Monday, February 19, 2007


Without planning of any sort I ended up watching a pair of snake related movies this weekend. I’ve had a cheap two DVD set from Brentwood called KILLER SNAKES laying around for some time. OK. A long time. All right damn it! I picked this up a few years ago simple to see a hard to find European trash movie named BLACK COBRA. That film sports lodes of nudity from Laura Gemser and some mild scenery chewing from Jack Palance as well as a cringe inducing finale involving snakes going places they should just never ever be. You can understand my willingness to part with 7 or 8 bucks for this filmic experience alone but the other movies in the set have taunted me for some time. Unwatched movies in my possession often taunt me and the pills don’t stop me from hearing it any more.

So first I popped in FER DE LANCE. A TV movie from 1974 with a good reputation that turned out to be well deserved. Starring 70s TV stalwart David Janssen and a host of familiar faces from that era it is a pretty suspenseful, well played 100 minutes. A crewman of a US Navy submarine brings 8 baby Fer de Lance snakes aboard because the ship’s named Fer de Lance. (He’s not a very bright guy.) But what started as an idiotic joke goes wrong when the snakes get loose, kill a few people and the sub ends up trapped in a rockfall over a thousand feet deep. Essentially SNAKES ON A SUBMARINE it moves along well with good performances and a well structured story that amps up the tension nicely. There’s even an attempt to keep things fairly realistic up to a point even if the folks that eventually go outside the sub would have been frozen corpses pretty quick given the temperatures they keep quoting. It’s an entertaining little movie and I recommend it to interested parties. Mark this one down as deserving of a quality DVD release if anyone every starts putting out classic TV scare movies with any regularity.

The second in my mini-marathon of reptile madness was SNAKE WOMAN. A hard to find black & white British film from 1961 it has been called to my attention recently as an undiscovered classic of horror. I was surprised to find I had it on this set of discs but I have to say the print was terrible. It looks like a 3rd generation dupe from a video tape source and while watchable it’s far from good. Maybe one day a better DVD will emerge but I don’t know if I’ll be picking it up.

The movie’s tale starts in 1890 in a small village where the aptly named herpetologist Adderson has been injecting his pregnant, terminally ill wife with snake venom. His crackpot treatment has been keeping her alive but he’s been unable to find a cure. The poor woman dies in childbirth and the baby turns out to have reptilian like cold blood and lidless eyes.

The local midwife freaks out demanding it be killed but the doctor spirits the child away before torch carrying villagers charge in to burn the house down. Putting the baby girl in the hands of an older fellow who expects to hand her over to her father the next day the doc leaves for a 20 year job in Africa. The girl runs away from her keeper and grows up in the ruins of her father’s house. Cut to 1910 as the doctor returns from his long, convenient trip. People are being killed in the night by King Cobra snake bites and a young man from Scotland Yard is sent to investigate.

What to say? I started thinking of this one as SNAKES ON THE HEATH and that was the funniest thing I could come up with that the film didn’t already have. The film is a mess and it’s certainly not the near-classic I’ve heard it described as. It’s got dozens of hysterically bad lines of dialog, a ridiculous central idea that it only half-heartedly tries to flesh out, a muddled romance sub-plot that is completely silly and a lot of pointless talking around the subject in rooms when simply taking action would have answered the various questions. Did no one think to check out the ruined house? How about a carefully planned hunt of the area for this mysterious killer girl everyone fears? Where are the angry gun toting mobs this place was so able to produce just 20 years before?!

But strangely, I can’t hate SNAKE WOMAN. It’s short, it made me laugh and it was interesting enough for a single viewing. Its story is no sillier than a dozen other films from the period but it bears the mark of filmmakers just going through the motions. It’s as if they were working from some ‘Rural English Horror Movie’ template and just plugging in elements to create a linear narrative. For black & white horror fans its worth seeking out but go in with lowered expectations. There’s fun to be had- just not as much or the same kind as I’d been led to believe.

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