I’m not the biggest fan of snakes, you know. But then again, I’m not exactly their biggest enemy either. I guess I’m kind of indifferent to them. In cinema, they’re not served well. Their blank scaly faces and dead-behind-the-eyes stare have never really excited me. It just seems to be difficult to make snakes exciting in cinema. At least this is how I felt before I experienced Calamity of Snakes — a monster movie like no other.
CALAMITY OF SNAKES
original title: Ren she da zhan
Taiwan/Hong Kong, 1983, Chi Chang
He also wants it built in 8 months, which, according to the building’s architect, Chang Phun, will result in a Mickey Mouse job. Mr. Chang still wants to press ahead, despite the danger this poses to the future residents. Nothing will stop his dream being built, not even a mysterious ditch full of snakes found by the builders. Mr. Chang insists that the snakes are killed, despite the protests of the builders, and also his wife who screams out of the blue that she had a dream where the snakes would take revenge. Mr. Chang then gets inside a bulldozer and crushes the snakes himself. For real. Hundreds of them. And this is just the opening five minutes.
I did wonder how Calamity of Snakes earned it CAT III reputation. Now I know. Literally hundreds of real snakes are murdered in this movie.
Long story short, Mr. Chang’s crazy wife was right all along and a giant boa constrictor telepathically commands hundreds more snakes to sabotage the construction. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds and is all the more fun for it.
After the first few small snake attacks, Mr. Chang tries to eradicate the infestation by sending in killer mongooses to assassinate them. Surprisingly, this insane plan doesn’t work. The entire scene is played out like an action movie, complete with heroic music. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
When it becomes clear that killer mongooses won’t be enough to deter the vengeance-fuelled boa constrictor, Mr. Chang hires a real snake assassin called Mr. Lin to finish the job. Mr. Lin is a young guy, hilariously made up to look like an old man. He’s only in one short, but awesome scene where he tries to capture and defeat the boa inside of a deserted warehouse. As the giant boa finally appears, the film unexpectedly becomes A-MAZING as Mr. Lin and the snake have a full blown kung-fu fight complete with crazy sound effects, an exciting soundtrack, stupid rubber puppets that roar, hangings, somersaults, explosions — seriously, this scene has it all and on its own makes Calamity of Snakes an essential viewing.
The film slows down a little after this, as the residents begin to move into the building. We spend some time with them and they’re mostly irritating and stupid caricatures being lined up for the slaughter.
It’s an ideal time for a toilet break, but don’t waste too much time because the final 30 minutes of the film are jaw-dropping when the snakes finally take their revenge upon everyone in the building.
There’s no space for subtlety here and when these snakes attack, we’re gonna damn well know about it. What at first appears to be an earthquakes, shaking the very foundations of the buildings turns out to actually be about a million snakes exploding out of the ground like they’re being fired by canons (they probably were).
Some even work out how to operate doorknobs.
After this, the film turns into a bit of an endurance test for both the audience and the cast, including the snakes, as everyone is thrown in together. No scene ends without a human character being completely covered in the things. Nobody looks happy about it, least of all the snakes that get brazenly thrown around and chopped to pieces. It’s a crazy experience but it sure is impressive to watch.
Probably the craziest set-piece is when a cornered Mr. Chang grabs an ornamental samurai sword and uses it to defend himself against about twenty snakes that are being thrown at his head. The scene is revolting, and celebrates that by being in shot in slow motion. It’s completely insane.
Once the gigantic rubber boa constrictor gets involved again, the movie becomes a brilliant disaster/monster movie as the fire brigade and even the army show up to kill everything, first with gas, then with axes and finally with flamethrowers. It’s a disaster set-piece of epic proportions. No prisoners are taken as hundreds of snakes are thrown at the cast. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
The film wastes no time during its finale either. Evil Mr. Chang faces off against the telepathic boa constrictor and, well… just see it for yourself…
Calamity of Snakes is a strange beast. On the one hand, it’s kind of incredible with scene after scene of amazing set-pieces, but then you remember that you’re watching hundreds upon hundreds of snakes being massacred and you start to feel depressed. It’s one hell of an experience.
Currently, Calamity of Snakes is only available as a grainy VHS scan via Apprehensive Films. It can be purchased from Amazon, or you can just watch it for free on YouTube.