Tuesday, October 6, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 1: Anaconda (1997)

Snakes don't scare me.

Oh, sure, if you put me in the same room with an angry cobra or a hungry reticulated python I'm probably going to be terrified, but that's not what I mean. I don't have a deep-down, ingrained, irrational fear of snakes. The mere sight of one does not make my hair stand on end and if I see one in the wild I'm just as likely to walk over for a closer look as run in the other direction--provided we're talking about just a harmless non-venomous snake, that is. I'm not an idiot.

A lot of this comes from my mother, who has always loved snakes. We had pet snakes all my life, from tiny garter snakes to a six foot long bull snake. I know that, most of the time, snakes can be very sweet-tempered pets. And, in general, snakes are unfairly maligned creatures with far more to fear from us than we have from them. In fact, many snakebite victims are people decided to react to the presence of a snake by killing it and karma got them when the dead snake's reflex actions made it bite them.

I'm sure that old fairy tale about snakes and apples doesn't help matters.

All of this is to say that if a movie wants me to be scared of a snake it has to really work for it. It's a futile effort, most of the time, but it's exceptionally Sisyphean in the case of movies about snakes eating people.

The reason for this is two fold. One, snakes generally don't eat people--or at least, not adult humans. An infant or small child is, unsurprisingly, at risk of being a snake's prey but there are very few verified cases of an adult human being eaten by a snake because there are very few snakes actually large enough to eat an adult. Our body structure also doesn't lend itself well to being swallowed whole, and snakes can't eat any other way. That's not to say that snakes don't try, often resulting in an adult being killed but not devoured: it's simply a case of their eyes being bigger than their stomachs. Or, in some unfortunate cases, a snake smelling a prey animal that the human was trying to feed them and grabbing the human instead.

For some reason, though, people seem to find the idea of just being killed but not eaten less horrifying than being a successful lunch. And few horror films are willing to be so transgressive as to have their monster snake devouring babies and children.

Secondly, even if a snake managed to eat an adult person, that'd be it. You know the old joke about, "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you"? Well, if you're in a group of people and one of you gets grabbed by a python and eaten, then that's just too bad for Steve. The upside is that the rest of you will be perfectly safe from further snake attack because it's gonna take that python around an hour to eat Steve, and days to digest him.

So you see, if your premise is "one huge snake attacks and eats a group of people" then you're asking me to swallow a conceit slightly less ridiculous than "a pack of flying bush pigs devours people." (Somebody get SyFy on the phone!) Worse than that, the latter premise would assume you know it's impossible, while the former thinks of itself as "plausible." And while it may sound ridiculous to complain about lack of a believable premise in a monster movie, when it comes to suspension of disbelief I definitely subscribe to the school of thinking that says, "You can ask an audience to believe the impossible, but not the improbable."

Anaconda starts off with the improbable right away, by expecting you to believe that Danny Trejo encountering a hungry Anaconda wouldn't end with Trejo having a stunning new pair of boots. This is almost more unbelievable than the film's opening crawl that claims that anacondas grow to 40 feet in length--despite the fact that even the reticulated python, the longest species of snake in the world, has only ever been officially recorded at a length of 25 feet. Anacondas, while the heaviest snake species, are not the longest. In fact the longest ever recorded was 17 feet long, just about half as long as the film is claiming the species routinely grows.

Of course, anacondas also don't regurgitate their prey because they love killing and want to kill and eat again, which the opening crawl also claims. Snakes only vomit up prey for two reasons: One, they're stressed and that triggers a vomit reflex, and Two, the prey rots in their stomach before they are able to fully digest it. It makes no sense, biologically, for an animal to expend the type of energy required to kill and swallow an entire animal whole, just to vomit it all up and go back to hunting. The sole reason the film even makes this claim is to make it reasonable that the snake would stilll be after our protagonists after eating one of them.

Right, back to explaining why Danny Trejo is here. Well, Trejo is a poacher whose boat has become stranded in some tributary of the Amazon. While he hollers at his broken radio, an ominous POV cam stalks closer to his boat. Something rocks the boat, terrifying all the caged animals. Trejo nails one small board over the cabin door--only for something to smash up the floorboards beneath him. Now, despite launching him several feet into theair, our unseen assailant (the film wisely keeping the snake off screen at this time) fails to catch Trejo, so he makes his escape by yanking the board off the cabin door with his bare hands.

So, what exactly did he think that board was going to do?

The POV cam, having apparently busted through the floorboards, chases Trejo up on top of the cabin. Trejo fires his revolver at it but misses terribly. For some reason, he decides to climb up his boat's mast. He watches as the POV cam circles around him until it's right in front of his face, which would mean it was less than a foot from him. Rather than shoot his attacker now when he couldn't possibly miss, he takes the gun and blows his own brains out.

