Should I Watch..? 'Anaconda'
What's the big deal?
Anaconda is an adventure horror film released in 1997 and was directed by Peruvian Luis Llosa. The film follows a documentary crew on a scientific journey into the remote parts of the Amazon to locate a tribe, only to be coerced by a crazed snake hunter into searching for a legendary giant snake. The film stars Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson and Kari Wuhrer. The film received generally negative reviews from critics, even earning six nominations at the following year's Razzie Awards. Despite this, the film went on to earn $136 million globally and it even went on to inspire a number of sequels to create a franchise - although only one of these (Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid) received a theatrical release.
What's it about?
In the Amazon rainforest, a documentary crew are attempting to locate and contact a long-lost tribe called the Shirishamas. Director Terri Flores and the rest of her crew - cameraman Danny Rich, production manager Denise Kalberg, sound engineer and Denise's boyfriend Gary Dixon, presenter Warren Westridge, anthropologist Dr. Steven Cale and boat captain Mateo - manage to rescue stranded snake hunter Paul Serone who suggests he knows where to find this lost tribe. Despite the uneasy vibe he gives off, Serone takes command of the group and heads deeper into the jungle.
After Cale is stung by a wasp trapped in his scuba gear, Serone performs an emergency operation to stabilise him. Despite everyone else wanting to return to civilisation to get Cale to a hospital, Serone continues journeying deeper into the rainforest and reveals his true purpose. He has been searching for a legendary giant anaconda snake that apparently exists in the surrounding waters and is determined to capture it. With little option but to go along with Serone's plan, will any of them survive their encounter with this deadly predator?
Dr. Steven Cale
Hans Bauer, Jim Cash & Jack Epps Jr
Release Date (UK)
9th May, 1997
Action, Adventure, Horror
Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Voight), Worst Screen Couple (Voight & the snake), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star (the snake)
What's to like?
OK, bear with me here because Anaconda has so many faults that it's amazing it got off the ground in the first place.
The cast, bless them, are fully aware that this is little more than your bog-standard creature feature and give their roles plenty of gusto except Stoltz who weirdly gets written out of the action and is almost forgotten about. But for sheer, over-the-top lunacy, I have never seen anyone over-act as much as Voight does. He is hilariously bad, ruining every scene he's in by endlessly sneering and apparently always having a torch under his chin like a kid at Halloween. The fact that nobody else on this boat can tell he is an obvious psychopath is equally amusing.
Now I'm no expert but I don't think snakes spend as much time in the water as this one does. Granted, it allows the film-makers to hide the creature from view (which is a wise decision given how poor the CG is) but with so many characters getting their comeuppance in the river then a) I'd keep out of there, no matter what the provocation and b) they could have made a film about piranha instead. Even the model can't generate much fear because it has two beady little eyes which make it look like a glorified glove puppet. I can only imagine the despair among the cast when they realised the level this movie was aiming for. Well, except Voight.
- Both Gillian Anderson and Julianna Margulies were considered for the role of Terri Flores (originally called Terri Porter) but both had to decline due to scheduling conflicts with The X-Files and ER respectively.
- Many of the river scenes were filmed in Brazil although the shoot was often interrupted by the cast's actual fear of snakes. The rest of the film was shot in the Los Angeles Arboretum.
- The film features a brief cameo from B-movie legend Danny Trejo as an unfortunate poacher at the very start of the film.
What's not to like?
So other than a game cast and some pretty jungle scenery, is there anything else to admire about Anaconda? Not really - it's certainly not much use as a horror because you spend too much time laughing at it. There is a moment in the film where a character does get eaten by the snake and as it swims away, we see the complete outline of the victim with their hands raised and their faces contorted in a scream pressed against the inside of the snake. Even if we allow for some creative licence seeing as anacondas coil around their prey and crush them, how on Earth did the snake manage to eat a whole human that quickly? The sheer physics alone defy belief.
What's really annoying is that some members of the 'so-bad-it's-good' school of thinking have tried to convince me that Anaconda is a parody, that it's supposed to be as cheesy and daft as it is. But I don't buy that argument - parody films are supposed to have some laughs in there and excluding the scene I described above, I don't recall any such moments in the film. Plus the characters are too dumb to be likeable, the action isn't memorable in any way, Voight is just way too hammy to be taken seriously as a baddie, the dialogue is ridiculous, the script makes no sense and the film isn't entertaining unless you're providing your own commentary.
Should I watch it?
The only people who will consider this a decent horror film are those with a genuine phobia of snakes. Everyone else will look at this as a disposable creature feature with zero scares and a cast performing in a way that suggests total ambivalence about the whole project. Anaconda fails to make the grade at even a basic level and personally, I'd rather go skinny-dipping in the Amazon than watch this again.
Great For: Crap Movie Nights, making people forget about your Oscars, home commentaries
Not So Great For: cynical audiences, ophiophobes, singers trying to further their acting careers
What else should I watch?
There are no shortage of "natural horror films" (as Wikipedia calls them) covering every conceivable species so the most effectives ones will be the ones involving animals you don't like. Spiders are a good place to start so check out Arachnophobia for some decent chills, gorillas have King Kong to inspire fear while sharks frequently pop up in classics like Jaws to some Asylum-produced nonsense like 3-Headed Shark Attack. Even some less scary animals have their big-screen moment like rabbits (Night Of The Lepus) and even beavers (Zombeavers).
However, there is one film featuring animal assailants that is no laughing matter. Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds is widely regarded as one of his most effective chillers and concerned an unexplained influx of avian attackers on a small Californian beach community. It introduced Tippi Hedren in her screen debut and underlined Hitchcock's skill in building up tension before springing the shocks. Despite being released thirty-plus years before Anaconda, it's a far more effective film with far less frightening creatures.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox