Tuesday, August 19, 2008


One of a handful of Mexican films Boris Karloff made shortly before his death (and released posthumously), 1971's THE SNAKE PEOPLE is often considered the best of a bad lot. While it wasn't the cinematic abortion I was expecting, it wasn't particularly good, either.

Collaborating directors Juan Ibanez and Jack (SPIDER BABY) Hill suggest an intriguing little programmer at the outset, kicking off with a voodoo ritual complete with a sinister dwarf and a live chicken decapitation, but it soon degenerates into talky occultic hokum. (Nor did anyone in the production do their homework, once again referring to voodoo as a religion of "black magic and a cult of death.")

South-of-the-border actress Julissa heads to an unspecified Caribbean locale on a smug, self-important quest to rid the world of alcohol consumption--it's responsible for 99.2% of all the world's sins, don't you know. Along with her wealthy uncle (Karloff, dressed for some reason like Colonel Sanders), she quickly gets ensnared in the plans of a fiendish voodoo cult that's been turning beautiful native girls into zombies. (The title, I'm sorry to say, refers to the use of snakes during voodoo rituals, and not people who are part reptile. Shoot.)

It's fairly sluggish material, with little going for it. Karloff looks visibly uncomfortable throughout--whether it was his failing health or knowing he was acting in a dud, I can't say--and the rest of the cast aren't much better. The main reason anyone will keep watching is the (mildly) erotic undercurrent embodied by snake dancer Tongolele, not to mention various hallucinatory sequences involving women gripping writhing snakes or some brief girl-on-girl play.

The zombies in THE SNAKE PEOPLE owe more to more subtle fare like WHITE ZOMBIE than George Romero, so don't expect any flesh-eating--heck, don't expect them to be on-screen much.

It's a sad, sad showcase for one of the genre's finest actors.

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