Snakes. Probably the second most commonly feared small creature after spiders. Maybe it’s something to do with the old tales of Eden or Cleopatra, or maybe it’s due to the fact that they move in a weird way and can actually be deadly, but there’s something definitely sinister about snakes. Hey, even Indiana Jones can’t stand the suckers…
Well, we at Zombie Club know no fear in the face of b-movie creepy-crawlies, and tonight’s two films are both classic Hong Kong snakesploitation horrors, with the added bonus (if you can call it that) of real snake carnage. Calamity of Snakes first came to our attention way back at the infamous Jay and Sean Show when Sean Hogan teased us with a 3 minute clip of the film featuring an old Kung-Fu master kicking off against a 40ft boa! And then we stumbled on the 1975 film The Killer Snakes and we knew we had a double-bill classic in the making. So, sidle up, sit squarely and prepare to sssss with us as we bring you - Hong Kong Snake Night.
Tonight’s Zombie Club was brought to you by Rawshark and the silver-suited Snake Squad
Calamity of Snakes (1982)
Plot A property developer stirs up a right snake’s nest of trouble when he kills 1000s of the slippery suckers to make way for a 17-story block of exclusive flats.
Rawshark Opening with a seemingly solarised snake dream and amusing typos on the credits (”’Sound Effect by…’ What, there’s only one sound effect in this movie?” - Jim), Calamity of Snakes soon settles into story as a construction crew set to work on a luxury apartment building. However, when the workers discover a nest of thousands of snakes, the boss, Francis Chang, orders them to be destroyed in an extended real-life snake snuff montage involving sticks, spades and, bizarrely, diggers. Not a scene to please the RSPCA.
And so the stage is set for a classic eco-horror scenario as the vengeful army of killer snakes grows to take revenge on the evil boss and his workers, with a couple having sex (”Tits at 14.55!” - Zomblee) being the first ones to feel the bite. With attacks increasing, our heroes call upon the specialist skills of great snake master Mr Lin (”Amazing eyebrows!” - Zomblee) to save the day, setting up one of the stand-out scenes as the aged master bites, leaps and kung-fu fights with a gigantic boa constrictor.
All is not won though, and the film spends the last half an hour or so focusing on a full-scale (badoom!) snake attack on the Grand Opening of the apartment building, which is simultaneously both hilarious and thrilling. Snakes leap, snakes crawl up walls and the sheer number of real-life animals onscreen led to many Snakes on a Plane riffs, especially from Jim - ”Snakes on a Table! Snakes on a Car! Snakes on a Picture Frame! Snakes down a Cleavage!” as the bizarre slapstick stock of characters get killed off one by one. Add to that, snakes in the disco, a silver-suited snake squad and snakes on fire, and what you have here is (despite it’s unforgiveable moments of real-life animal killings) a film that’s just simply snake-tastic b-movie entertainment!
”This is a big boa. Only you can handle it”.
Jim Yes, there’s so much to get excited about with Calamity of Snakes - providing you can see past the rather disgusting snake butchery that we’ll just brush over - that it’s hard to know where to start. Where do you start?
Let’s go back to the old eco-horror template that I love so much. Greedy Mayor wants to keep the beaches, err, I mean greedy property developer wants to keep the development of his high rise apartment building on track despite the shark, err, I mean despite all the snakes in the foundations. And nothing, I mean nothing, is going to stop the grand opening, especially not a bunch of stupid snakes killing people off (”Oh look, the actors are really writhing around in snakes!” - Rawshark), even if the giant boa did kill the specialist (”He’s got a very long tongue, hasn’t he?”) brought in halfway through the movie in one of the most bizarre but amazing Kung-Fu fights I’ve seen this side of Zu Warriors of the Magic Mountain.
”It’s like Kingdom of the Spiders but with snakes and without the Shatner,” observed Zomblee, and he’d be right. There’s also a bizarre party scene early on which is a bit like watching an episode of Benny Hill except with the bald guy who’s head gets slapped repeatedly being replaced by a funny fat guy (”He’s got more Chin’s than the Chinese phonebook!” - Rawshark). And they throw in a fat woman’s fast food eating pig montage for good measure too. Special mention however has to go to the Special Snake Squad (who I had scribbled down were also called The Chemical Team, which I may have made up) who turn up at the end with flame throwers to flame all remaining slitherers (”I think they’re hisssstory!” - Rawshark, ouch), especially that huge Boa thing. ”It looks like Emu!” (Zomblee).
