It's hard to imagine in these days of mega-violence and stomach-turning gore just how contentious and controversial Ken Russell's films were back in his day.
He's stated in interviews that all his films are comedies and you can take him at his word on that, but critics just don't get it. He hit one with a rolled up newspaper on a tv show, which prompted the self-same critic (and renowned Russell-basher) to famously proclaim in print: "Get me an elephant gun, this man must be stopped!"
It's easy to see why these people detest Russell. He's been goading them for decades. Grabbing what little money he could from the ever-so-worthy British film industry and making mad, tragi-comic films about VERY serious and highbrow composers and artists taking drugs, getting drunk, taking their clothes off and running screaming around beautifully lit country houses in eye-bulging fits.
Russell doesn't like factual bi-opics and faithful adaptations, he likes making it up as he goes along - believing the spirit of the person or work in question is far more important than insignificant details - ie, facts. Your standard Time Out reading intellectual and particularly the classical world cognoscenti don't see the funny side of this AT ALL.
If you're in on the joke though, you're in for a treat. 'LOTWW' is seen as a 'lesser' Russell work but I think it's one of his best. Based on a story by Bram Stoker, it's a hoary old tale of vampires/reptiles/pagan gods etc, but you've never seen it done like this before.
The cast are obviously in on the joke, particularly dishy Amanda Donahoe as the chief villainess. Slinky and seductive (with a wardrobe to match!) she slithers her way magnificently through scene and scenery in her characters admirable quest to resurrect an age-old pagan snake god by means of human sacrifice.
Hugh Grant (in a fantastic coat) gives his best performance as the playboy lord of the manor who's ancestor originally slew the titular beast and sees himself similarly responsible to 'scotch the bugger' again.
Jokes/homage/pastiches come thick and fast: a 'Citizen Kane' reference; a 'Tommy' joke involving Grant and a drum kit; Hammer Films; David Lean; 'Cleopatra' etc etc ~ in fact, like most of Russell's films, it's a movie-buff's dream - and, like the man himself, a complete one-off.
And yes, there's gore and shocks as well. Mass impaling (of nuns); Roman pillaging (of nuns); some sadistic dialogue paraphrasing 'the Devils' (about nuns!); a brilliantly low-budget eye-gouging (no nuns..!?), and a dream sequence on a plane, with Donohoe and Catherine Oxenberg dressed as air-hostesses, who..well, you'll have to see that for yourselves. Enough to say, Russell's firmly on home turf and doesn't disappoint.
Also starring the excellent Sammi Davis, brave heart Peter Capaldi, a startlingly good cameo from the late Stratford Johns as a snarky butler, as well as a smattering of Russell stock regulars from his 70's heyday snaked in for good measure. All superb.
It's a shame Russell didn't do more stuff like this (his revered 'Dracula' script is without doubt the script I'd most like to hear he's finally filmed) and it does show what can be achieved on a low budget if you have some-one with vision and imagination in the cockpit.
'LOTWW' makes a great double-bill with the same directors 'Gothic', another gem damned by faint-praise, but a rattling good ride despite it all.
Stoker could never have envisaged his creation being presented this way, but secretly, in his starched-collar, stoic Victorian way, I think he would approve.