Even the heroes in The Mist would think this guy was giving up too quickly.

To his agent's horror, Trejo was serious about getting out of the movie by any means necessary
We then cut to a hotel, somewhere in the Amazon, as our heroine, Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez!) sits at her laptop in a skimpy nightgown--13-year-old me would like to note that she appears to be wearing nothing under that nightgown and it's just this side of see-through--and looks over pictures of native tribespeople. This is 1997, so she's probably using InfoSeek to find these pictures. It's a miracle she found anything, then. We get our first indications that director Luis Llosa has no idea how to make a film scary as he sets up a false scare with a shot of water rippling outside her room and a sting on the soundtrack, but then fails to deliver anything. When Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz!) arrives, he does so by knocking and not scaring anybody except those with an irrational fear of gingers.

It should be pretty clear that Terri and Cale have a history that goes beyond professional almost immediately. Terri teases him about how disheveled he looks, and he jokingly claims he barely escaped a piranha attack while meeting with some potential guides. Already the movie is reminding me of better movies, as well as Amazon denizens more likely to kill you than an anaconda.

At any rate, Cale has hired Terri to film his encounter with a barely-known and nigh-legendary tribe in the Amazon. He claims he wanted the best director for the job, but later evidence will suggest that he's lying or else there was an implied, "...but they were busy, so I got you." Let's just say that Ava DuVernay she is not.

The next morning, the boat for their project pulls up accompanied by sinister music (!) because this movie is as subtle as a two-by-four to the face. Terri meets with her cameraman, Danny Rich (Ice Cube!), who is excited for her because, "Not every day my homegirl from SC gets to direct her own documentary." Wait, this is her first documentary directing gig, ever? So Cale was joking earlier. Speak of the ginger, he's arguing travel plans the boat's captain, Mateo (Vincent Castellanos), who is insistent they take a route 55 kilometers out of the way due to the rainy season approaching. Seeing Cale, Danny implies that Terri is using this gig as an opportunity to spend time with Cale.

Look, movie, we get it, already: they're boning. Let's move on, shall we?

Now we're introduced to our, ugh, comic relief: the documentary's narrator, Warren Westridge (Jonathan Hyde). Now, usually a documentary of this sort would just add the celebrity narrator in post, yet here Westridge is the David Attenborough analog. Except he's the sort of pretentious high class English stereotype that complains about not being in the lap of luxury, brings fancy wine along on a boat trip to the Amazon, and insults the production manager, Denise Kalberg (Kari Wuhrer!) by asking her to take his bags to his cabin. Oh, and Denise is clearly banging the sound man, Gary Dixon (Owen Wilson!) because it's that kind of crew.

Westridge is somewhat dismissive of Terri, but he does mention her short films so at least we know she does have some directing experience. The expedition gets underway and we get some exposition via watching Westridge's filmed narration: they are looking for "The People of The Mist" or the "Shirishama." After a pointless scene where Gary tells Denise that the jungle makes him really, really horny, a rainstorm rolls in.

Hearing someone shouting in the rain, they come upon a boat stranded in the roots of the trees. Danny films all this, and the film starts in with heavily sinister music even before the stranded man leaps aboard and turns out to be Paul Sarone (Jon Voight!), who exchanges a significant glance with Mateo because this film does not understand how to do dramatic irony without being really obvious about it. Sarone doesn't mind that they can't take him back to Manaus because he is certain the people in the next village can help him fix his boat.

The next scene is Sarone spearing a fish and preparing it for the crew. Hilariously, Terri observes that they'll have to film him doing it next time--despite the fact that he had to crawl out onto a tree limb to spear the fish, so there's no reason she shouldn't have already been filming him! Sarone reveals he is from Paraguay and was studying to be a priest when he decided he would actually prefer to catch snakes in the jungle to sell to zoos and collectors. When he finds out the crew are looking for the Shirishama, he conveniently claims to have seen them and promises to direct the crew to where they are. Westridge incredulously points out that any river captain would say the same after five whiskeys.

"Five whiskeys? That's breakfast on the ree-ver," Sarone replies.

Sarone also calls Denise "little baby bird" when she asks if salad would go with his fish, which isn't creepy at all. That night Denise dances seductively for Gary, Danny smokes a cigar (so, uh, kudos for not making the token black guy light up a joint, I guess, unless that's not really a cigar), and Cale and Terri discuss fireflies before locking lips. A menacing POV cam is watching the crew from the shore, and this film goes the Jaws 2 route since it decides to just fucking show us the anaconda on the shore.

