Save the Date! “Calamity of Snakes” Slithers onto Blu-ray and DVD! Available at Amazon!
A greedy, time-is-money land developer pushes his project manager and structural architect to complete his condo building earlier than scheduled, even if that means to cut corners. While digging to lay the structure’s foundation, a massive pit of deadly snakes is unearthed. With no times to waste, the land developer orders the mass killing of the snakes by the crew and even takes matters into his own hand using a backhoe as a weapon against the wishes of more sensible architect. Those who are karma-included and God-fearing believe the mass murder of the snakes will result in retribution with fears being validated when workers fall victim to random snake attacks. Shrugging it off as superstition mumbo-jumbo, the land developer finishes marvelous residential condo and fills the units in record numbers. His success becomes the tenant’s death trap who can’t escape the swarming thousands of deadly slithery serpents infesting every nook and cranny and climbing toward his penthouse, seeking revenge against the snakebit developer’s cruelty and greed.
Warning. If you have a severely crippling phobia of snakes, then do not press play on “Calamity of Snakes” or you’ll be crying in the fetal position for hours afterwards with imaginational visions of venomous serpents dangling around your neck and arms, clinging to your punctured flesh with their sharp, tapered fangs. Trust me. I know from experience after having watched the William Chang Kee (Chi Chang) creature feature and going into the viperous vengeance film with my own form of sweat-inducing ophidiophobia, an extreme fear of snakes. Kee’s 1982 production comes with a bit of notoriety that may put the film in hot water with Peta or other animal rights organization, it also may be a silver lining for those petrified by the carnivorous reptilians that lurk underfoot, but don’t worry, from Unearthed Films news board, the home entertainment distribution company pledges to donate a percentage of the “Calamity of Snakes’” sale profits to the Save the Snakes, an organization that aims to converse and repopulate all species of snake around the world. Penned by Kee with cowriters Kang-Nien Li (“The Lady Avenger”) and Kuo Jung Tsai (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Drago”), The Chinese film made in Taiwan, “Calamity of Snakes” wriggles to-and-fro between different genre elements with pieces of horror, martial arts, and comedy packed so tightly together that making diamond shaped heads and rattling tails difficult to define the kind of film Kee intended to convey, but what came to fruition fabulously depicts the can-do attitudes of developing a preposterous idea into something insane, terrifying, and effectuated with countless real snakes. Chi He Film Company and the Hong-Kong based Kee Woo Film Co. serve as the production companies with Tsai-Ching Wang producing and Golden Sun Films (“Dr. Lamb”) distributing.
Despite the animal cruelty, which undoubtedly can’t be ignored, you have to give credit to the Chinese for their willingness to do just about anything in order to get the shot. If that means two of the actors’ role violently around on a floor covered with live snakes, screaming their heads off, then they certainly have more cojones than I ever will. From a recent interview I watched with Michelle Yeoh, the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” Academy Award winning actress describe the Chinese film industry of the 1980s to be stunt demanding and really did lack the strict safety standards when compared to the U.S. “Calamity of Snakes” appears to be no different with the easily handling of cobras and an overall serpent magnitude that can’t be denied. Yun-Peng Hsiang stars as the young, U.S.-studied architect with a sensible and rational head on top of his shoulders, overcome with the feeling that his dealings with the unscrupulous land developer (Yuen Kao) and the two passive aggressively buttheads throughout the narrative that eventually lends to the developer getting what he wants by way of money, power, and backdoor dealings that denotes an allegory of affluence being blind to the perceptible cause-and-effect dangers ahead while the studiously educated are left ignored, exploited for their talents. “Calamity of Snakes” cast rounds out with Lui Cheung, Ying Lee, Tung-Min Huang, Ying Lee, Pei-Ying Lo, and Ping-Ou Wei as the land developer’s chucklehead assistant.
