Imagine, if you will, Doctor Who fighting a snake person with the power of bagpipes. This movie is not trying to be a horror film, it’s an old-school adventure story and if you take it on that level, it’s super fun. It’s based on an original Bram Stoker short story, and the film itself is an homage to swashbuckling serials from the 1930s, with larger than life characters, big accents, and beautiful women in danger. Pure camp. Elevating it, there are some great trippy dream sequences where you go “Oh yeah, he directed Altered States (1980)”. So, altogether, it’s massively entertaining.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot because it’s very simple. There is an ancient town where a local lord once killed a great dragon, the white worm of the title. Now, in the 1980s, there is still one acolyte of the serpent, facing off with the lord’s descendant, James D’Ampton (a smarmy Hugh Grant), and a plucky archaeologist, Angus Flint (a very Scottish Peter Capaldi). Amanda Donohoe dominates as Lady Sylvia Marsh, chewing all the scenery while the other female characters, Eve and Mary Trent (Catherine Oxenberg and Sammi Davis), do a fine job but don’t contribute much (and that’s okay in this genre).
It’s currently on Tubi, but leaving soon, so catch it if you can.
Do you like puppets? Gross puppets? Consider watching Basket Case (1982). It’s the madcap tale of a young man, Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), and his parasitic twin, Belial (puppet in basket). Separated without consent, the two team up to take revenge on the doctors that tore them apart, Dr. Lifflander (Bill Freeman), Dr. Needleman (Lloyd Pace), and Dr. Kutter (Diana Browne)… who is now a veterinarian. Along the way he meets the sympathetic medical receptionist Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), who falls head over heels for him for no reason apparent to the viewer. All of this takes place in a sleazy, early 1980s New York which is always a good time (think Muppets take Manhattan but icky).
There’s even a bit of a weird Canadian trivia for those keeping score: the first evil doctor who is killed, Dr. Lifflander, is played by a writer of Canadian historical fiction, Bill Freeman.
Now. The puppet. Sometimes he’s stop motion. Sometimes he’s a real person’s face in a prosthetic. Sometimes he’s rubber gloves, like it’s filmed from his perspective. But most of the time, he is a hand puppet in a basket. I would argue that the fact he is all of those things is what takes this movie from garbage to glory for most of its run time. The gore effects? Surprisingly competent.
But then… I started getting a bad feeling when he tries to feel up Duane’s raunchy neighbour, Casey (Beverly Bonner). And, finally, there’s no two ways about it, he kills and rapes and Sharon. It’s so very tragic because I really did love that puppet. The film ends when Belial strangles Duane before they both plummet to their deaths. And because the world is a terrible place there are sequels. Sequels which I don’t think I’ll watch.
There are a lot of terrible films out there. Many are on Tubi, bless their hearts. The 70s were a heady time for film, with the technology becoming more accessible and an interest in experimental film. At the same time, this era became a nexus of schlock. Legacy of Satan (1974) is garbage, but it’s entertaining garbage.
In essence, Maya (Lisa Christian) is a sexually repressed housewife. Her husband, George (Paul Barry), loves her but is having a hard time dealing with her mood swings and lack of desire. Their friend, Arthur (James Procter), becomes involved in a sexy blood cult. Cult leader Dr. Muldavo (John Francis) becomes fixated on Maya. His cult worships Rakeesh (not Satan?), and they plan to lure Maya in with a costume party. Maya starts having strange visions; one is a pretty cool painting that’s bleeding from the eyes, but then she gets attacked by a guy in a crummy rubber mask, so… kind of unsatisfying.
When the couple goes to the cult compound, they are drugged and separated. Maya seems fine with her fate; in fact, when George tries to rescue Maya with the help of a mute cultist, Aurelia (Anne Paul), and a magic sword, Maya turns on him. This twist was really unexpected and fun, but the film kind of fizzles out from there. Dr. Muldavo has been injured during the attempted escape, resulting in some kind of skin condition (with terrible makeup appliances) and Maya tries to nurse him back to health with increasing amounts of blood, but to no avail. The film ends with Maya crying out to Rakeesh for help as she too succumbs to whatever skin disease was afflicting Dr. Muldavo.
Even though this film is not by any means successful, it is a fun watch if you like bad movies. There is something very particular about bad films in this era, distinct from other decades, and boy does this film deliver.
1. Re-using footage. You know what you’re in for almost right away, as the same line shot from two angles is repeated in the same scene. Not a flashback, literally a minute after Maya says the line she says it again. She is reacting to Arthur quitting his job to follow the cult. “Now, George, don’t be so obstinate. He’s a grown man and I’m sure he’s got his reasons”. Astonishing.
2. That budget, though. Despite its limitations, the fashion and interior design are cutting edge, like the painting of two hot dogs on a cube, the monochromatic rooms, the diaphanous silk caftans… So good. The cultist all have sweet crescent moon necklaces which they use to scratch for blood (and look like they may have been made from pie tins). The film takes a really strange turn close to the end, which feels like they maybe ran out of money or time with their extras and sets, where they start using furniture and entire rooms from the couple’s house on what is ostensibly now the cult set, and all of a sudden there are only three people in the cult.
3. Morality restored. What is the objective of the story? Is it a condemnation of free love and the danger of syphilis? I kind of think so. That’s all I could come up with for the strange skin condition. But, in the end,, the real horror is their very, very mauve house.