Our first shot of the anaconda is the animatronic creature created by Walt Conti and I'm going to go ahead and come to the defense of Mr. Conti. This animatronic is usually maligned in most reviews, but I think it's actually quite well done. The only real issue is that it looks nothing like an anaconda. Oh, sure, the coloration is right, but anacondas have a very distinctive head with the eyes and nostrils positioned on top of the skull, like a crocodilian, and the head is kind of long and narrow. This creature's head is short and wide, and its eyes aren't in the right position at all.

The real deal...

...the wannabe.
I'm sure the average moviegoer is not going to notice the difference, of course. So really it's down to how convincingly the creature moves, and if you ask me it moves quite believably. Of course, that's because it has a CGI counterpart that...doesn't. We'll get to that in due time.

Instead of attacking the crew, the anaconda sets its sights on a black jaguar. Perhaps to make the animatronic snake look better, the jaguar is rendered via an obviously stiff prop or possibly even an actual jaguar borrowed from a taxidermist's office. The quick cuts in the scene do nothing to disguise this. The scene ends with a shot of one of the jaguar's eyeballs on the forest floor (!), which I can only assume is because this particular jaguar had a glass eye that it was always losing since the implication that the anaconda squeezed the cat so hard its eye popped out is too stupid for me to fathom.

The next morning, Westridge and Danny have an unfunny disagreement over Danny's rap music, before the group comes across a huge snake totem. Sarone claims it is a Shirishama totem because they worship giant anacondas. He waxes poetic about a legend of an impossibly huge anaconda, but Cole points out it's a legend of a tribe called the Maku. Sarone tries to claim both tribes have the same legend and that the Shirishama can be found down the next fork in the river. "I know this. I trap snakes for a living," he asserts, because trapping snakes and finding lost tribes are totally the same discipline.

Cole declares they're not going to take the route Sarone suggested because it doesn't make any damn sense. Terri tries to film Westridge in front of the snake idol but Sarone ruins the shot. Rather than ask Mateo to back up the boat and try again, she just accepts it as a loss. (Though I'll pretend it's because they get enough of an establishing shot that she can cut before Sarone jumps into shot and loop Westridge's dialogue in later with other footage of the totem, because I need to believe our heroine has some skill as a director)

That night, Gary and Denise go ashore to "get some wild sound," which is code for "record some audio, then start to get it on in the forest." As you would expect, they are interrupted by a rogue POV cam that chases them before Sarone appears with a rifle and seems to shoot at them. It naturally turns out that Sarone was actually shooting the wild boar that was after them. He drags it aboard so he and Mateo can cut it up for food. Danny finds the idea of a boar being food unusual, so maybe he keeps halal.

The next day, something finally sort of happens. For some reason the boat is dragging a rope behind it (?) and the rope gets caught in the propeller. Cale decides to dive down and cut it loose, despite Sarone asserting that "the ree-ver can kill you in a thousand ways," but all Cale is worried about is the candiru acu--the infamous little fish that swims up your urethra and lodges itself with spines. Of course, while Sarone leers at Terri topside, something goes wrong for Cale under the water. He's hauled up and turns out to have a wasp in his mouth. Sarone performs an emergency tracheotomy with a knife and a pen before Cale can suffocate.

Sarone suggests they need to get Cale to a hospital as soon as possible and, conveniently, the best way to do that is to take the route he suggested yesterday. Terri is suspicious but sees no other option. Of course, when the route brings them to a wall that Sarone didn't know would be there, she becomes even more suspicious. Sarone just happens to have dynamite with him--"Always good to be prepared" should not be the end of the discussion when someone reveals they brought dynamite onto your vessel--but Terri is reluctant because she's worried that blowing up the wall might upset the ecological balance of the river.

Does Terri think beavers made that wall?

Sarone's idea wins out, and he and Gary take the inflatable dinghy out to plant the dynamite. Several roving POV cams zero in on Gary in the water, but Sarone pulls him to safety and they light the fuses. Hilariously, nobody thought to move the boat back further and the resulting blast screws them in three increasingly idiotic ways: first, debris sinks the dinghy; second, the drums of spare fuel laid sideways on the deck and secured by a single flimsy rope are all knocked into the river when a branch falls on them; and third, a bunch of various species of small to medium-sized snakes lands on the boat. Everyone panics like a bunch of wusses while Sarone tosses handfuls of snakes into the water and Mateo sprays the poor things off with a hose. Hilariously, Sarone insists on calling all the snakes "babies."

Westridge somehow ends up with an animatronic baby anaconda on his finger that he doesn't notice until it starts swallowing his finger and I take back what I said about the film's animatronics not being that bad, as the attempt to show it swallowing his finger is embarrassing. Hilariously, Sarone just pulls the snake off of Westridge's hand, which would be an excellent way to tear the shit out of the man's finger and leave him full of snake teeth--snakes' teeth are basically hooks directed toward their throat, so you have to unhook their teeth by pushing their head forward first if you want to get them off with a minimum of damage to you. The cartoonish "Rargh!' sound the baby snake makes as Sarone tosses it off the boat is even more hilarious. As we'll soon see, this movie has no idea what a snake sounds like.

