Image Entertainment // 1975 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard // February 1st, 2008
"Bite him to death! Bite him to death! Bite him to death!"
Some people just really shouldn't be allowed to keep pets.
Having been brought up (and traumatized) by parents who were partial to the odd spot of sadomasochism, Zhihong finds adult life isn't treating him well. A loner, though not out of choice, he longs for a relationship with local market stallholder Xiujuan, but is troubled by the dark sexual desires he harbors.
Frequently the butt of jokes and used as a punching bag by local prostitutes and thugs, Zhihong finds his life taking an upturn of sorts the night a snake slithers into his life. Learning he has something of a psychic bond with the reptiles he soon sets about taking revenge on those who have wronged him in The Killer Snakes
While Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Volume 1 helped introduce a whole new generation to the Shaw Bros. name, it's fair to say many would assume the studio's output consisted only of kung-fu movies. While classics such as Five Deadly Venoms and Shaolin Master Killer helped cement the studios reputation, it would be unfair to pigeonhole them as a purely martial arts-based operation. Indeed, while kung-fu movies may take up the lion's share of their releases, we must give thanks that the studio tried its hand in other genres, for without that experimentation we would not have The Killer Snakes, one of the most insane, ridiculous, yet totally enjoyable movies I've seen in a long time.
Throwing Tarantino's name into the pot once again, his collaboration with Robert Rodriguez on the ill-fated, though brilliant Grindhouse sparked an interest in exploitation movies amongst younger fans of cult cinema, and it is this same audience that this DVD release is aimed squarely at.
The Killer Snakes, like many films from this genre, suffers from a plot that is thinner than its star, Kwok-Leung Gan (Purple Storm). At it's core the film has a very simple (though admittedly very cool) premise, a loser finds he has a psychic bond with snakes, said loser orders snakes to kill people, and, well, that is pretty much it.
Despite this initial shortcoming, writer Kuang Ni (Enter the Fat Dragon) and director Chih-Hung Kwei (Karate Exterminators) manage to craft a thoroughly entertaining movie that revels in the seedier side of cinema. So proud is it of the level of infamy the film has apparently garnered since its initial release, the DVD packaging proudly sports a warning that the film contains "sick and disturbing scenes not suitable for most people!" Now if that doesn't entice you to purchase the disc, nothing will.
While the screen is often filled with snakes flying through the air towards their intended victims or prostitutes delivering a sly foot to a punter's gonads or the odd comical scene of copulation, the film is smart enough to realize that the sex and violence amount to nothing without any real substance to back them up. To ensure the viewer is kept watching and interested, the film's main focus is on Zhihong and his crumbling psyche. Clearly troubled from having witnessed his parents' bizarre sexual practices (not that I'm judging them), and tired of being a loner and a laughingstock, Zhihong finds solace in the company of a snake that slithers into his shack from the restaurant next door. Having stitched the creature back up after discovering its gall bladder has been removed, Zhihong and the snake form a touching, if unorthodox, friendship that goes a step further when Zhihong realizes he is able to communicate with the snake and have it do his bidding.
Kwok-Leung Gan gives a fine performance as Zhihong, evoking sympathy from the viewer one minute and disturbing them the next. His development from down on his luck, slightly twisted, yet oddly likeable loner at the start of the film to psychotic killer at the end of the film is startling. The way his newly found power alters his personality reminded me a little of Tetsuo in Akira. As all his pent-up anger and rage is released, his vengeance consuming him whole, the film almost plays out as the origin of a supervillain.
Director Chih-Hung Kwei perfectly blends the sleaze with the character progression. The montages that allow us to delve deeper inside Zhihong's mind, a mix of female torture and porn magazine images, are made all the more disturbing when the character of Xiujan is introduced into the mix. Xiujan is the symbol of all that is good in the movie. Running her father's toy stall she captivates Zhihong and is the one person in the movie who shows him any kindness. When she is forced into a life of prostitution following her father's death, her spirit is crushed. Zhihong sets out to rescue Xiujan from the scumbags who have taken advantage of her. Having witnessed the sick fantasies that engulf him, though, we have to wonder: is Zhihong really her knight in shining armor or just another level of despair for her to descend to?
The video transfer finds fine detail in minimal supply. Throw in the odd speck of dirt, a few scratches on the print, and a veneer of grain, and overall it's clear the DVD isn't going to be the first disc someone uses to test their new home theater. Here's the thing, though; the very same faults that lose the transfer points also play to its favor. It all adds to the grindhouse feel that flows (or should that be slithers?) through the movie.
The disc is devoid of any special features save for a heap of trailers.
Well, there's no getting away from the fact that a major sticking point for some may well be the fact that real snakes are cut up on screen and their organs removed. Had it had been a rabbit, dog, or some other such animal I myself would have turned the movie off instantly and binned the DVD. As it stands, perhaps due to society's view of snakes in general, and because I still can't forgive the fact that one of these blighters screwed over Adam and Eve, I really didn't take a great deal of notice to it. Hypocritical? Yes, probably.
The pacing of the movie may also cause a problem for some. Never in a rush to get anywhere, the film contains lengthy scenes highlighting Zhihong's downward spiral which some will find tedious filler before the next outburst of violence.
Finally, some may take issue with the scenes of sadomasochism. The camera is never shy of what is happening and, while such scenes are not particularly prevalent, there are some viewers who could well be offended or disturbed by the images.
Animal cruelty aside, many won't find any enjoyment in this kind of film and its fascination with the grimier side of life, full of scumbags and featuring a psychotic central character. But there are others, myself included, that will find the film strangely intoxicating, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, kind of like a Philly cheese steak. Sure it doesn't do you any good in the long run, but it sure is tasty.
The filmssssss quality was a pleassssssant ssssssurprissssse. Not guilty. Sssssadly Judge Paul Pritchard issssssss committed for the lame sssssnake impresssssionsssss.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Chinese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated