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April 30, 2015

Milk my Snake: The Anaconda Franchise

The news are all over the internet that the Lake Placid and the Anaconda franchises (that have produced four films each) will mash-up for a crossover flick, and I just realized that although I’m a big fan of the former four movies, I had not seen the later four. Well, I could not go see the upcoming movie without knowing the absolutely important stories that preceded it so here I am reviewing these snake oddities.

Anaconda (1997)

The first 35mm film reel I ever got my hands on was the trailer for Anaconda (1997) which was given to me by one of the best tutors I had back when I was a student at the film school. I still don’t know what to do with it since I don’t have a film projector, but I hold on to the item because of the sentimental value that it has for me.

I remember that it was a big deal when Anaconda (1997) opened in the movie theaters here in Greece, and it was even a big event when it was broadcasted for the first time on television. Well, it cost $45 million to make, and people in the late ‘90s seemed to not know how unoriginal it was [Jaws (1975) was made more than two decades old and popcorn audiences have proven to not know their film history] and as a result it grossed more than $136 million world-wide.

A scroll at the beginning tells us a few generic things about anacondas, in case you are stupid enough to not know that they are lethal snakes. Then Danny Trejo [Heat (1995)] is killed in the first scene (much to everyone’s disappointment). And then we learn that the film is set deep in Brazil’s Amazon where a documentary crew [that includes super-hot Jennifer Lopez and rapper Ice Cube] will meet an ex-priest [Jon Voight who got the part because Jean Reno did not] that is friends with the local oversized snakes.

This was directed by Luis Llosa who had previously made Fire on the Amazon (1993) which is a Roger Corman movie that is featuring Sandra Bullock. Anaconda (1997) is not very bad, but you rarely see things you did not in Fire on the Amazon (1993). I mean that even at best Anaconda (1997) looks like a big Roger Corman film of the period; for example check out the slick wild life shots that are featured in both movies, they are almost identical.

Another major problem with this film is that there is virtually no suspense. You need good actors to do that (they had them), you need a good director (they had him), you need the ‘monster’ to make a creepy first appearance (it does kill a black panther here), but you also have to absolutely have a better tone than Arachnophobia (1990) which was another major-studio film that was actually way cooler.

Overall Anaconda (1997) does occasionally bring Eaten Alive (1977) to mind which is a good thing, but the end result feels more like a ‘good’ SyFy film, and I would be more gentle had it been one, but we’ll get back to those bellow.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

The credits sequence is quite impressive and it shows us a string of images through which we learn that some natives in the jungle don’t pay attention to a lion but are afraid of the titular creatures which happen to be gigantic.

Later, in New York, we see a meeting between the heads of a pharmaceutical corporation (that is evil like they always are in films that love stereotypes) and these guys decide that in order to create a drug that will prolong human life (and will make them more money than Viagra ever did for its manufacturers) they have to send a mission to Borneo and grab the titular flowers.

Over in Borneo the protagonists pay 50 grand to Bill Johnson [Johnny Messner] to take them to the flowers with his boat which he calls Bloody Mary. Now, all that sounds very much like the first film, and in fact this sequel here is trying to imitate the preceded instalment’s setting and central characters. But just when you thought you saw everything before, Bloody Mary gets destroyed, and the main actors are challenged into an adventure that is quite interesting, if not totally original.

This was directed by Dwight H. Little who also helmed Halloween 4: the Return of Michael Myers (1988) which is a masterpiece. Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004) cost half the money of the original’s budget, an estimated $20 million, and it brought back half the money the original did too, as it grossed an estimated $70 million; still a great success by any accountant’s standards. Pretty much like the original the critics hated it, but it appears that somebody did their maths right; and money talks, while bullshit walks.

Anaconda III (2008)

On my way back home, minutes before I sat down to watch this, I was thinking, why am I enjoying these films so much? The answer was simple: the key is that my expectations are low. Faye can still not understand why I torture myself.

Anaconda (1997) had an all-star cast, while Anacondas: the Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004) did not, which you’d presume would be the case a low-budget Sci-Fi Channel TV-movie, but the producers came back with a vengeance and delivered David Hasselhoff (no introduction needed) in the lead role. This third film in the franchise is also bearing the coolest logo in the series which would look great as a tattoo, even if a bit ridiculous.

In a research facility where doctors experiment with snakes in order to find the cure to cancer and Alzheimer’s something goes wrong (because the venue was understaffed) and a gigantic and evil anaconda breaks out, which also happens to be pregnant. Needless to say it kills a bunch of people on its way to freedom and the film becomes very generous with its gore.

A team of trigger-happy meatheads go on a mission to hunt the titular reptile but they fuck up and many of their people are killed along with an innocent or two in the midst of gunshots and explosions. That’s when the one and only David Hasselhoff comes to the rescue, becomes the leader of the gang, and kicks some major snake ass.

This and the next film were cinematographed and directed by Don FauntLeRoy.

Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood (2009)

Anaconda III (2008) is probably my favorite film in this list, so I was surprised a bit when Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood (2009) proved to be the least enjoyable for me; as these two were shot back-to-back by the same director. Eh, even the snakes don’t look very menacing.

In Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood (2009) lead villain Murdoch [John Rhys-Davis, returning from the previous film] is paying a team of bounty hunters $1 million (which is probably more than this sequel’s budget) in order to find the titular snake’s serum (in order to cure his bone cancer) and kill the good scientist that created it [Crystal Allen, returning from the previous film].

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