Westridge's accusation that Sarone "knew there would be snakes here" is even more hilarious. Snakes? In the Amazon? Why, I never! On ahead they go, until they come upon Danny Trejo's boat from the beginning of the film. The menacing POV cam decides to take on a Dutch tilt as it watches them approach, which suggests the monster is watching them with its head cocked quizzically to one side. Sarone suggests they investigate the wreck to see if there's fuel. For some reason, Danny follows Sarone and Mateo to film it but Gary doesn't go along for sound because...Teri is the best director, clearly. Aboard the vessel, Sarone hides a newspaper clipping with a photo of him, Mateo, and Trejo holding an anaconda before Danny can see it. Danny finds a rifle that has oddly been bent in several places because snakes hate guns, I guess?

Sarone has Danny help him carry a chest he finds, which Danny goes along with awfully quickly. Mateo, meanwhile, nearly falls through the hole in the floor. Mateo dallies a bit as Danny and Sarone float the chest back to the boat--with Danny's camera stowed inside--and then Mateo manages to somehow fall backwards off the boat like a moron. He is then ambushed by an anaconda in the only scene in the film where we see an anaconda almost hunting like an actual anaconda. I say almost because anacondas don't just squeeze their prey so hard that their ribs break and they definitely don't grab their prey by the head and twist to snap their neck!

This is also our first time seeing the CGI anaconda and while it's not nearly as awful as I remembered--perhaps years of SyFy Original Pictures and Asylum films have shown me what truly terrible CGI looks like--it's still very bad and probably why I'm less harsh on the puppet snake. For one thing, the CGI snake is not the same color as the animatronic, it doesn't blend into the physical environment it's been deposited into at all, and it moves way too fast and effortlessly for an animal as big as it is supposed to be.

"You made my mother into boots, you bastard!"
Also, despite what this movie may tell you, snakes don't scream when they're attacking their prey.

Hilariously, in the time it takes for the others to realize Mateo is not following and Danny to turn and wade back to where Mateo was last seen, both the snake and Mateo have vanished. Given that we last saw the snake opening its mouth and preparing to eat Mateo, this is fucking impossible. Maybe Danny is just very unobservant and didn't notice the 40-foot snake eating Mateo because he comes back with only the man's flashlight. Sarone explains where Mateo went by dramatically unfurling a snake skin he found in the trunk. It's supposed to be a shed skin, but it unfurls perfectly and appears to be thick as leather, which would not be the case.

At any rate, while I realize that Sarone is right about what ate Mateo, I come back to the fact that there are far more likely explanations than "eaten by a snake." Like assuming he was eaten by a caiman, or perhaps a drop bear. Indeed, Terri insists snakes don't eat people and Sarone counters with pointing at the scar on his face. Um, just because something bites people, doesn't mean it eats them. At any rate, Sarone goes on about how the snake could have easily sensed Mateo's body heat and then goes on to describe how anacondas squeeze you so tight your bones break and your veins explode.

Okay, if I stop and rant at every time this movie wrong this movie is about snakes this review will never get done. However, this is just as much bullshit as the idea that anacondas grow to 40 feet long and barf up perfectly good food just so they can go kill something else. What constrictors do is far, far creepier--they squeeze every time their prey exhales until the prey's lungs can no longer take in air and the prey suffocates. There might be some occasional broken bones or burst blood vessels, but they don't kill their prey by crushing them to jelly.

Sarone then makes his pitch: imagine if they could catch this monster snake alive. Of course, if it was really eating Mateo they could easily go capture it right then. Terri insists they wait overnight for Mateo. The only upshot of this is that Sarone manages to seduce Gary to the side of, "we can totally catch the biggest snake that ever lived since the Titanoboa went extinct and get a million dollars for it." Yeah, that's somewhat unlikely, but okay. I mean, sure, a 40-foot anaconda would be an amazing find, but how many zoos have the facilities to house a snake that large?

The next day the boat continues on without Mateo. Westridge is driving now, so maybe he's not totally useless. Sarone shoots a monkey for bait and then he and Gary reveal that they're working together now. Gary tries to explain it off as trying not to waste the documentary since now they can make it about the snake catching. But no one else is on board, so Sarone almost shoots Danny to make his point that they are going to catch this snake. Hilariously, that night we see that Sarone's plan for catching an anaconda is to attach a dead monkey to a winch and tow it behind the boat. I can think of a lot of things you'd catch that way in the Amazon--caimans, piranha, giant catfish--but a snake that hunts mainly by ambushing prey is definitely not one of them.

