First published by Movie Gazette
Ants, ticks, frogs, cockroaches, spiders, sharks, octopus, slugs, crocodiles, komodo dragons, wild boars, lions, piranha, rats, tomatoes and many other critters have all had their day as the aggressive anti-heroes in the discerning horror fan’s favourite subgenre, the nature’s revenge film. In 1997 it was the turn of a pair of impossibly large Amazonian snakes to squeeze or swallow their way through a surprisingly well-known cast of hapless adventurers (including Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, Eric Stoltz and the mighty Jon Voight, who made himself seem even snakier than his CGI colleagues on screen) in a hilariously straight-faced exercise in daftness called Anaconda. The film not only transformed some of the more unusual characteristics of anacondas (they will vomit up one prey if they need to attack another) into satisfyingly grotesque horror set-pieces, but also exploited to the full the religious and sexual associations of snakes by featuring an ex-priest (Voight) who is tempted to the other side and an explosive ‘climax’ in which a giant serpent is ejaculated from an upright chimney tower. In short, Anaconda was a minor classic of cheesy terror – but unfortunately its long-awaited (at least by me) sequel, Anacondas: the Hunt for the Blood Orchid, fails on almost all counts to deliver pleasure on the same, er, scale.
When it is discovered that a rarely blooming orchid may hold the key to “a pharmaceutical equivalent of the fountain of youth”, a small group of scientists races up a snaking Asian river, attracted by the heady scent of money. For an anti-aging serum, as one of their financial backers had put it back home, “would be bigger than Viagra”. Only the backstabbing corporate jungle of New York is a far less dangerous place than the real jungles of Borneo, and after surviving threats from a rapacious crocodile, a poisonous spider and some blood-sucking leeches, the scientists and their guides will soon discover to their peril that the blood orchid is indeed far more effective than Viagra at making snakes grow unnaturally long, hard and powerful - and it is right in the middle of mating season.
Sequels are supposed to outdo the original, so after the stellar cast of the first film, one might have expected no less than Al Pacino, Isabelle Huppert and Kevin Spacey to be facing-off with reptiles in Anacondas…. Instead, however, all the actors here are relative unknowns (apart from Nicholas Bad Boy Bubby Hope, here wasted in a minuscule walk-on part). While in theory such lack of eminence could have the advantage of making all the characters eminently more expendable, in practice far too few are expended (from an original party of seven, four get to survive – as well as a comedy monkey called ‘Kong’). For Anacondas… is not so much a horror film as an action adventure closer in spirit to The African Queen, the Indiana Jones franchise (with its snake-fearing hero) or any Tarzan film than to, say, Jaws. Where the first film delighted in the gruesomely protracted mechanics of death-by-constrictor, the sequel shies away from depicting anything beyond a character being seized. The film’s plural title does not really up the stakes of the original, which, after all, had already featured more than one anaconda – and although towards the end one does get to see a pit crammed full of the coiling copulators, these creatures attack strictly one at a time, so that Anacondas… misses every opportunity to live up to its titular promise.
No doubt director Dwight H. Little found himself being strangled by a very tight budget – that is, after all, the lot of most horror directors – but far from transcending its limitations, Anacondas… will just leave you feeling short-changed.