By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kidnappers versus deadly snake.
Phillip Hopkins (Lance Holcomb) is an 8-year old boy and son of a wealthy couple. When his parents leave for a trip the family’s maid and chauffeur (Susan George, Oliver Reed) conspire to kidnap the boy and hold him for a ransom with the help of a ruthless gunman (Klaus Kinski). Unbeknownst to any of them the boy has mistakenly acquired a black mamba snake that escapes from his cage. As the culprits try to pull off their crime they become trapped in the house by the deadly reptile that starts to attack them one-by-one.
For starters the cast is one of a kind. Besides the performers listed above the film also has Sarah Miles as a Dr. with a serum to help fight the snake’s poisonous venom. Nicol Williamson appears as the police negotiator and Sterling Hayden, in his last film role, plays the boy’s grandfather. How anyone could manage to direct a cast with such legendarily huge egos and eccentric personalities seems hard to fathom and probably explains why original director Tobe Hooper left the production after only ten days of shooting and was replaced by Piers Haggard. Supposedly Reed and Kinski were at odds with each other during the entire production and their animosity clearly shows on screen. For the most part the talents of the cast is wasted with a script that is limited and filled with characterizations that allow for no range.
I did like Hayden in the scene where he is forced to go searching for the snake in a darkened room and armed with nothing more than a lamp and a makeshift weapon. George is also fun playing a duplicitous character for a change and I was disappointed that she gets killed off so soon. However, she does make the most of it with a very theatrical death scene. Probably the best performance in the whole film is that of the boy. He has a very sweet, young looking face and the widest most innocent pair of blue eyes you’ll ever see and the kind that most casting directors would kill for. The kid plays the frightened part well and does an effective asthma attack. He hasn’t done much since, but I am sure that if he wrote a book dealing with his experiences on the set and his interactions with that cast that if would most assuredly be a best-seller.
The set-up is good and I found myself riveted to it for the first half-hour. I liked the idea that an actual mamba snake was used. There is a part where the snake is slithering towards the camera and opens its wide, black mouth and hisses straight at the camera, which could be enough to get most viewers to jump out of their seat. Director Haggard uses the novel idea of shooting scenes from the snake’s point-of-view and he does it through a fuzzy and slightly distorted lens to help replicate the snake’s vision. The only problem I had in this area is that the snake is seen slithering throughout the picture inside the home’s venting system, which is shown to be very clean and spotless, which didn’t make sense to me since the home was old making me think that the metal piping would be more corroded and rusted.
Despite the excellent concept the film’s second hour is quite boring. The characters don’t have enough to do and spend most of the time standing around. The interplay between Kinski and Williamson brings no tension. There is one cringe inducing scene where the snake crawls up Reed’s pant leg, but overall the scares are quite sparse. The climatic sequence is too convenient and becomes more of a disappointment then a shock. It is hard to say if the film would have been better if Hooper had stayed on or not. Reportedly none of the footage that he shot is in the final cut. The film is based on a novel by Alan Scholefield, which I suspect is probably more intriguing and after watching this makes me interested in reading it.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: January 29, 1982
Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes
Rated R (Mature Theme, Violence, Language)
Director: Piers Haggard