So naturally, Sarone's plan works almost immediately. Before you know it he has a shrieking anaconda on the line. As the snake makes hilariously un-snake-like "blarghle garble" Tasmanian Devil-style sounds (courtesy Frank Welker, of course), everyone but Gary insists Sarone let the snake go before they all get killed. Which is an...odd thing too be concerned about, really. Danny decides to try and shank Sarone with a knife he just happened to have, but the anaconda tail whips him and the knife goes in the river. It then also tail whips Sarone and breaks free of the hook, which oddly then detaches itself from the line and nearly impales Westridge. Everyone agonizes over where the snake is now, and because this is a movie it didn't just swim the hell away from the big, noisy bright thing that tried to attack it.

In slow-motion, which just adds to the hilarity, the anaconda bursts out of the water and spits the monkey carcass at Westridge. Sarone orders everyone not to move as he gets a bead on it with a crossbow (!) that has a tranquilizer dart for a bolt. Instead of listening, Terri runs for the cabin and naturally the snake smashes the window trying to get at her. Before it can lunge at her, Sarone shoots it in the open mouth with the dart--and hilariously you can see the white wires controlling the puppet as it writhes in pain after this. Somehow it spits the dart out (which would not mean it did not get tranquilized, as long as Sarone did the right dosage, but the movie apparently doesn't know that) and continues screaming, while writhing all over. It then whips a bench at Denise with its tail and knocks her into the water.

Hilariously, it quickly snaps its head towards the sound* of her hitting the water--and, again the vocalizations of the snake are hilarious and not even remotely believable in this sequence--and as Gary dives into the river to save her, the anaconda follows suit. Gary does help Denise out of the water and makes it back onto the boat as well, but unfortunately the anaconda is right behind him.

[* A few years ago, I'd have griped that the snake couldn't have heard her because snakes don't have external ears and can only sense vibrations through the ground. However, it is now known that snakes can hear sounds that travel through the air. Whether they can hear them well enough to have heard her hit the water that quickly is debatable, but sadly I have to concede the movie isn't being stupid in this one instance]

The CGI snake here is even worse. Not only does it obviously not belong to the same space as the man it's attacking, but the effects people forgot how important lighting is to a CGI creature. The anaconda is a couple F-Stops brighter than everyone else, so it might as well be glowing.

"I told the director, 'I'll only take the part if you light me better than everyone else.'"
The anaconda pins Gary to one of the pylons and snaps at the others as they try to free him. Terri grabs the rifle, but Sarone stops her because the snake is no good to him dead. Which is, of course, bullshit because even dead that'd be a record-breaking snake, but villain. The pylon gives way and the snake drags Gary off into the river. Terri consoles a weeping Denise, while Sarone makes a hilariously half-hearted gesture of tossing leaves into the river and mumbling a prayer for Gary's soul.

Denise attacks him, screaming, "You brought that snake here! You brought the devil!" Sarone brushes her off by saying that the devil is inside every one of us. Wait, in addition to Godzilla? We must all be very crowded. Sarone then demands Westridge load his equipment into the cabin, and when Westridge refuses Sarone slaps him around and then threatens him with his revolver. Satisfied, Sarone goes to the wheelhouse, while Danny goes to talk to Terri about plans.

The camera then goes below the water so we can see the film's single worst CGI effect: the anaconda swimming past, its body distended from Gary's body and--in the most laughable moment I've ever seen in a killer snake film--we can the outline of Gary's screaming face pressed through its belly. Apparently this anaconda lacks a stomach wall and the usual muscles on the belly required to move a snake along.

Is there really anything I could say that would make this more hilarious?
Okay, I take it back. A  more unbelievable scene follows as Terri dolls herself up and goes to see Sarone in the wheelhouse.She's there to, ugh, seduce Sarone. She talks to him while thrusting her breasts outward and, in the film's most hilariously misguided line, tells him, "This film was supposed to be my big break. But it's turned out to be a big disaster." And how!

She's pretending to have decided she wants to film Sarone capturing the snake to salvage the expedition, but she's using it as an excuse to appeal to his machismo. Well, poor Jennifer Lopez earns her hazard pay when Sarone buys the act and plants a big messy one on Terri. Unfortunately, he opens his eyes and sees Danny sneaking up on him with a bat--but he doesn't anticipate Westridge swinging a golf club through the window behind him. "Asshole in one," Westridge quips. Danny and Westridge want to throw him in the river but Terri objects and suggests they just tie him up.

Look, I get being squeamish about killing the guy, but surely there are other options than "keep him around."

