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Issue #183 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES October 27th, 2003

The Killer Snakes
(1974; Shaw Brothers)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Se sat sou
Mandarin: She sha shou
English: Snake Killer

Shaw Brothers' answer to WILLARD (1971), this incredibly sordid HK thriller mixes gruesome horror, perverse sex, and animal cruelty into a most unsavory brew. Homely, put-upon Chen Zhihong (PURPLE STORM's Kam Kwok-leung) lives a miserable existence in a rundown hovel next to a snake emporium (where the owner removes and sells the live animals' gall bladders as an aphrodisiac). His only friend is Xiujuan (THE PRODIGAL BOXER's Maggie Li Lin-lin), a pretty and sympathetic girl who sells toys in the local outdoor market. One evening, however, Zhihong receives a most unusual visitor who becomes his closest confidant. A mutilated reptile from the neighboring shop slithers in and allows the youth to nurse it back to health. Naming the snake Xiaobiao, Zhihong soon finds that he has gained the trust of several other reptiles as well. However, his troubles with humans continue unabated, as he is beaten, robbed, and humiliated by a prostitute and her cohorts. Even his faith in Xiujuan is shattered when she stands him up one evening for a date (though, unbeknownst to Zhihong, it is for a legitimate reason). Sating his loneliness with S & M magazines, Zhihong's frustrations and desperation finally send him completely over the edge, prompting the youth to simultaneously indulge his desires for both sex and revenge.

In sharp contrast to the usual Shaw Brothers gloss, director Kuei Chi-hong (THE BAMBOO HOUSE OF DOLLS, SPIRIT OF THE RAPED) concentrates on the squalor and ugliness of life for HK's inner city poor. This is heightened by prolific screenwriter Ngai Hong's screenplay, peopled almost exclusively by exceedingly unpleasant and debased characters. Unlike Kuei's THE BOXER'S OMEN (1983), with its outrageously weird creatures and over-the-top grue, this movie lacks levity of any kind to diminish its dark and depraved mood. That thick, oppressively sleazy atmosphere is also boosted by a horn and pan flute-based score that becomes every bit as delirious as the flashback and sex fantasy visuals it accompanies. Freely mixing horror/revenge elements with bondage, S & M, and other sexual perversity (like violation by snake with a suggestion of the victim's arousal), THE KILLER SNAKES ventures far more deeply into adult horror territory than many Western productions of the time dared. Even almost 30 years after it was produced, this remains one potent and disturbing little picture, as equally nihilistic in mood and intent as the director's later martial arts classic KILLER CONSTABLE (aka LIGHTNING KUNG FU, 1980). As mentioned above, reptiles are mistreated and destroyed in myriad ways, with little or no special effect simulation, so animal lovers should definitely give this one a miss.

THE KILLER SNAKES was issued stateside in an English dubbed version by Howard Mahler Films and that edition was released on tape in the early 90s by Something Weird Video. Derived from one of the scratchiest and most deteriorated prints ever seen, the 2.35:1 presentation clocks in at 90:41 and carries an "X" on the box, which certainly seems appropriate. However, a check with the MPAA database reveals that the movie was only awarded an "R" rating; whether the board was given a tamer version than the one that was eventually released, I cannot say. In spite of its poor condition, nothing seemed to be missing from SWV's source material. In the wake of the cut HUMAN LANTERNS (reviewed in issue #161a), there was some worry among collectors about just how complete the SNAKES DVD would be, particularly when HK censors let it slip through with a "IIB," instead of a "III." As it turns out, the disc (a PAL conversion which would run 98:32 at 24 frames-per-second) includes some additional material not found in the U.S. print. During the sequence where Zhihong is having one his sadomasochistic fantasies, the scene stops at 29:25 on the SWV version but continues on for approximately 90 seconds more on the disc, showing him dripping candle wax on the bound victim (a still from this bit is featured on the DVD cover). Also extended is the sequence where Zhihong lets the snakes have their way with the prostitute. Near the end of this bit, the Mandarin version includes a second B&W flashback scene which shows the whipping the boy's masochistic mother endured before having bound sex with her partner, events only heard in the flashback that opens the picture. In addition, a komodo dragon attack is extended on the DVD, incorporating three insert shots of the beasts' claws scratching the victim. Dropped entirely from the American release is a sequence where supporting character Hu Baochun is with the unconscious Xiujuan; when she comes to, he knocks the girl out and rapes her. He then goes home and falls asleep, only to wake up and find his home infested with snakes. While Hu is trying to escape, the American version drops the portion where the man besieged by serpents that literally lunge into the air at him. He responds by slicing the flying killers in half with a sword (no special FX, unfortunately). The tape also tends to be missing a few seconds at the beginning and ends of reels, not surprising, considering how battered they are. However, the DVD is also missing one bit at a reel end (at 20:54, there should be a few more seconds to the sequence in which Zhihong is fired from his delivery boy job). Celestial's element was textless, so the credits have been recreated and video burned on.

Cover art courtesy Intercontinental.

Kam Kwok-leung. Image courtesy Intercontinental.

Maggie Li. Image courtesy Intercontinental.

Kam Kwok-leung. Image courtesy Intercontinental.
Kam Kwok-leung. Image courtesy Intercontinental.

One sequence takes place at this theatre owned and operated by the Shaws. Image courtesy Intercontinental.
Intercontinental #611940 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Post-synced Mandarin Language

Optional Subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian

12 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Clips

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

94:30 Minutes

Contains sexual violence, cruelty to animals, moderate violence and horror, nudity, mild sexual content, and coarse language

DVD menu courtesy Intercontinental.


Hong Kong: IIB
Ontario: R (Frightening Scenes)
Singapore: BANNED

As with the other SB restorations thus far, the non-anamorphic 2.35:1 image looks absolutely spotless, accurately colored, and nicely detailed. Some will no doubt feel that the polished presentation detracts from the movie's grindhouse appeal but most will be more than happy to chuck the SWV tape in the trash. The audio has no serious flaws. The original trailer has, regrettably, not been included, just a video promo spot and ones for four other titles. The "Movie Information" section offers the original poster, five stills, "production notes" (which merely replicate the single paragraph write-up on the packaging), and abbreviated bios/filmographies for the director, Kam (which incorrectly list him as the director of A TERRA-COTTA WARRIOR), and four other performers.

THE KILLER SNAKES is available at Poker Industries.

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