“Calamity of Snakes'” hardest part to digest is the disgusting display of snake homicide. In what becomes a grouping of three scenarios that are just scene after scene of killing snakes by the hacks of machetes, the release of mongoose going right for the head of the snake, and in a blaze of flame throwing fire, cruelty is terribly too integrated into the pericardium encased heart of Kee’s ecohorror and makes the snake outdoor market delicatessen scene that dispatches a cobra for use of consumption that much more palatable despite the graphic skinning, organ removal, and blood draining for a special drink cocktail that can supposedly cure what ails you. Down the hatch! After the ginormous scenes of genocide, rooting for the snakes to bite back against the unbridled cruelty of humans to come crashing down in a heap of revenge-seeking serpents is a sight of satisfactory glory. Kee, also known for his cheap but fast-paced martial arts films, creates a loose hierarchy amongst the ophidians by fabricating a boa constrictor that can kung-fu with the best human snake whisperer. The showdown scene takes flight with the constrictor whipping through the air using its large, serpentine tail as a formidable blunt object and its body to innately crush the life out of foes. In contrasts, the chop-socky, though wonderfully fast-paced and choreographed, is a bit out of place with a flying, unrealistic boa against the real slithering slitherers creeping along the floors and walls, decorating the rooms with slick, shiny scales that encircle terror around frantic condominium residents and the boss-level land developer who unsheathes a katana in another scene of snake cleaving in slow motion.
The day of the snake is here and now, on a high definition 1080p, AVC encoded, Special Edition Blu-ray from Unearthed Films as part of the boutique distributor’s Unearthed Classics sublabel and slotted at number 12 on the spine. The primary feature is presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a genuine digitized effort toward the best possible 2K scan rendition of the photograph film source print. There’s not a ton of wear, tear, or much of anything regarding damage aside from a few vertical scratches. Delineation is consistent with delivering characters and snakes transposed clearly, but often you might see the boa constrictor scenes share a softer exposure because of that accelerated camera work with the martial arts. Color reproduction does maintain a certain image fidelity, but the grading comes off placid, never giving the snake, or snakes, a chance to gleam a venomous glare with those eyelid-less and verticalized wide-angle seeing eyes. The original elements offer little to work with, but the Unearthed Films’ release is still top-notch work in delivering the best possible picture. The Mandarin, Cantonese, and English dub PCM mono 1.0 provide the typical options available when released in Taiwan decades ago; In fact, they’re all scratch tracks but I went with the Mandarin track that synchs not too adversely to viewing pleasure. With the mono, dub track, depth is done before it can even get started but “Calamity of Snakes” has immense range that conveys the whooshing actions of living things flying through the air during fight sequences, flamethrowers singe the very audible air, and the Foley keeps up to any and all actions with a more than satisfactory overlay track. Dialogue being the important aspect of anything film is fine here being in the forefront and clean albeit some moderate background crackling-static throughout. English subtitles are available and discern no issues with pacing or with spelling slips but there is a sense of something lost in translation as the dynamic discourse seesaws in an irregular way that feels forced and unnatural. Unearthed Films doesn’t just deliver one version of the film, the company offers two more edits for equality. If you’re not one for animal cruelty, a cruelty free version is available that omits the snake snuff. Also, the theatrical edit is a censored version, but Unearthed Films does include the 4:3 uncut, unrestored versions that adds back in prolonged sex acts and one very brief nudity scene. A From Shaw to Snake: The Venom And Violence of Early Chinese Language Horror Cinema brings back some key far East scholars, such as Calum Waddel, and new academic faces with Dr. Lin Feng, to discuss the background limbotic tug-a-war of Taiwan between the democratic island and mainland China that also morphs into the rising of Shaw Brothers’ films in the mid-20 century to eventually Golden Sun’s competitive rise, and subsequently the Shaw Brothers’ as well, into the kitschy crowd favorites of the horror genre. Reptilian Recollections: Lin Kuang-Yung In Conversation With Chui-Yi Chung converses in an interview with Lin Kuang-Yung recalling moments from production involving the countless number of snakes and the safety assurances with the cast and crew, despite some being bit a few times. The special features round out with a commentary track with Nathan Hamilton and Brad Slaton, alternate opening and ending credits, and a still gallery. The physical portions of the release come with a traditional Blu-ray snapper case inside a cardboard o-slip with the original Thai poster art by illustrator Kham, provided by the M. Wright Collection. The same poster art is used for the disc art as well. Inside the snapper case lies no insert or reverse cover art. The region A locked Blu-ray clocks the feature presentation in at 96 minutes and is not rated. “Calamity of Snakes’ is the original “Snakes on a Plane” of the 1980’s, a coiling revenge plotted by nature with potent venom and disturbing imagery that deserves to be a classic in its own right soon to once again see the light of day on DVD and Blu-ray come April 25 from Unearthed Films.