What it lacks in terms of special effects and make-up, William Cheung's Calamity Of Snakes delivers the chills by sheer number of slithering snakes. Stephen Tan reviews.


Shaw snakesploitation movies such as Killer Snakes and Fangs Of The Cobra are chickenfeed compared to Calamity Of Snakes (1983). And even with the budget and special effects, the recent Snakes On A Plane still pales in comparison.

This Hong Kong production starts off when a construction site discovers a nest of snakes. To avoid unnecessary delays, like calling in the proper authorities to deal with the snakes, developer Ko Yuen (the film stars a number of Shaw veterans) decides to cut a few corners and take matters into his own hands. With the crew, he bulldozes and chomps his way through the snakes.

Trapped in a hole in the ground, the snakes have no escape. It's a bloody job but someone's got to do it and animal and reptile lovers will cringe at the wholesale slaughter. They will also likely to cringe at a detour through a night market to a stall which sells snake's blood and snake's gall bladder. Here viewers get an instructional view of how the snake's gall bladder is extracted.

But the snakes have not been vanquished. They attack and kill one of the workers but not before he had enjoyed himself with a prostitute - in the film's only sequence which shows outright nudity. After all, snakes and sex do make interesting bedfellows. Meanwhile, the workers' quarters get an infestation of snakes. Having rats at the snakes might be a good idea - shown in a very graphic sequence - but there are too many snakes for the rats to handle. Spreading sulphur seems to keep the snakes at bay but the method becomes totally ineffective when a heavy rain washes the sulphur away.

Next a snake handler, who works at a magic show, is engaged and he takes on an impressive looking python. As in many kung fu/wu xia movies, the hero needs to demolish a couple of the minor minions before taking on the bad guy himself. Here, the snake handler bites off a couple of the smaller snakes before a duel to the death with the python. It's a well choreographed and bloody fight with the python coiling itself round the snakeman before the snakeman strings it up to die.

With the apartment building completed, a gala opening is held and the rest of the film resembles The Towering Inferno, with snakes taking place of the fire. Snakes, and more snakes, descend upon the building. An ageing playboy is killed when a load of snakes crashes onto his car. Lifts, bedrooms and baths become flooded with snakes as more victims fall one after another. Enter the mother of all snakes - it's a behemoth in size but because, in many instances, it looks like a man in a suit (figuratively speaking), it just isn't as scary as the killers in Anaconda.

It is left to the legions of smaller and real snakes which effectively send the chills. Imagine a corridor full of snakes. There's really nowhere to run or hide. At the last moment, it is the calvary... the firemen and their deadly spray/foam that save the day but not before the unscrupulous developer dies in a fiery dance of death with the giant snake.

Unlike, say, Snakes On A Plane, with impressive-looking effects and make-up, it is the knowledge that there are real snakes on screen, not one or two but a whole screenful that makes Calamity Of Snakes chilling. The movie would have been more effective if it had undergone some form of restoration. As it is, the colours are slightly washed out. Unfortunately, the dialogue is not in Cantonese or Mandarin - it's an American-dubbed track, which really adds a layer of hilarity but truly lives up to the film's grindhouse notoriety.

Note: The Calamity Of Snakes DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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April 22, 2007


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