheep’s clothing fashion, Marsh is the resident vampire creature nobody suspects. She spends a lot of time slinking around her rather large house and enslaving those who cross her path. Her character is more snake than vampire, which all leads up to the planned virgin sacrifice of Eve to the D’Ampton Worm.

It was Grant’s ancestor who slayed the D’Ampton Worm in the first place, and it’s up to his Lord James D’Ampton character to rise to the occasion and keep the family end up as it were. Our principal characters – James, Angus, and Mary – team up to defeat the vampire and her minions, as well as slay the beast. Of course, the story is left open to a sequel (which never happened).

The Lair of the White Worm is an entertaining film with numerous elements of typical vampire stories and plays in those margins with the snake characteristics and virginal sacrifice trope. Marsh’s motivations are never truly explained except for satiating a giant snake she worships as a god.

The movie is based on a novel by Bram Stoker, yes, that Bram Stoker, that was published in 1911, a year before Stoker died. It was based on the legend of the Lambton Worm, which was supposedly a dragon. Sammi Davis went on to quite the career and was a regular on Homefront. Capaldi had a run as Dr. Who, yes, that Dr. Who. Googly-eyed character actor Paul Brooke plays the local constable. Donohoe went on to be a fixture on L.A. Law. And Hugh Grant is … well, Hugh Grant.

I have always enjoyed this film, mainly because it didn’t take itself too seriously. It’s full of overt and subtle debauchery and sexuality and is perfectly cast.

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