I just wish the Special Snake Squad turned up at the end of every film and just flamed everyone left - wouldn’t that be brilliant? That’d make every movie Zombie Club worthy, which can only be a good thing.
"Now we don't have to worry any more."
Zomblee I know I'm guilty of getting a bit over-excited about movies sometimes. Every now and then though, I think it's more than justified. As long as you're willing to turn a blind eye to the occasional bit of mass snake cruelty, Calamity of Snakes is essential viewing if you're into full-tilt, manically OTT nature-gone-awry movies. And quite unlike tonight's second snake movie, it's a relatively light-hearted affair, with loads of bizarre slapstick comedy throughout, a bit like Laurel and Hardy on a bad day at the zoo. But without the tits and snake killings.
A word of advice - if you're a property developer with a weakness for building high-rise luxury apartments on top of deadly snake pits, then at least have the good grace to get the initial extermination job done properly. Otherwise, you'll have to call in the 'snake specialist', Mr Lin. The way this charmer is introduced to us is quite unlike anything I've ever seen; the man is literally covered in scores of the scaly creatures - he even has one in his mouth! Astonishing stuff. Mr Lin really seems to have the credentials for the job, but he gets more than he bargained for when he has to go into battle with the snake equivalent of King Kong, in one of the many action scenes likely to linger in your memory long after the badly-spelled end titles.
Things get increasingly insane from here on in, because in between the surreal humour (mostly courtesy of Ping-Ao Wei, who you'll recognise from Bruce Lee movies Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon) and general snake-ageddon in the tower block, someone has the good idea of enlisting the help of a heavy-handed chemical team of snake fighters dressed in cool silver suits who proceed to destroy anything remotely resembling a snake ("Kill that lamp!" - Rawshark).
Calamity of Snakes really scales the heights (sorry) of how outrageous you could possibly make a slithery snake movie. The last 40 minutes go into overdrive with relentless snake attack action, so much so that you almost forget to breathe just watching it. My notes are full of random comments like "giant snake throws drum kit", and "snakes arrive at party", which must be where Jim shouted, "Fantastic! He dropped a snake on her tits!" Incredibly good fun. Unless you are a snake.
"Snake soup is delicious!"
Director William Chang
Cast Kenny Bee
Hun Sui Wong
Runtime 90 mins
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The Killer Snakes (1975)
Plot Like Willard with snakes, or as Jim put it, ”Snillard”.
Zomblee With a title like Killer Snakes, it was only ever a matter of time before this oddity from Shaw Brothers found its way into my increasingly congested collection, and tonight was its premier - a successful one at that. Much more serious in tone than the outrageous Calamity of Snakes, this wriggling feature follows a downtrodden young man called Chen Zhihong who lives next door to a snake shop where the owner extracts their gall bladders to sell as an aphrodisiac. Zhihong then discovers one of the injured snakes and, being the sweet, lonely guy he is, nurses it back to good health. And before you know it, he has a few other slithery friends from next door in need of treatment.
Soon, it all starts going very wrong for Zhihong. He is mugged by the local hoods from the brothel, then he finally musters the courage to ask local market girl Xiujuan out on a date, only to be stood up when her father dies, which is when he visits the brothel and ties one of the hookers up. But this as Jim predicted ("I think he's got some snakes up his sleeve!") is no ordinary sex game. He proceeds to let a huge snakes wriggle about on her naked flesh while he watches and cracks one off. It was at this point I wrote in my notes, "brilliant but fucking dark". Which kind of sums this movie up.
What really worked for me was the way the Zhihong simply loses the plot, all sense of reality or reasoning, existing in a fucked-up snake vacuum of madness and twisted, perverse revenge. I think we agreed with Rawshark when he admitted, "I've kind of lost my sympathy for him now." The real-life mutilation of snakes in itself is depraved, but on top of that is the intertwined sexuality depicted as part of Zhihong's spiralling downfall. It's not just a senseless parade of sickness though; this is a very stylish affair which predates Sam Raimi's visual flair for madcap horror spectacle - the snake 'n' sword climax is as outrageous as it is imaginative. It's likely that you've never seen anything combining snakes and sleaze like this before. Daring, dark, and a bit wrong. I like it.
