The last weekend in August has developed a reputation as a dumping ground for low-budget horror movies meant to capitalize on the rush of college kids who have returned to their dorms at summer’s end, and have nothing better to do before classes begin than to smoke a little bud and go to midnight showings at their local cinemas. In addition to being bad, these late summer releases generally have a few things in common: an orgy of teenaged flesh (Bring it On), a cast of absolute nobodies (Jeepers Creepers), more screenwriters than characters (Dead Man on Campus), and shockingly amusing death scenes (Jeepers Creepers 2).
For the blissfully stoned-out college kid, there is nothing better than the confluence of all of these qualities, and it is on that level that Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid deliciously succeeds.
Anacondas, which promises at least twice the slither of the original, takes us to Borneo, where the CGI serpents are twice as big as the 40-footers from the last movie. We learn that this is thanks to the exotic flower they feed on, the blood orchid, which contains an enzyme that raises the cap on the number of times a cell can reproduce. For the evil pharmaceutical company to which the cast of Anacondas belongs, the blood orchid is the equivalent of the fountain of youth, or as “corporate suit #2” suggests, “That would be bigger than Viagra.”
In charge of the expedition is the lead researcher and greedy company man (James Marsden), whose moral questionability is suggested by his squinty-eyed sneer and his awful English accent (a particular testament to bad acting for a British-born actor). Leading the team on the journey is the grizzled riverboat captain, Bill Johnson (Johnny Messner, looking like Aaron Eckhart and sounding like Vin Diesel), who takes them down the turbulent river in a boat about which he smirks, “She may be ugly, but she puts out.” Ultimately, the boat capsizes over a waterfall and strands the cast in the jungle, where, as it happens, it’s mating season for our resident Anacondas.
Along for the B-movie ride are Gail Stern (the J-Loish Salli Richardson-Whitfield), Cole Burris (Eugene Byrd, providing the bad “urban” comic relief), and Sam Rogers (KaDee Strickland), whose off-and-on southern accent is the equal of James van der Beek’s turn in Varsity Blues on the unintentional comedy scale. And, of course, the movie’s real star power is furnished by none other than Morris Chestnut, whose legions of fans will no doubt flock to Anacondas after following Chestnut through such blockbuster vehicles as Under Siege 2 and Like Mike.
While the setup takes a while - we are teased along the way with crocodiles, paralyzing spiders, and bloodsucking leeches — once the Anacondas start racking up a body count (nearly an hour in), the film takes on a nice momentum. The film offers the added element that — because of the cast of nobodies — we never quite know who is going to get it next. The shots are edited nicely, cutting away right before we get a sense of just how inexpertly drawn the Anacondas are, and the spacing between slaughters is enough to allow us to catch our breath without being so long that we get bored.
The movie succeeds in large part because of its director, Dwight Little, who, after directing Deep Blue, is in relatively familiar filmmaking territory. Instead of trying to turn Anaconda into a self-consciously portentous horror flick, Little knows how to embrace camp value without overdoing it, recognizing that it is most fun when unintended. He’s also able to squeeze several cheesy thrills out of the minimal special effects budget, adeptly capitalizing on the audience’s preexisting fear of snakes by having his CGI creatures slither to within inches of the characters before a quick dart and swallow. Though it was relatively obvious that the actors were responding to a blue screen, I still found myself occasionally cowering in my seat or grabbing hold of my armrest.
Anacondas is not a particularly good movie, but there is something to be said for being so effectively bad. While it is not of the same caliber as the bad-movie classics Final Destination and Final Destination 2, it certainly has a similar appeal. And it won’t come as a surprise to me if, like its late August predecessors, Anacondas’ box office beats expectations in its first weekend, before quickly disappearing from theaters and making a comeback on DVD just in time for Halloween.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()