Calamity of Snakes


Year of release: 1983

Genre: horror/exploitation

Director: William Cheung Kei

Action director: Robert Tai

Producer: Wong Choi-Hing

Writers: William Cheung Kei, Tsai Kuo-Jung, Lee Hong-Nin

Cinematography: Hu Rong

Editing: Chan Hung-Man, Cheung Kwok-Kuen, Wong Chau-Gwai, Chen Bo-Wen

Music: Sherman Chow

Stars: Heung Wan-Pang, Lee Ying, Lo Pi-Ling, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Kao Yuen, Ouyang Shafei

Not rated; contains III-level violence

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Aficionados of horror/exploitation cinema have long known how extreme these sorts of films from Asia can get. Pictures like The Untold Story and Daughter of Darkness go down roads many film-makers would never dare to tread, which makes fans go to great lengths to hunt down entries that have become the stuff of internet legend, such as 1983's Calamity of Snakes. But even the more hardcore viewers out there might have a tough time sitting through certain segments of this film, which has become somewhat notorious for its' depiction of violence against animals.

The movie takes place in Taiwan, where a crooked businessman is determined to open his new building at any cost. So, when a nest of snakes is found on the construction site, he orders the crew to kill them, which they do via any and all implements they can find. The killing of the snakes is not faked; real animals are used, and director William Cheung Kei seems to delight in testing the audience's limit by showing graphic closeups for an extended period of time.

At any rate, apparently, there is a giant boa constrictor living at the site as well, who begins commanding all the neighboring snakes to attack humans. The work crew tries using mongooses (mongeese?) and a snake charmer, but neither gets rid of the problem. Undaunted, the boss continues with the project. At the opening party, the snakes go for their revenge en masse, which, not shockingly, doesn't end well for anyone involved.

Certainly, Calamity of Snakes is not a film for everyone. As stated before, even horror fans may have issues with the movie due to the footage of real animal killing. And certainly, the issue of whether the killing of dozens of animals in order to produce a cheap B-list horror picture is justified is not really something that can be distilled and discussed thoroughly in the confines of a short internet review. But I will say that there is a certain segment of people out there that have a love for this sort of cinema, and, for them, Calamity of Snakes deserves its' elevated status in the genre.

Unfortunately, currently, the only "legal" version available of Calamity of Snakes is offered as part of BCI Navarre/Brentwood's Eastern Horror line, either part of a box set or a stand-alone "flipper" disc with The Devil's Box on the reverse side. The word legal is in quotes because Brentwood is a budget label well-known among cult movie viewers for their skirting around copyright issues, and their presentation here is no different.

The DVD is obviously sourced from a copy of an English-dubbed Japanese VHS tape, complete with non-removable Kanji subtitles on the right side of the screen. There was a Mandarin version put out by Ocean Shores, but this appears to have not been subtitled, and is now long out of print. But even through the janky haze of a semi-bootleg release, Calamity of Snakes deserves to be sought out if you're a fan of the seedier side of cinema.


Note: some scenes from Calamity of Snakes were spliced into the 1985 English language production Serpent Warriors, an unsurprisingly low-budget affair starring Clint Walker as a zoologist sent in to get rid of a nest of snakes (controlled by a voodoo priestess played by Eartha Kitt) infesting a construction site. None of the animal death footage was used.