After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
Who doesn’t love a good sequel that has very little to do with the original film? None of the same cast or characters, not in the same location or even remotely related to the plot of its predecessor. Welcome to the horror market of the 1980s. Hell, it still happens today. A film is made and sold to a studio who sees some sort of very loose connection between it and another title so they slap that name on it and add a “Part 2” or some such to the end and, BOOM, instant audience. In this case we see the Wil Wheaton farm-centered film The Curse (1987) followed by something very different in the snakes-on-the-road thriller The Curse II: The Bite from 1988. I’ll be damned if this isn’t entertaining as hell, and probably all around better than the film which had its title sequel-jacked.
Clark (J. Eddie Peck) and his girlfriend Lisa (Jill Schoelen) are heading out on the road when they stumble through an area of the desert full of snakes. One manages to sneak its way into their car and soon enough Clark is bitten on the hand. A kind traveling salesman/amateur doctor/snake expert at their motel, Harry Morton (Jamie Farr), gives him an antidote, but after they leave he realizes it was the wrong one and could cause some problems. He tries to track them down but Clark and Lisa have much bigger problems as whatever these out-of-control snakes are infected with has started to transform Clark’s hand and forearm into a snake itself!
Clark: “I was talking about all these snakes all over the place, where are they going?”
Gas Station Attendant: “Straight to hell…where they belong.“
In The Curse, we are treated to the story–based on one of Lovecraft’s–of a mysterious meteorite causing a weird plague at a farm that rots the livestock and crops and infects those who live there. It is left open for something that could possibly be the beginning of a sequel. Taking the released infection to more people could easily go somewhere, but that’s not what you get with this sequel. Instead of life on the farm, it’s some kickass Fangsploitation! Going with something that slithers and can sneak its way into small spaces is a great choice for a horror flick as many people fear serpents and the creepy crawly in general. As for any connection between the fork tongued creatures and a plague from outer space on a farm…there is really none. You could say that there was some sort of “curse” on the Hayes’ farm, as the super religious head of the household suggests, and another on these snakes which is transferred to anything that it bites and gives some of its venom. That’s a pretty loose connection though. Both films also go unexplained for the most part, but at least in part one we know this happened because of the glowing rock that fell from the sky. In the “sequel” there is no reason, or even hypothesis, given as to why the snakes are doing this. I take that back. Something is said about bomb testing in the desert and the prologue sees a couple of men in hazmat suits picking up a snake and putting it in a container. So, the military did it?
Of course this was just studio interference slapping the words “The Curse” on the title in attempt to get a few more people to buy their product. Luckily the fans who rented this were treated to something pretty special: a film with quite a few flaws but some damn fine moments in the unknown, animals amok, and FX departments. There is also a pretty decent cast with a few shining stars. Of course Jill Schoelen is someone horror fans know from her work in The Stepfather and Popcorn, which we watched earlier this year at HMN, but another familiar face to TV fans is Jamie Farr, the cross-dressing Klinger on M*A*S*H. He’s not wearing any dresses here, just nailing female truckers and administering medical injections whilst on the road selling something and giving out business cards that expand into sponges when wet. Also in the smaller role of the Sherriff is Bo Svenson who has been in countless great action and exploitation films over the last 40 years.
Another great thing about animal movies, one of my favorite things, is you get some great POV camerawork. This is a must in a film of this type but Snake Cam is best because not only does it move slowly and close to the ground, but it also slides from side-to-side in true snake fashion. A definite highlight!
A lot of snakes die in this movie – well, a lot of fake snakes I guess – most of which meet their demise in slow motion. You can tell when a serpent is going to bite it when everything slows down. There are shotguns used, rifles and even an acoustic guitar, but the best is when they are driving down the road and they come to a section crawling with hundreds of the reptiles. The car swerves and snakes go flying through the air as Clark drives over them yelling like a fool – all in slo-mo, of course. After, they head to a gas station and a motel with blood covering the lower third of the car and no one says a thing.
The FX in this film are quite awesome and entertaining in a way that only practical blood and guts can be. Of course, this is to be expected from an FX person named Screaming Mad George, who has worked on such features as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Bride of Re-Animator and last week’s HMN selection Hide and Go Shriek. Since everything bitten by this predator turns into a snake there are a couple of really cool reptile/mammal hybrids. The first of such creatures we see is in the gas station with what used to be a dog but is now a dog-snake. The teeth still resemble that of a canine but also have shifted in the more snake-like shape of the head and its long neck allows it to shoot out and attack its former owner. Then when we finally see Clark’s hand out of bandages in the light of a hospital room it’s clear that the fingers have fused together and there are eyes and teeth. Impressive but nothing like what is yet to come in the film’s climax as he vomits up smaller snakes and begins to slither himself before fully transforming into a giant snake. As if this climax to the film weren’t awesome enough with Schoelen running around in the muddy water in her underwear and an oversized shirt, we get to see Clark’s head crack open at the jaw and a giant snake with a human spine emerge. Bravo!
For fans of the funny and ridiculous there is plenty here to keep you giggling. An entire portion of the cast is devoted to some crazy trucker characters. They are there to help Morton track down Clark on the road but the three are quite something. First is Death Wish who wants nothing more than to take out anyone on the road and is quick to brandish his shotgun from the passenger seat. I guess it’s riding shotgun – HA! Then there’s Big Flo, a large woman with equally large hair who has a crush on Morton and the two meet up for some big rig bed action. Last, and certainly not least, is the scariest thing in this movie. A redneck, mostly toothless, trucker named Beef who hoots-and-hollers over the CB while driving and drinking beer. He’s quite frightening but the actor’s name is awesome – Tiny Wells!
Then there is the farmer… oh shit! I just remembered another vague connection between this film and The Curse: over-the-top religious farmers! A strange foreign man rescues Clark after he cuts off his snake-hand. He turns out to be a farmer with a very holy household who gives him a place to stay for the night. The funny part about this is their young daughter. She gets up in the middle of the night, sneaks into the infected man’s room, and cuts open the bandages because she desperately wants to know what’s underneath. The fact that she does this and causes her parents to die is not the funny part, but more her room where her bedside table is occupied by a HUGE baby Jesus in a manger! It’s like something from a lawn Nativity scene and it’s hilarious.
Luckily this film is easily available on double feature DVD with the first film for less than $15. A buy I strongly suggest you pick up with your hard-earned money. You’ll get Wil Wheaton and some vegetable gore with The Curse and then some jaw ripping great FX work and a snake-hand in The Curse II: The Bite. How can you go wrong?
Until next week – I’ll be wondering why I kept hoping that at some point they would show that Clark had a transformed snake-dick.
Body Count: 6
First Kill: 18:40
Best Kill: Snake-Hand Removes a Doctor’s Jaw!
Number of Slow Motion Shots: 6
Number of Teeth in Beef’s Skull: Probably 4 or 5
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-8/24/11: The Boogens (1981)
-8/31/11: Killer Party (1986)
-9/7/11: The Kindred (1987)
-9/14/11: Flesh Eating Mothers (1988)