I don’t like snakes. Slimy, sinister reptiles – that people can keep them as pets baffles me. As such, I think that they are prime material for horror films – they’re monsters, plain and simple. Anaconda is undoubtedly the most famous of the 90s snake films, a bunch of creature features starring these evil reptilian bastards, and likely the best too. The monster is one of nature’s most lethal killing machines, a snake that delights in regurgitating its prey so it can kill them twice – that it’s real makes it all the more chilling.
Anaconda follows a documentary crew travelling deep in the Amazon jungle, on the lookout for a forgotten tribe, amongst them filmmaker Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) and anthropologist Dr Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz). On their travels, they come snake hunter Paul Serone (Jon Voight), who is stranded on the riverbank and who offers to help them find the tribe. However, his secretive behaviour puts everyone on edge and after Cale is incapacitated, Serone takes control of the craft, and it soon becomes apparent that his real intention is to use the crew to help catch a giant anaconda (the world’s largest and deadliest snake) that would be worth a fortune if he could take it alive.
I’ve got to start, right off the bat, by saying that this is not a good film, but that was never to be expected. Anaconda is a cult classic (of the ‘so bad it’s good’ variety), a creature feature with special effects that it would be fair to describe as a bit ropey. Its story is simple and functional, and the film does what is expected of it.
The acting is, perhaps, a touch better than your average monster film, in part due to the quality of the actors we have and the fantastic chemistry they share. We have Owen Wilson in one of his first film roles as the sound engineer enticed by Serone’s promise of riches, and Jonathan Hyde (a vastly underrated actor) as the visionary Warren Westridge. J-Lo and Ice Cube are serviceable, but the film really belongs to Jon Voight as Serone. He looks like he’s having a great time, hamming it up throughout the film as the true villain of the piece, the insane snake hunter, and he even finds time to put on an accent no human being has ever used. You never really get to see someone of his status playing a role that is so over the top, and it makes for an experience.
There are a bunch of big set pieces in the film, and they’re all pretty decent. I wasn’t such a fan of the finale – the best one was Serone catching the Anaconda with the trawler’s winch, a point that I think is the most overtly horror moment of the film. These sequences are very well executed, and definitely the best part of the film – the story is nothing more than an excuse to get from set piece to set piece, but you don’t need any more than that here. The thrill is in the execution, not the framing.
Despite the aura of negativity surrounding the film, I thought it was a good laugh. Sure, it’s undeniably cheesy, but not every film needs to be a five-star drama. As it stands, it has a great cast, some excellent set pieces and some horrible kills – if you’re after a fun horror, you could do worse than Anaconda.
Director: Luis Llosa
Cast: Jennifer Lopez (Terri Flores), Ice Cube (Danny Rich), Jon Voight (Paul Serone), Eric Stoltz (Dr. Steven Cale), Jonathan Hyde (Warren Westridge), Owen Wilson (Gary Dixon)
Running Time: 89 Mins
Image credit: http://oracleoffilm.com/2015/09/14/anaconda-the-review/