Judge David Johnson likes to dance with snakes as a hobby. Actually, people pay to see him do that, so it's technically not a hobby.
Little girls shouldn't play with snakes.
Set in the repressive climate of 1970s South Africa, Snake Dancer tells the story of Glenda Kemp (played by Glenda Kemp herself) and dancer-turned-stripper who shocked audiences with her provocative gyrations and occasional frottage with a big-ass snake. The government tried to censor her, the church condemned her, even her own fiancée disapproved. But all Glenda wanted to do was dance…and dance she did! Oh yes. Oh yes.
Seriously I wonder if Joe Eszterhas saw this flick before crafting his own stripper masterpiece, Showgirls. There are a lot of similarities between the two films: lots of desensitizing nudity, laugh-generating dialogue delivery and the general theme of dancer who doesn't consider herself a stripper but eventually relents and disrobes for money. Glenda even utters a version of the infamous Nomi Malone line: "I'm a dancer, not a stripper!"
Like Showgirls, Snake Dancer tries to play it straight, to inadvertently amusing effect. We're to emotionally connect with Glenda and her unbridled passion to shake her booty and release her inner spirit in front of hundred of gawking adults, but that just didn't happen. Glenda Kemp may have the skills to pay the bills when it comes to dancing—and she does a lot of dancing—but emoting successfully with a camera in front of her is beyond her abilities.
We're also supposed to feel for her struggle against the uptight, repressive South African government. This too fails to pan out. There's potential for some dramatic ka-pow, but director Dirk de Villiers opts to focus more on the dance routines than the political repercussions of Glenda's lascivious on-stage repertoire. That story is told through brief blasts of dialogues and newspaper clippings. You get the feeling people are upset about all the dancing and nudity and snake fondling and some old farts make their objections known, but de Villiers stops short of really cashing in on this fertile narrative ground. Instead it's all about Glenda and her dancing, and that's what dominates the runtime.
Lots and lots and lots of dancing. The films opens with some brief sequences on Glenda's childhood, how she loved to dance as a girl and found a snake in the woods one time and instantly falls in love, and eventually enrolled in a dance school. That sets her on her way to the world of exotic dancing and when she a friend visits a night club featuring cage dancing, Glenda finds her calling. Form then on, save some water-treading with her loser fiancée, Glenda spends her time in various states of undress—full undress—running through her routines. There are different sets and moves and props and scenarios (she lathers herself in soapy bath water for one dance) but the dancing is fundamentally the same: turbo-charged full-frontal nudity with legs and arms flailing. And about the snake? Yeah he shows up, but not nearly as much as the title or packaging would suggest, which is actually a blessing, because those scenes are, frankly, nauseating. This girl loves her snakes, going so far as deep-throating them head-first. Really.
So we're ultimately talking about '70s boilerplate soft-core sexploitation, heavy on nudity (and the momentary stomach-churning reptile make-out sessions) and light on the dramatic punch I think the filmmakers were going for.
Mondo Macabro delivers another solid release of an obscure film. The full-frame picture quality isn't great, but it's not the studio's fault; the original 35mm elements were unavailable. They did their best, and it's fine. Bonuses are decent: interviews with director Dirk de Villiers and a well-done featurette on African exploitation films.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mondo Macabro
• Director's Interview
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