Sunday, 3 July 2016

FRANCHISE CORNER ENTRY: ANACONDA


















ANACONDA **** USA 1997 Dir: Luis Llosa. 85 mins

One of several 1997 major studio monster movies (alongside THE RELIC and STARSHIP TROOPERS) that lavished decent money and stars on material that Roger Corman would have made into a 70 minute $60k flick in 1957 starring Beverly Garland and Dick Miller. In search of an elusive tribe in the Brazilian rainforests, a film crew led by expert Eric Stoltz (confronted by a poisonous catfish and destined for a tracheotomy), vest-wearing reporter Jennifer Lopez and moody cameraman Ice Cube instead meet a 40 foot long anaconda.
Equally repellent is leering, oddball snake hunter Jon Voight, who perves over the girls and punches our heroes. Shot by JAWS cameraman Bill Butler (reprising his legendary dolly-zoom at one point), this briskly paced, unashamedly trashy latter-day B movie effectively set the tone for countless (much) lower budgeted creature features to come with its high-speed, unrealistic CG snake, prone to crashing into boats and swallowing cast members whole. The capable cast are trapped in one-dimensional roles, with Jonathan Hyde notably embarrassing as a stereotypical English bastard whose acting is acutely summarized by the moment in which the snake spits out a recently swallowed monkey in his face. Slumming and providing around 25 variations on a leer, the gurning Voight is cheaper than the snake so gets lots more screen time as the hilariously OTT human antagonist: the climactic sequence in which he still manages to muster one final, suggestive wink at the horrified Lopez after being crushed, swallowed and regurgitated by the anaconda, is some kind of cinematic benchmark.

Anaconda (Trailer)


ANACONDAS HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID ** USA 2004 Dir: Dwight Little. 97 mins

In the seven years it took Columbia Pictures to crank out a ($25 million) sequel to the popular ANACONDA, we had already seen an increasingly camp cycle of CG monster snake movies like KING COBRA, PYTHON, BOA and, notably, BOA VS PYTHON. This movie takes itself too seriously and, despite having a lot more money to spend than the sillier knock-offs, still can’t make its title menace look anything other than a CG effect. Only referencing the events of ANACONDA in passing, this has one time “Coronation Street” star Matthew Marsden heading a bunch of corporate drones in the jungles of Borneo, in search of a super-rare orchid with life-prolonging abilities, and the potential to reap more financial rewards than Viagra; inevitably, their mission is full of peril, notably the emergence of unfeasibly large anacondas. HALLOWEEN 4 director Little recreates ANACONDA’s multi-ethnic cast, complete with a dull J-Lo lookalike and a gravelly bastard who appears to be the result of a scientific experiment to create a hybrid of Vin Diesel and Quint from JAWS. Despite one self-consciously dopey scene in which a smarmy character hums the theme from JAWS to scare the women, this is a straight-faced survivalist thriller with limited snake action and various other, less expensive perils including spiders, leeches and crocodiles (hero Johnny Messner wrestles manfully with a croc like he’s auditioning for a new TARZAN picture). There’s no one to root for, other than the snakes and a cute monkey who provides the simian equivalent of a cheap cat scare on at least two occasions.

Anacondas Hunt For The Blood Orchid (Trailer)


ANACONDA 3: OFFSPRING ** USA / Romania 2008 Dir: Don E FauntLeRoy. 96 mins

It’s fitting that a big studio franchise that inspired a wave of low-budget DVD rip-offs should itself devolve into shot-in-Romania Sci-Fi Channel sequels built around cheap, cartoony snake FX making the central menace resemble a shiny high speed train rather than a living, breathing creature. Top-billed David Hasselhoff is typically fun as a villainous great white hunter whose goofy team is called in to combat giant snakes on a regular basis. Crystal Allen is straight off the Vapid Vest Wearing Heroine assembly line with back-story links to a mad / brilliant billionaire whose plans to cure cancer and reverse Alzheimer’s (DEEP BLUE SEA called – you stole its plot!) inevitably involve experiments on a 60 foot anaconda, as opposed to something more controllable like a fluffy hamster. The silly subtitle is largely a feeble set-up to the fourth movie, and most of OFFSPRING consists of stock characters running around woodland waiting for the snake to leap out and eat them. Following the PG-13 rated earlier movies, this one at least gets to revel in splashy CG enhanced bloodshed: the ‘conda no longer merely crushes or swallows its victims; it rips them apart with glee. Man of the match is John Rhys Davies, whose brief role is almost entirely made up of crude but hilarious wisecracks. He refers to the anaconda as “completely motionless…just like my first wife” and, when someone else corrects him by describing it as “500lbs of pure crushing power”, responds with a tart “As I said, just like my first wife…”

Anaconda 3: Offspring (Trailer)


ANACONDAS TRAIL OF BLOOD * USA / Romania 2008 Dir: Don E FauntLeRoy. 85 mins

Shot back to back with the third movie, this slow, lazy fourth entry has yet more anonymous Eastern European villains in search of orchids, inevitably picked off by another anonymous CGI giant snake (the grown up “offspring” from the previous film). Returning heroine Crystal Allen leads a team of interchangeable scientists to hunt down the monstrosity she helped to create, while mogul John Rhys-Davies, riddled with bone cancer and kept alive by his own regenerating serum, takes an easy pay cheque. Set in the Carpathian Mountains, this delivers everything you’d expect, from the endless scenes of sundry peripheral characters foolishly firing useless guns at the snake to the 80’s style coda setting up another sequel. Charisma-free lead Allen outruns the predictably goofy snake with ease at various intervals, and this time around there’s not even Hasselhoff to add novelty value. A low point for the franchise after the undeniably amusing OFFSPRING.

Anacondas Trail Of Blood (Trailer)


Reviews by Steven West



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