When Sarone comes to, tied to one of the remaining pylons, Terri confronts him with the newspaper clipping. She's realized that somehow this was all one big set-up--and, again, a needlessly convoluted one because I can think of no reason why he even needed the film crew if he just wanted to catch a snake--and lists off the things he planned from the beginning. Sarone sneers and says, "How could you forget about the wasp?" Terri stage punches him in response. She then goes to check on Westridge and Danny, leaving Denise to exchange significant looks with Sarone. Westridge is giving Danny lessons in driving the boat, when they come upon a waterfall.

Now, there's lots of dialogue about how "beautiful" the waterfall is, but it's hilariously obvious that while most of the film was shot on location in a rainforest, this was shot on an artificial set. Danny runs the boat aground on a sandbar. So they have no choice but winch themselves free. This means Danny, Terri, and Westridge have to get in the water. Westridge quips about having to spend all night picking leeches off his scrotum the last time he was in water like this, because he's forgotten the earlier warning about the candiru.

While the three go about wrapping ropes around trees, Denise decides to threaten Sarone with a knife instead of either of the guns. This means she gets super close to him before he manages to make her resolve falter by telling her never to look in the eyes of those she kills--and then he somehow launches himself five feet straight into the air and wraps his thighs around her throat, somehow. He says a prayer as he strangles her to death and then kicks her body over the side. The others hear the splash but don't seem overly alarmed by it. Well, until Danny sees a ripple in a floating mat of grass and correctly interprets it as an anaconda approaching.

Danny and Terri make it to the boat, but Westridge distracts the anaconda and climbs up the waterfall. Sarone has used Denise's knife to cut himself loose and after Terri grabs the rifle, he attacks Danny. Hilariously, he then grabs the rifle in Terri's hands and throws her into the remaining fuel barrel, where the foley artist mysteriously decides Jennifer Lopez colliding with a barrel of gasoline should sound like the sound effect of two car fenders colliding. Sarone stabs Danny in the leg and Terri repeatedly fails to get a clear shot at him.

Westridge meanwhile, has hidden behind the waterfall, but when the snake--now hanging from a tree--finds him, he leaps from the waterfall. Unfortunately, his opponent has turned back into its CGI form and physics no longer apply to it. It strikes down at him faster than gravity and then reels him back up to the branch its wrapped around. Unfortunately, the added weight of a human somehow causes the tree to uproot and fall onto the boat. Everyone falls into the water and the impact shocks Cale out of his apparent coma.

Despite having a perfectly good meal already in its coils, the anaconda abandons Westridge's body so it can attack Danny as Terri is pulling him back onto the boat. Well, first Denise's body oddly chooses right then to float to the surface and then the anaconda attacks Danny. Once again, the anaconda takes the unusual tactic of letting go of Danny with its mouth after wrapping him in its coils--constrictors like anacondas always use their mouths to hold their prey in place while constricting--but this time it makes even less sense because it also decides to grab Denise's dead body in its jaws. Man, this anaconda's eyes are way bigger than its stomach.

Of course, the real reason it does this is so Terri can grab the rifle and shoot it in the head without risking shooting Danny in the process. This is sequence is really awkwardly, um, shot. We see Terri shoot the snake three times--and despite the rifle having a scope she just shoots from the shoulder and barely even looks down the barrel---and it's clear that the shots are the same squib effect from different angles as she shoots it through the right eye and blows its skull open. Yet, as the creature sinks into the river, dying, while shrieking like a pterodactyl--the only damage is that its right eye is gone and it's bleeding from the mouth. Naturally, Danny is somehow fine because the snake goes limp rather than crushing him into pulp with its death throes.

However, Sarone attacks them, hilariously screaming, "You killed my warrior snake!" Terri's attempt to get free by biting him does not work out, however Cale sneaks up and stabs Sarone with the tranquilizer dart. Hilariously, Sarone mutters, "The dart," before he puts thumb in Cale's throat wound in case we wouldn't figure out what Cale just stabbed him with. Danny then knocks Sarone into the river, but observes forlornly that the dart somehow dislodged itself and is floating on the surface. Of course, in reality Sarone was just drugged with a dose of tranquilizer meant to sedate a 40-foot long, probably one-ton snake and pushed into water. Unless he has gills he should be dead, but this movie is only 70 minutes in so I'm sure you've figured out he's fine.

Cale goes back to bed, having passed out again. Danny says the tree knocked them loose (!) and via the magic of running the film backwards (no, really, watch the waterfall) they back off the sandbar. Continuing on down the river, the boat--now making the cliche "engine running out of fuel" sounds--happens upon an abandoned boathouse. Assuming it might have fuel, Terri and Danny head inside to investigate. Oh, yeah, and despite being stabbed in the thigh, Danny is just walking with a slight limp. Walking up the plank to the boathouse they find axes and rifles strewn about. the two decide they don't want to know what happened there and just hope there's fuel, as an upside-down POV cam advances on the boathouse before doing a barrel roll to right itself.

