Calamity of Snakes [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Unearthed Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (11th April 2023).
The Film

Hoping to rise to the top of Taiwan's business empire, Fu Ren Jiang (Edge of Fury's Kao Yuen) pressures principled architect Zhaofeng (Hero of Shanghai's Hsiang Yun-Peng) to erect his luxury apartment building complex in the short span of eight months so he can satisfy his creditors. Jiang and his secretary Ma (Way of the Dragon's Wei Ping-Ao) have already been cutting corners behind Zhaofeng's back, but the architect refuses to compromise the safety of the tenants and his own reputation even though he endeavors to complete the project in time. When the workers unearth a pit holding thousands of snakes, Zhaofeng wants them caught and moved but Jiang wants them killed so as not to hold up the job in spite of the pleas of his wife (Seeding of a Ghost's Ou-Yang Sha-Fei) who has had premonitions of brutal retribution. Jiang takes it upon himself to massacre the creatures and the superstitious workers follow suit. That night, a construction worker and his mistress are bitten to death while using one of the model builds for a dalliance. Jiang and Ma bribe officials to keep the cause of their deaths quiet and hire local cobra medicine hawker Lao Xie to get rid of the snakes chemically. When the builders camp is attacked and all of the workers are killed, Lao Xie notices the presence of significantly larger tracks that suggest the presence of a boa among the snakes and brings in his mentor Mr. Lin who does physical battle with the giant serpent and nearly perishes himself but triumphs. Unbeknownst to them, the boa has an even bigger mate who attacks thousands more snakes of all varieties to crash the building's inauguration.

Best described as The Towering Inferno meets Jaws more so than any of the "when animals attack" snake films of the seventies, the Taiwanese Calamity of Snakes aspires to little more than that plot-wise apart from suggesting that the vengeance of the snakes is indeed supernatural rather than underground creatures wakened by the rumbles of disco dancers and bassy music. Thanks to extremely flat characters Zhaofeng is too passive to be a hero and the love interest of Jiang's daughter Shumei (Kidnapped's Lo Pi-Ling) seems not just naively blind to her father's corruption but willfully stupid the film bluntly moves from one setpiece to another with little in the way of foreboding or suspense, just abrupt attacks on victims as soon as they are set up including the usual roster of disaster movie characters like the curmudgeon and his sweet invalid wife, the little girl, woman taking a bath, the gigolo, the hapless flirt, and the comic relief fat woman (Zeng You-Xiu) whose gag of devouring an entire tray of hors d'oeuvres is intercut with a shot of pig eating at a troff. While one might think that the film's utterly vile animal violence snakes are crushed, bludgeoned, skinned, bisected (including a nauseating shot of a snake's beating heart hanging out of its body), chopped, stomped, bitten apart, frozen, and set on fire by the hundreds might be "justified" to set Jiang up as the villain deserving of his fate, pretty much everyone gets in on the cruelty, and no amount of discomfort from the extras rolling around in snakes and having them dumped on and thrown at them is enough to make up for it. The only truly thrilling bits involve the two giant boas which are well-made puppets lunging and striking by aide of wires and taking out karate-kicking snake wranglers, party guests, and firefighters by the dozens until the surviving boa has his climactic tangle with the human villain. As an "animals attack film" Calamity of Snakes certainly delivers with gusto, but it will be an endurance test even for exploitation fans who put up with a little animal violence in their Italian cannibal and Asian black magic films.
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Video

