I’ve had snakes on the brain. While researching St. Patty’s-themed notions, everything I read was trying to convince me that St. Patrick single-handedly drove the snakes from Ireland. He didn’t. Patrick drove out paganism, which scholars say the snakes symbolized. Since there aren’t any pagans or snakes in Ireland, it looks good for Pat. Of course, there never were any native snakes on the isle, apart from perhaps the so-called slow-worm, which isn’t a snake so much as a legless lizard. The slow-worm apparently didn’t represent pagans – just lame reptiles – so it got to stay. Sláinte!
According to my research, the only time a snake and an Irishman crossed paths was when Ireland’s own Bram Stoker, of Dracula fame, published “The Lair of the White Worm” in 1911. I first became familiar with the work in a rarely seen film adaptation, which I saw with my pal Jimmy Schow at Petaluma’s Plaza Theatre in 1988.
In a nutshell: When Scottish archaeologist Angus Flint (pre-“Dr. Who” Peter Capaldi) excavates a large reptilian skull in the ruins of a convent, he unwittingly draws the wrath of the mysterious Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who not only reveals herself to be a murdering seductress but the sole cheerleader for a snake-worshipping cult that seeks to raise the D’Ampton Worm, a legendary paleolithic serpent, from the depths of the earth. The snake was thought to have been slayed by ancestors of Lord James D’Ampton (an impossibly young and twee Hugh Grant) but together, with a pair of virginal sisters, Angus and James set upon destroying the worm before Lady Sylvia can release it. And probably mate with it.
The film was directed by none other than Ken Russell, whose growing oeuvre included, among dozens of other titles, the rock opera “Tommy,” sci-fi freak fest “Altered States” and “Gothic,” a movie mash note to Byron and the Shelleys.
Jimmy and I didn’t realize at the time that one man was responsible for all these films, which were required viewing in post-punk Petaluma of the ’80s. In fact, we’d only seen “Gothic” the year before because Julian Sands, our hero from A “Room With a View” (who famously smooched our perma-crush Helena Bonham Carter), played Percy Bysshe Shelley.