Leaping Lizards and Goodness Snakes Alive! Part Two - Mania.com



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Leaping Lizards and Goodness Snakes Alive! Part Two

Our study of scaly lizard and snake movies continues...

By John Thonen     December 23, 2001


VENOM
© 1982 Venom Entertainment
In part one of our examination of lizard and snake infestations in the movies, we studied such genre notables as 1955's CULT OF THE COBRA, 1961's THE SNAKE WOMAN and 1972's NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN. Today, we continue our analysis with a look at more recent forays into this particular subgenre of horror films.

1975's RATTLERS was a low budget, desert-set tale about snakes driven toward a small town by military testing of a nerve gas. The film's big moment was a very phallic invasion of a naked woman's bathtub by wriggly snakes. Unfortunately for the film's producer, schlock-master Harry Novak, he couldn't use that scene in the TV advertising (though it was sleazily depicted in their newspaper ads), so they used clips of two pre-teen kids being menaced and killed by hordes of the title creatures. The sadism of the sequence offended even drive-in patrons and the film died at the box office.


Mankind's environmental

ALLIGATOR 2: THE MUTATION

stupidity was the basis for one of the few lizard movies of any actual cinematic value, which came along in 1980 when ALLIGATOR combined the talents of writer John Sayles, actor Robert Forster and director Lewis Teague. The result was a tongue-in-cheek gem that worked as both a spoof of monster movies and as a monster movie as well. A belated 1991 sequel, ALLIGATOR 2: THE MUTATION, featured an intriguing cast, including comic actor Joe Bologna in the lead, but none of the pleasures of the original - though the first film would eventually prove to be the progenitor of a several similar films.


Snakes and lizards play such a major part in Asian horror films that, in the interests of brevity (and my sanity), we'll largely bypass them in this article. However, other countries besides the U.S. and the Asian bloc dabbled in the cinematic fear of snakes and lizards. One such offering was 1979's THE GREAT ALLIGATOR, an Italian film starring onetime Bond girl, and future Mrs. Ringo Starr, Barbara Bach. This one finds tourists menaced by the primitive god Kuma, who has assumed the title form to unleash his vengeance.


Supernatural intervention was also behind THE JAWS OF SATAN, a pretty lame demonic snake movie from 1981 which sports a good cast and a bad director. Canada made a rare foray into snakedom with 1983's SPASMS, a dreadful movie about yet another demonic snake. Oliver Reed and Peter Fonda go slumming in this one, which does boast some impressive makeup effects to depict the results of the snake's venom on its victims. Demonic activity was likewise behind the throngs (though not quite the "one million terrifying snakes" advertised on the movie's poster) of snakes found in 1985's SERPENT WARRIORS. This is a truly obscure, Asian-lensed film, which offers one of the most offbeat casts in movie history. Christopher Mitchum (Bob's thespically challenged but quite handsome son), Anne Lockhart (June's pretty daughter and a BATTLESTAR GALACTICA star), TV western star Clint Walker and singer and sometime Catwoman Eartha Kitt.


THE DARK AGE is a 1987 Australian riff on JAWS, with a supernatural and environmental twist as a team of hunters and aborigines track 25 foot long Numuwari, a primitive god whom the team wants to capture alive. Native superstitions were the basis for the title critter of ANACONDA, the 1997 hit which finally brought stardom to snakes as a cinematic menace. It's hard to explain why this film caught on with the public. The CGI-rendered creature was only a couple of steps above Bugs Bunny in believability (though Steve Johnson's full-size, animatronic beast was quite convincing) and the cast was headed by the bland Eric Stoltz and the scenery-chewing Jon Voight. The film's genius lay in circumventing the horror movie cliché of killing off the minority cast members first. Instead, Ice Cube and Jennifer Lopez not only survived, but ended up the heroes, a move that engendered the film to an audience segment too often overlooked by lily-white Hollywood.


Environmental issues

LAKE PLACID

are also present in the unjustly maligned LAKE PLACID, from 1999. While this seems on the surface to be another giant gator movie, the beast is just an excuse for writer David E. Kelley to put together another gathering of quirky characters, as he'd done on TV in ALLY McBEAL and PICKET FENCES. The big lizard is fun, Betty White is even more fun, and there are more laughs than scares, all of which add up to a good time for those that can accept Kelley's intent.


1999 saw an old John Carpenter script titled THEY BITE become the basis for a TV movie wherein a large nest of rattlers lose their home to the activities of an unscrupulous land developer. Naturally, these SILENT PREDATORS decide to head for a nearby town where psychologically troubled fire chief Harry Hamlin must deal with the threat.


Meanwhile, ANACONDA's success had sired a slew of direct-to-video clones, most of which blamed science often under military guidance for the arrival of oversized snakes and lizards. 1999 saw KING COBRA, which found Pat (Mr. Miyagi) Morita hunting a genetically enhanced snake. Then there's PYTHON, in which Robert (Freddy Krueger) Englund hunts a genetically enhanced snake (didn't I just say that?) and, of course, just to prove that originality exists in B moviemaking, there's KOMODO, wherein Jill (CROSSING JORDAN) Hennessy is hunted by genetically enhanced big lizards. And they say there's no new ideas in Hollywood. Hah!


Of course, [IMG4R]the greatest monster of all remains Man, who has always exhibited a talent for turning almost anything into a weapon to use in unleashing his most violent impulses, and snakes have not been spared. 1982's VENOM saw a band of kidnappers trapped in a British mansion along with a deadly black mamba. The film boasts an exceptional European cast; Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson, Sterling Hayden, Susan George, Sarah Miles and Michael Gough, but lacked a plausible script and talented director to match the assembled actors.


A similar idea was far better executed in 1988's MAMBA when an obsessed ex-boyfriend traps the target of his rejected affections in her home with yet another black mamba. Suspensefully directed by Mario Orfini, and well acted by Gregg Henry and Trudie Styler (better known as Mrs. Sting), this is everything VENOM failed to be.


So, that's our utterly pointless look at herpetophobia and ophidiophobia, though psychologists may have to come up with a name for the fear of more snake and lizard movies, with even more looming on the horizon, including a totally unnecessary sequel to PYTHON. And don't forget - most of these films are available on video and DVD right now for your home viewing pleasure. Of course, there's also the fear of spending too much time surfing film websites and reading articles such as this one. I believe that's "becomingamoviegeekaphobia" and, if you've read this far, it's too late. You're already a victim.

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