Unreleased officially in the United States outside of bootlegs and imports of the Hong Kong bilingual-subtitled Ocean Shores Video cassette in the rental aisles and poor-quality rips of this version on unauthorized DVD sets, Calamity of Snakes makes its official American debut on Unearthed Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray which features three versions of the film: the domestic theatrical version (86:16) and an animal cruelty-free version (76:40) derived from the same master the ten minute of cuts are not quite so disruptive since the overall editing is of the original feature is rather blunt and the "uncut" export version of the film (86:52) from a standard definition video source. The "uncut" version includes a flash of nudity from the scene with the construction worker and his mistress along with the ensuing sex scene that manages to be significantly more explicit without showing any actual nudity. The HD-mastered theatrical version is preferable, looking overall sharper and more colorful although a certain muddiness in the more saturated colors appears to be an effect of the film stock and processing if highly grainy (especially in underexposed areas) even though it may be a composite of more than one source with some rare vertical scratches that may actually have happened in-camera. The uncut version is brighter but more washed out and softer overall.
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Audio

Both the theatrical version and the cruelty-free versions feature the same audio options of Cantonese, Mandarin, and English LPCM 2.0 mono tracks with the Cantonese sounding a bit tinny, the Mandarin track somewhat better, and the English track the cleanest and most full-bodied in terms of music and effects. All three tracks are post-dubbed, and the optional English subtitles reveal differences in the translation and the English dub (although it is not clear if the subtitles translate the Mandarin or Cantonese), but Mandarin is presumably the "original" language since it is a Taiwanese production even though Cantonese dubbing was even more of an eventuality than the English.
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Extras

Extras start off with an audio commentary by film historians Nathan Hamilton and Brad Slaton which is not particularly informative, with Hamilton not having seen the film and being gleefully tormented about his fear of snakes by Slaton whose knowledge of the film and its participants seems as IMDb derived as that of yours truly. The pair do try to contextualize the film within the animals attack and disaster movie genres, as well as the sub-genre of snake horror films, but the track is best audited as a reaction track like those movie reaction videos on YouTube that have become more popular lately.

"From Shaw to Snakes; The Venom and Violence of Early Chinese Language Horror Cinema" (76:23) is a brand new documentary in which horror film experts Calum Waddell, Sean Tierney, James Mudge, Craig Lines, and Chui-Yi Chung along with academic Lin Feng, actors Kwok-Leung Kam and Hsiang Yun-Peng, and filmmaker Godfrey Ho discuss Taiwan's film industry in the context of their relationships with mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, how their early production of martial arts and fantastic films influenced Shaw Brothers filmography with the company not only taking on filmmakes who came to Hong Kong from Shanghai but also producing much of its early output in Mandarin to cater to the other territories as well as how Taiwan's own envelope-pushing genre fare was an outgrowth of the competition between Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest both struggling to keep viewers coming to the theaters as television kept them home. Ho and the experts provide a loose overview of the sub-genres of Chinese horror with a number of familiar titles as well as some tantalizingly more obscure ones while Hsiang recalls Kwok-Leung recalls being cast from television to star in Shaw Brothers' Killer Snakes and Hsiang recalls Calamity of Snakes recalling the snake wrangling, having snakes dumped on him, and the precautions taken against bites (poisonous and otherwise).
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"Reptilian Recollections: Lin Kuang-Yung in Conversation with Chui-Yi Chung" (15:50) is an interview with the actor/stuntman who recalls the casting call being for extras not afraid of snakes, and how a lot of the performers who showed up did not stay long after being confronted with live serpents. He discusses his experiences with the snakes and bites received by some of his colleagues but proves evasive when Chui-Yi tries to ask him about the actual killing of snakes in the film, discussing instead the practices at the night market on Snake Alley in which snakes were killed in front of customers who consumed the meat and blood for therapeutic reasons (as demonstrated in the film) and claims not to have seen the film apart from the dailies.

The disc also includes alternate credits (4:38) in Chinese-only which were presumably what Taiwan and other Chinese territory audiences saw the feature has newly-created English titles patterned after the ones in the "uncut" verison SD master and a gallery (1:00).
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Packaging

The first pressing comes with a slipcover.

Overall

As an "animals attack film" Calamity of Snakes certainly delivers with gusto, but it will be an endurance test even for exploitation fans who put up with a little animal violence in their Italian cannibal and Asian black magic films.

 


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