Alongside genre classics such as Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (or rather most of the Italian cannibal output), we should officially now place William Cheung's Calamity Of Snakes. They're truly part of a club of 'oh so wrong they're pretty much right'-movies and the topic of that club's agenda is animal cruelty. While Deodato didn't structure his whole fictionalized account of a documentary crew lost during an expedition in the South American jungle around said violence and William Cheung's movie lives all too much for its subjects, the effect and controversy surrounding the intense films are equal. Intensity is the key and despite Cheung heading a movie where a lot of creatures were killed for the sake of the movie, his snake strikes back tale reaches a rarely matched terror level from Taiwan's premier era for exploitation movies. Creativity on behalf of the filmmakers and action director also exists as the king or queen snake is big ass one too so gleeful exploration of real violence, putting actors through hell and a cheesy monster movie is being served up if you peek inside the doors of mentioned club.
Building developer Mr. Chang (Kao Yuen) is hellbent on building his dream project fast and cheap. Even a snakepit on the ground won't stop the development as he himself and workers hack the snakes to pieces. Some dead workers later, it's becoming increasingly clear the snakes are after revenge, spearheaded by a giant boa. Despite a snake master defeating the boa, on opening night of Mr. Chang's new building, the snakes and another giant one launches an attack...
Ejecting most dedication to thought out story and characters in favour of full on focus on the main draw, the main horror of Calamity Of Snakes, William Cheung showcases his colours incredibly bad and incredibly well therefore. But an effect of disgust for the filmmaking, the treatment of animals and admiration will linger heavily after a screening of this snake terror. It's hard to admit. Certainly early tangents setup that Mr. Chang's wife can foresee the snake tragedy (the opening credits inverted colours do act as her dream, not just a cheap way to do opening credits) and Mr. Chang, the face of greed himself squashing snakes with big machinery isn't well developed, not subtle but more importantly, Calamity Of Snakes shows its awful approach to animal cruelty early. It's one thing to even do it, it's another to elongate the experience and in clearly separate shooting sessions to the ones involving the actors, unseen crew pickaxing several snakes to death in close-up's cements part of the rep of William Cheung's movie. Trying to lighten up the mood with awful comedy courtesy of Wei Ping-Ao (the interpreter from Fist Of Fury) doesn't help in the least and probably wouldn't have had he brought a sense of wit to the role of Mr. Chang's right hand man. It's harshness to the extreme used as trigger for latter tour de force filmmaking.
With the snake revenge doing its tour through various workers involved in the initial incident, we get a sense of Cheung's genuinely fine sense of suspense and he works in an incredibly crafty way with the special effects crew, action directors and editors (1*) to deliver acceptable extremes and harshness. Especially nasty make-up acting as snake attack aftermath punches audiences senses but not to a pulp... yet.
While there are still sequences showing mongooses used as weapons against the snakes and in the latter reels fire, William Cheung's true work and calling begins when it's time to portray the giant boa on screen. With a very young actor having poor old person make-up stepping into the barn of the boa-fight, enter an aggressive mix of rapid fire editing concealing the puppet well, shrill sounds mixing monster noises and part of an 80s arcade machine soundboard, One type of viewer wouldn't give this sequence the time of day but it's something akin to incredible and unique. It makes a red hot Taiwan cinema working on a budget, creativity and pure will look very good.
Without detailing it all, in the long climax in the newly built apartment complex (with a few characters set-up here mainly for comedic purposes. I.e. no valid purposes) when William Cheung launches the epic attack on the audiences and his actors, Calamity Of Snakes becomes a sight rarely seen and one not easy to unsee. Mixing the mentioned rapid fire editing, gruesome make-up but genuine scares in the form of the many shots of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of snakes in several shots being thrown at actors (including main cast), it's a nightmarish reel of horror that when it borderlines on the real it isn't so much about 100% for certain torturing animals. Now it's about 100% torturing the actors but difference is, they made it out alive. Calamity Of Snakes demands attention and respect therefore. For better or worse. You've been warned but largely because this is an incredible piece of exploitation.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) Speaking of editing, the following is an excerpt from my review of the re-edited version of Calamity Of Snakes that became the English language movie Serpent Warriors:
"Although carrying the 1986 copyright, footage on display seems to lean towards the fact that Serpent Warriors was either shot simultaneously as or lent actors from that production to create this cut & paste product. Utilizing very little footage of the original Taiwan production aside from its intense climax, instead of snakes getting revenge on a building developer (Kao Yuen) that slaughtered them for his own benefits, the movie opens on an island in the Pacific in 1946 where mentioned building developer (now getting the character name Jason King) as a kid witnesses his sister being sacrificed by a snake cult. Getting a curse inflicted upon him, cut to adulthood and his wife has premonitions of some bad events in the future (a shared plot-strand from the original). It's soon clear the snake cult and their Snake Priestess (Eartha Kitt) are targeting Jason. Mrs. King employs help from a trio of Los Angeles scientists and heads out into the Mexican desert to confirm the existence of the cult.
Rather kooky and whimsy, the edit here is quite incoherent when using the Calamity Of Snakes-footage as it's edited super tightly and without rhyme or reason. The animal cruelty that lead the original is almost nowhere to be found and instead the bulk of the film has the desert as its locale. Thankfully. As an aside, this version is probably the closest we'll get to an original language, subtitled version of the original as almost all scenes from the original are unchanged in that regard."
The home video version released by Ocean Shores in Hong Kong had no subtitles or English dub. More widespread now however is the English dubbed version in full widescreen from Japanese VHS which was used for review here.