MAY 17, 2012
If nothing else, you gotta give Jaws Of Satan some credit for not trying to “top” anything that came before – it actually went the other way, offering one main villain snake and a few minor “henchmen” snakes, as opposed to a huge swarm of them, or a giant one that could engulf a car or whatever. I mean, the whole thing is clearly ripped from the Jaws mold, but I like that it’s kind of a laid back ripoff. “It’s Jaws with snakes! But only a couple,” the pitch undoubtedly went, likely delivered by a guy wearing sandals.
Even the “close the beaches” subplot is charmingly low-key and without any major stakes – the Mayor doesn’t want to do anything that might delay the opening of a new dog track. What a fun, wholesome activity! I sure hope the snakes don’t harm any of the fat guys chomping cigars while betting on dogs that are being psychologically tormented with a fake rabbit! That kids usually aren’t allowed in such places wasn’t a concern of the screenwriter, I guess, when they set this idea up early in the film.
Then again, it’s not like it makes much of a difference, as there’s only 10 minutes left of the movie by the time opening day arrives, and the Mayor’s daughter sneaks inside and is bitten instantly, so the place never opens anyway. You gotta love a movie that swipes from Jaws but forgets to ever really put the populace in any real danger. You also gotta love that the little girl is none other than Christina Applegate, making her debut here as the world’s youngest gambler. She also has a cat, and of course I was more concerned about the furry little bastard than any of the human characters.
Along with its laid-back approach, I also enjoyed the ridiculous back-story, as the snake is actually Satan in disguise and has come up from Hell to take down this one priest (Fritz Weaver) for some reason. There’s a great bit where the snake chases him around a graveyard only to be thwarted when Weaver falls into a grave and wards the thing off with a cross, same as one would a vampire. See, THIS is how you work a motive into a horror movie – you use a creature that already has occult related significance (the serpent!), and chalk it up to Satan. Not a silly revenge mission like in Jaws 4. Also, the priest has lost his faith, making this the rare Jaws/Exorcist ripoff hybrid.
And it’s a good looking film, courtesy of Mr. Dean Cundey himself (along with Halloween’s camera operator Ray Stella). The snake scenes are much better handled than I expected (especially when one gets its head blown off), and even though most of it takes place in the daytime, there’s a few decent scares to boot. I’m not as much afraid of snakes as I am sharks (or fish in general), but seeing one slither up your bed, or being trapped in a tiny room with one that’s pretty pissed off, is pretty damn terrifying. And they seem to always really be in the shots with the actors (sometimes with visible safety glass), which is better than trick photography or simply never showing them together like in Grizzly Rage.
It’s a shame that it’s so obscure. I can’t find any evidence of a theatrical release, and it’s never even been released on DVD, from what I understand. It’s on Netflix Instant in a pretty good anamorphic transfer, so something recent MUST exist, and hopefully someone like Shout Factory will pick it up and put it out there for folks who stand by physical media to enjoy. A commentary might be fun too, if only for someone to justify what HAS to be the actual killing of a snake at one point (if that’s a special effect, it’s the best I’ve ever seen).
What say you?