No doubt drawing inspiration from Willard, 1974's Killer Snakes is one of the Shaw Brothers better horror-exploitation films. While their kung fu always gets the accolades, long before the martial boom their films were mainly a steady diet of dramas and musicals as well as the occasional horror outing, usually of an austere, atmospheric variety with romantic elements like The Enchanting Shadow. Once the kung fu boom hit in the early 70's, combined with relaxed standards allowing more salacious content, the Shaw's began to produce a steady diet of horror films usually with a decidedly exploitation (boobs, blood, and weirdness) bent.
Director Kuei Chih Hung was one of the Shaw's most prominent horror dabblers, delivering the likes of Ghost Eyes, Corpse Mania, the Hex trilogy, Bewitched, Boxers Omen, and Killer Snakes. I count him as a personal favorite. While maybe a tad sloppy, he was certainly the kind of b-director who damn well knew how to dazzle with a sideshow barker's showmanship. If you want it bizarre, grotesque, and sleazy, a horror film attached to his name is usually safe a safe bet for all of the above. If you watch Killer Snakes and don't cringe or Boxer's Omen without your jaw on the floor at least once, then you are made of strong stuff.
Zhihong (Kam Kwok-leung) is a loser. Socially inept. Slight build. Pock-marked face. He shyly carries himself like a whipped dog. He longs for the affections of Xuijuan (Maggie Lee Lin-lin), a nice local girl who, like him, is of little means and is eking out a living in the ghetto. But, Zhihong's only connection with the opposite sex is with the sordid bondage pictorials he keeps plastered all over his room. He's also a peeper, peering at women on the street trough the open slats in his hovel.
Zhihong takes a job at a diner as a basic deliveryman, living in the back of the shop which is adjacent to the next door herbalist and a number of snakes, their gallbladders, venom, etc. extracted for a number of cure-alls. Zhihong takes in an escaped cobra that he tends to, heals, and names Xiabiao. The sad sack pervert gets along with snakes better than he does he fellow humans, going so far as a to have a pseudo-psychic connection with the reptiles. Soon his little room is full of the slitherers.
Zhihong's life quickly begins a downward spiraling wreck. He is taunted, teased, and robbed by the uncouth scuzzbags at the local brothel. After arranging a date with Xiujuan, she disappears. Her father dies, leaving her destitute, and when she takes up with a local madam who intends to sell the young virgin and start pimping her out, Zhihong just sees it as a betrayal, the pure innocent girl he loved becoming another callous streetwalker. Naturally, Zhihong begins to take revenge with the aide of his poisonous pals.
I know it can be a bit of a cliche in our hipster, post-modern times for reviewers to blather on about the underlying message and subversive intelligence in cult films- I Spit on Your Grave is a reactionary feminist manifesto, I tell ya'! I think it is an issue that can be overblown and, at times, is used as a mask when cinephiles are less willing to admit they like sleaze. Buuuuuut, you will actually find a better portrait of what makes a sexual predator/serial killer in Killer Snakes than you will, say, Kiss the Girls or Seven.
I'm not saying the makers of Killer Snakes were intentionally trying for an informed portrait of a psychopath. No, its got a guy psychically connected to snakes abducting women, raping them (actually including snake-rape- now that's an exploitation film!), and sending out his reptilian charges to attack his wrongdoers. It is purely meant to play to the outrageous and perverse. However, minus the supernatural shenanigans, Zhihong does display all the elements of what makes a predator, the emotional and physical abuse when young, economic troubles, social ineptness, and a sexuality which purely objectifies the opposite sex and connects violence to gratification. Oddly, scrappy, misfit cult films of the 60's and 70's, an era before informed case studies of sex and serial crime, often did a decent job portraying psychopaths, certainly better than the slasher films of the 80's and the post-Tom Harris/Silence of the Lambs genius killer wave of the 90's.
The DVD: Image.
Anamorphic Widescreen. I've always loved the lurid, ghetto-Bava cinematography of Killer Snakes. The HK release was among the early batch of Celestial Shaw remasters and featured some transfer quirks. This one offers minimal improvement, there doesn't seem to be the contrast boosting issues and the combing is not as severe. Still, it is far from the HD master originally rumored. In terms of the print, it shows all the hallmarks of the era and budget, so some grain and less defined details are a given.
Mono Mandarin or old school English dub tracks with optional English subtitles. The original Mandarin track is nice and clear and, given the mono source limitations, a nice track. The old school English dub is a nice edition but the source element is in pretty bad shape, lots of hiss, distortions, muffle, and uneven levels. Even given the poor quality, I am thrilled to have it.
The subs are different from the HK edition, which featured a slightly mangled translation. Because the HK translation mainly had slight grammatical and punctuation errors, the Image, for the most part, features a cleaned up variation.
Celestial: "Hu Baochun. You ruined Xiujuan, lucky that I've saved her from her despair. You are more wicked than venom."
Image: "Hu Baochun, you've destroyed Xiujuan. It's lucky I was there to save her from her despair. You are more poisonous than any venom."
Old School English dub: "Goddamn you. You lousy bastard. You ruined that girl. Well, I saved her. (*tearfully*) Xiujaun."
Still Gallery. --- Theatrical Trailer. --- A Gallery of Image and Shaw Bros trailers, unfortunately, in the case of the Shaw's, they are the horrible Celestial remix trailers, not the originals.
Unglamourous, down and dirty, weirdo horror made during the peak of the exploitation era by one of the Shaw Brothers best horror directors. A decent transfer. It is going to be a judgement call for importer who own the HK release, the improvements, the additions, are only marginal. However for the strictly R1 viewer, it is well worth picking up and checking out a classic piece of grindhouse.