Letting Ken Russell loose to make a horror movie is just asking for abuse, and that's precisely what the audience gets in "The Lair of the White Worm."

Loosely based on "Dracula" author Bram Stoker's last novel, "Lair" is set in the present day, though it has the most gothic look of any movie since . . . well, since Russell's "Gothic."The story here has a young Scottish archaeology student digging up the yard of the bed-and-breakfast lodge in rural Derbyshire where he is staying. There he unearths a strange "dinosaur" skull that suspiciously resembles the legendary worm-monster that supposedly once terrorized the countryside.

As he takes up with Sammi Davis, one of the two sisters who run the place (the other is "Dynasty's" Catherine Oxenberg), he finds that their parents mysteriously disappeared in the nearby woods a year earlier.

The police have turned up no clues, though, strangely, no one suspects the Lady (Amanda Donohoe) who lives in the otherwise deserted mansion in that area, despite her exhibiting vampire tendencies. Maybe that's because she also exhibits snake tendencies, and we soon learn she is apparently a vampire/snake/witch of some sort, worshiping the dreaded legendary worm and in need of a virgin sacrifice to feed it. Eventually she chooses Oxenberg as the sacrifice of choice.

One of the missing parents turns up as a Donohoe victim (the other is never accounted for), and there is a twist ending that one might expect from any old horror moviemaker - you'd think someone of Russell's stature might let well enough alone.

But long before the denouement, writer-director Russell manages to begin showing us some of his favorite visual images in hallucination sequences, as nuns are raped by soldiers while in the background Jesus writhes on a cross that is wrapped with a giant snake. Meanwhile, Donohoe prances about snakelike clad in various skimpy outfits, from black lacy underwear to nothing but blue body-makeup.

And there are two symbols that seem to be everywhere, various phallic imagery and snake forms, the latter cropping up as everything from the garden hose to a vacuum cleaner to a plate of spaghetti.

Needless to say, subtlety is not Ken Russell's forte, and he obviously revels in the blood and gore and sexual frenzies he is able to whip up in the context of this film.

Unfortunately, he also seems to think that chaos covers up plot holes, but there are plenty of unanswered questions by the end.

Horror fans who yearn for something a little more offbeat and strange than the average gory horror film offers may find something to enjoy here. But it's hard to figure who this film is really intended for - aside from Russell himself.