"A lot of snakes escaped."
Jim Yeah, snakes and sleaze, you don't get that very often, do you? But tonight we had it in abandon. "There's a lot of flesh in this movie." commented Zomblee, as Zhihong goes to the brothel and pays to have sex with the girl who was with the gang that just beat him up. And when he, shall we say, doesn't last very long, she laughs at him and kicks him out, then arranges for him to be beaten up again to have the rest of his money stolen. Zomblee summed this up right at the beginning of the flick with "It's pretty heavy going for 5 minutes into the movie I must say..." It doesn't get much brighter either.
But it is a very enthralling film. The twisted snake madness that absorbs Zhihong is powerful, the supporting cast excellent and the final product is hard to take your eyes off, especially with all the flesh, snakes and general downtrodden violence on show. Right up to the very end, which has another sword and snake frenzy that felt very familiar. ("You can see Calamity of Snakes has nicked that off this." - Rawshark) He's not wrong either.
In retrospect, we maybe should have gone with Killer Snakes first and saved the bonkers spectacle of Calamity of Snakes for the second film, but it's a testament to this film's strength that, despite all of us being the wrong side of smashed, we were all gripped for the duration, and that's a surprise for a film that could easily be classified as Snake Pinku. Actually, maybe it's not a surprise, which is why we officially tasked Rawshark with finding the two best pinku movies for a Zombie Club Pinku Nght so we could see for ourselves. Keep your eyes open for that one.
"I've never seen trousers like that before."
Rawshark Yes Jim – Japanese Pinku Night coming soon. But before we get to that, well, Killer Snakes! Not our usual Zombie Club low-grade second movie, but actually a quite powerful, and dark little movie that’s a bit like Taxi Driver meets Willard. Except based in Hong Kong. And with a snake instead of a rat.
In this case, our hero, or anti-hero, is Chen Zhihong, a quiet young chap who talks a bit like David Bowie and becomes fixated with a local girl (Xiujuan) who accidentally walked in on him whilst he was pleasuring himself (nice spilt milk shot!). Chen then discovers a wounded snake that he nurses back to health (”they really are stitching a snake together aren’t they!” - Jim) before calling it Supal. But his day gets much worse when he’s mugged after visiting a brothel and is then stood up by his objet d’amour after she hears that her father has died. Alone, upset and in a very bad mood, Chen then begins to steal more snakes from the shop next door to gather together a snake army (”A snarmy!” - Zomblee) for revenge…
Well-made, nicely shot and laden with dark sleaze and slithery snakes, Killer Snakes is ride well worth taking, as long as you can handle the slightly steamy sexual content ("Did they have S&M porn in the 70s?" - Jim, "Did they have J Arthur's in the 70s?" - Zomblee) and the odd bit of again unfortunate real-life snake killings. Overall though, it's pretty damn good – don’t you just love the Shaw Brothers. Right, I’m off to check out the works of Norifumi Suzuki and Teruo Ishii for Pinku Night…
”You’ve been stealing my snakes haven’t you?”
Director Chih-Hung Kwei
Cast Kwok-Leung Gan
Lam Lam Lee
Li Jen Ho
Runtime 90 mins
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So, we came, we saw and we kicked snake ass! Although we’re still not exactly sure where a snake’s ass is. But we kicked it anyway.
Yet, despite, and we’ll say it again, the unfortunate real-life animal killing (why is it easier to overlook the on-screen killing of a snake to, say, a dog or a panda?), both films tonight proved hugely entertaining in different ways. Calamity of Snakes was definitely the lighter of the two, all sugar-coated, slapstick and thrilling in it’s end siege scene, but if you prefer your sleaze with a darker flavour, then you may well want to check out Killer Snakes first.
Thanks for tuning in - sssssee ya next time!
Next Week: Jim reaches far down into the zombie barrel for the return of our favourite ghouls in Zombie Tosh Night.