Look, if your movie has been completely unengaging for the last 73 minutes, dumb camera tricks aren't going to suddenly make you Sam Raimi. Inside the boathouse they find some drums of fuel, but also a shed snake skin--which, admittedly, looks more realistic than the one from earlier--and then Sarone knocks them both out with his rifle. Yes, Sarone somehow beat them to the boathouse. Either he's a hell of a swimmer, or earlier Sarone pulled a Dead Alive and mixed up the tranquilizer and the stimulants. It would explain a lot, actually.

We see another POV cam approach the boathouse while doing a barrel roll, before cutting to Terri and Danny tied together on the floor. They come to just as Sarone finishes filling a bucket with monkey blood and then splashes said monkey blood on them. As has been noted, the shot of them being splashed with the blood is a really odd shot because it's in slow motion so we can tell that the two are already soaked in blood before the splash hits them, and the splash is clearly added in post. Sarone plays with some powder on the floor, explaining that it's what happens to human bones after they go through an anaconda. Well, yes, the bones would be powder but they'd also be mixed in with a pile of anaconda shit, not just artfully strewn about.

Danny and Terri then realize they're sitting on a net as Sarone heads up a ladder. And then another immense anaconda descends towards the two from the ceiling. So apparently this boathouse's ceiling beams are stronger than trees.

"Greetingsss, have you heard the good word?"
Danny and Terri try to run but the snake wraps its coils around them, tail-first. Which is rather like an ordinary human picking up a cheeseburger with their feet. Sarone then leaps down from hsi perch, using his weight to pull the net up and trap the snake. He then wraps the rope around a nearby valve so he can aim at the snake with his tranq crossbow. Of course, it makes no sense he'd A) use a projectile dart on a netted creature and B) that he'd keep acting like he can't get a shot. It doesn't need to be shot into its head!

Well, the pipe proves weaker than the ceiling beams and when it breaks the snake decides to abandon its prey and chase after Sarone, who tries to flee up the ladder only for it to chase him up the ladder and catch him. I still recall, when I first saw an ad for this film, that was the bit used as the closing "holy shit" shot and it immediately set me to giggling and I knew I had to go see this piece of shit. Do I really need to point out that a real anaconda moves on land like a giant earthworm, and couldn't outrun an able-bodied grown man, much less chase him up a ladder, too?

The ladder gives way, of course, but when Sarone tries to flee Danny somehow pulls the net up and delays Sarone long enough for the snake to recapture him. So, while Terri and Danny untie themselves, Sarone gets to hear his bones break and his neck swells (!) to, I'm guessing, indicate his blood vessels exploding. And then the anaconda begins to eat him, starting with the memorable shot from inside the anaconda as it swallows him.

"Welp, there's your problem: you've got a camera lodged in here!"
Naturally, as we watch a CGI anaconda swallow a CGI Sarone we can see that the effects people didn't bother to watch a snake eat. The beast just swallows Sarone like a crocodile or other large animal, rather than "walking" its way over his body with side-to-side motions of its head to use its teeth to drive him down into its throat. And, hilariously, despite the fact that Sarone is literally still in its throat, the anaconda still turns when Terri goes for the fuel and tail whips Danny before chasing after Terri.

This is rather like a human eating an entire large Chicago-style deep dish pizza by themself and then deciding to run down the delivery driver on foot so they can steal another one of his pizzas to also eat. So it's not surprising that, after Terri barges into a room full of actual anacondas, the big one smashes through a window beside her and vomits up Sarone. Yeah, you'd puke, too if you'd eaten an entire turkey and then did a hundred-meter dash right after. Of course, despite having been constricted, swallowed, and partially digested, Sarone is alive enough to wink at Terri with his remaining eye before finally dying. Oh, and Terri runs back to Danny to tell him with great horror that there's an entire nest of anacondas back there. Yeah, and? If you were being chased by a lion and you found a bunch of lion cubs, would you be horrified?

I might add that the nest bit is idiotic on several levels. First, the film should not have given us a good look at actual anacondas if it couldn't be bothered to make its fake ones actually look like the real deal. Second, they're trying to imply that these are babies, which makes no sense--the snakes in that room were at least five feet long or more, so they would be of breeding age and despite giving birth to live young, anacondas don't stick around to take care of their babies. Third, the film already had a baby anaconda attack Westridge, so why is it expecting us to not know that baby anacondas are not that big? I'm going to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume that they were implying the snake was vomiting up Sarone so she could eat Terri and not to feed her "young." Surely even this film isn't dumb enough to think that baby snakes could work together to somehow eat one adult human.

And I say "her," despite Danny referring to the snake as a "him" since female anacondas are larger than males. So the two snakes we've seen would have to both be female.

Danny suggests luring the snake into the smokestack and using fuel to blow it up. (You know, fuel they need to get the hell out of there) Terri volunteers to head up the chimney since she isn't injured. The snake pursues her, but oddly this forty foot snake is unable to catch Terri in a 50-foot smoke stack despite earlier climbing up a ladder in under a second. Danny uses a pick-axe to pin its tail toi the floor, then goes into the smokestack to tell Terri to climb out the top before he lights a fuse. Oddly, the snake does not turn back around and attack him despite having been stabbed in its tail.

An attempt at tension is made when Terri can't open the hatch at the top after Danny lights a trail of fuel--and how exactly he's blowing the snake up is never made clear--and the snake shakes the pick-axe loose. Terri finally gets the hatch loose and shuts it on the snake, then is forced to jump from 40 feet up as the smokestack explodes--but lands in the water instead of on the concrete she was dangling over a moment before. Of course, from that height water would snap her bones just as badly, but here not even the debris from the explosion bothers her. Well, until a flaming anaconda lands beside her.

Now, despite being on fire and presumably in a great deal of pain, the anaconda doesn't even submerge itself. It swims after Terri at the top of the water, completely on fire the entire time. I will grant that it's a cool visual, but it's also an incredibly stupid one. Danny pulls Terri up onto a walkway as the anaconda finally succumbs to burns and sinks under the water...only to burst up through the planks of the walkway so Danny can bury an axe in its skull and call it a bitch. Lovely. Anyway, as the film's hero sinks back under the water, axe still buried in its brain, the editor forgets what they just saw so we can watch Danny toss aside the axe that he shouldn't even still be holding.

Terri and the once again conscious Cale reunite, and then the crew happens upon the Shirishama after all. Cale observes that, "Sarone was right," but it's just as likely it's a total coincidence. The Shirishama also probably don't worship anacondas, so sadly we won't be seeing them massacre the surviving protagonists. Whatever, Terri got her movie after all. The End.
Revisiting this film for the first time since I saw it back in 1997--I don't recall ever watching it on video--I found that it definitely hadn't gotten any better. In a lot of ways, it was worse. Ironically, the effects that were mocked for being awful even at the time are one of the few things that haven't aged all that badly. I mean, sure, the CGI is bad but it's actually not nearly as terrible as I'd remembered.

No, where the film falls down is basically all the areas where subpar effects would be forgiven. The screenplay is bad, not only full of plot points and character decisions that make little sense but also dialogue that no person would say. Not only ridiculous lines, but ones that sound like the screenwriter just bought a thesaurus and wants to show off what he learned. The acting is also pretty unspectacular--Jennifer Lopez, Jonathan Hyde, and Eric Stoltz do just fine even if they end up with some awful material, but Ice Cube and Owen Wilson basically just say their lines, Kari Wuhrer is stiff, and Jon Voight is attempting to give the kind of scenery-chewing performance that he honestly just cannot pull off. He comes close a few times, but Brian Blessed he ain't.

The music for the film is pretty woeful, as well. However, where everything truly falls down is definitely in the direction. Luis Llosa cannot decide if he wants to present a film with straightforward, stolid direction or if he wants to deliver something more like a Sam Raimi film, with crazy angles and wild POV shots. He tries for both and ends up making a visually pedestrian film that occasionally tries way too hard and the scenes where it does just look out of place.

And honestly, crazy and energetic is what this film should be. Even the filmmakers seemed to realize that nobody was going to buy their titular menace as an actual threat, and yet they do nothing to try and at least liven up the film around it. This film should have been emulating Piranha with a huge balance of comedy to go with the horror, but instead there's no sense the film took itself anything but seriously. Of course, the few feeble attempts at comedy indicate that maybe that approach would have just made the film even worse.

Plus, the film is already hilarious without the filmmakers trying to make it so, An anaconda is just simply not a viable threat--we all remember the embarrassing circus that resulted when that moron tried to get one to eat him alive--and when you have to blatantly violate biology and physics to make it one, you need to give up and find a new monster. While I suppose someone with a crippling phobia of snakes might find some scenes in this film unsettling, I'm not even sure I believe that.

Anaconda is an awful film, simply put. It's the worst kind of awful, really, because it's only occasionally fun to mock and it never manages to be painfully bad, either. It's just bad. About the only thing I can say in its favor is that it's at least never boring. And yet, somehow a film this stupid and terrible managed to get a sequel that was even dumber and crappier. At least this film doesn't think anacondas live in Borneo!

That's a tale for another time, though.

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  1. That's the one movie which didn't disappoint when it was released. I remember we went to see the movie and enjoyed it. Thank you for refreshing old memories

  2. This article was laugh out LOUD funny esp. the part about Danny Trejo giving up...thanks for this review of a guilty pleasure of mine as a kid.