Listen to this article

Most folklore deals with humans and fantastic creatures purportedly inhabiting the country in which the lore arises, but Irish folklore exhibits a notable exception.

According to legend, St. Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, drove out all the island’s snakes.

(Scientists, however, say there never were any there to begin with.)

Unfortunately, far too many snakes have found their way into films. That makes some sense when you consider that a lot of people — 50 percent or so, according to some surveys — have an active dislike or even fear of snakes (ophidiophobia).

Here in America, maybe 7,000-8,000 people are bitten by snakes each year with maybe five or six fatalities. So snakes account for more deaths here than do sharks, and we have over half the world’s shark attacks annually (33 in 2020 or 58 percent of the world total).

In any case, snakes would seem to be an obvious menace for Hollywood to exploit in action or horror movies, and snakes often show up as threats the hero has to overcome or avoid in seeking some non-serpent-related goal.

Just think about such high-profile examples as Indiana Jones dealing with the snake-filled Well of Souls in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” for instance, or Harry Potter facing various evil magical snakes in the environs of Hogwarts.

Considering all the westerns and jungle adventures in which snakes have posed such episodic threats, snakes have probably appeared in more films than sharks.

But in terms of “starring” monsters, sharks definitely have the edge. After all, they have “Jaws” (which spawned a whole series of sequels), a goodly number of straightforward action/sci-fi movies of the second water (so to speak), a deliberately goofy series in the Sharknado films, and an incredible number of bizarre titles such as “6-Headed Shark Attack” and “Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast.”

The closest snakes come to a title like “Jaws” with lasting recognition is “Anaconda” (1997), although it’s largely recognized as a film where badness makes it funny. Still, it does have an impressive cast: Jennifer Lopez, Eric Stoltz, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, Danny Trejo and Oscar-winner (just not for this film) Jon Voight. It spawned its own series of sequels and established the movie myth that anacondas regurgitate their victims so they can consume them a second time. They don’t; it would severely damage if not kill them. But that does allow Voight to steal the whole film with a wink in its most memorable scene (SPOILER ALERT) when the big snake disgorges him.

“Venom” (1981, so no connection to the Spider-Man films) had an even more prestigious cast — Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson, Sterling Hayden and Oscar-nominee Sarah Miles (for “Ryan’s Daughter”). A gang of terrorists intent on kidnapping the son of a wealthy couple find themselves trapped in a house with a deadly black mamba, which (SPOILER ALERT) kills them all off. The sorely tried director, Piers Haggard, purportedly claimed that the snake was the nicest person on the set.

But probably the most memorable “ordinary” snake feature was the 2006 “Snakes on a Plane” because of its title (which is also likely one of the shortest pitches for a movie) and Samuel L. Jackson’s immortal line: “Enough is enough! I’ve had it with these worrisome snakes on this woebegone plane!” — or words to that effect.

There are other films with multiple snakes — “Snake Island” (2002), for instance, and “Snakes on a Train” (2006), made by The Asylum, a studio whose stock in trade is quickly churning out movies to exploit the success of similarly titled hits.

But more frequently, producers go for big snake movies (that is, movies about snakes larger than found in nature) such as “Megaconda” (2010) and “Mega Snake” (2007). “King Cobra” (1999) has Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid”) ask the obvious question for all of us: “Why would anyone cross an African King Cobra with an Eastern Diamond Back Rattlesnake?”

And the unsurprising answer of the geneticist doing research on violent behavior is: “We wanted the most aggressive animals possible for testing.”

But if you’re going to go big, why stop with just big? Why not pit your supersized viper against something just as big and deadly?

That’s the idea behind “Komodo vs. Cobra” (2005) and “Lake Placid vs. Anaconda” (2015), which hurls together the giant crocodiles of the “Lake Placid” series and the title reptile from the Anaconda series. And “Boa vs. Anaconda” (2004) doubles down on the idea with dueling CGI constrictors.

But wait, there’s more. Instead of having two different large monsters, why not just blend them into one? So there’s “Piranhaconda” (2012) and the as-yet-unreleased “CobraGator” (made in 2018), both directed by Jim Wynorski and starring Michael Madsen.

And finally, there’s the version where humans turn into snakes, either willingly or because a scientist is once again tinkering with nature. “Cult of the Cobra” (1955) features a beautiful woman who can transform into a cobra to punish trespassers on her cult’s arcane rituals, and in “Queen Cobra” (2007), an insane college professor’s experiments on a coed change her into a half-snake, half-woman monster. Then there’s “Sssssss” (1973) in which a crazy scientist turns his grad student assistant into a snake because, well, just because. It’s noteworthy for its onomatopoetic title and because the scientist is played by the great character actor Strother Martin (whose warden character in “Cool Hand Luke” uttered the classic line, “What we have here is a failure to communicate”).

The best that can be said about these snake films, though, is that the title generally communicates all you need to know about the plot — just the way the sound of rattles by the footpath tells you to stay away from a real snake.

Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at filmcritic@comcast.net. Follow him on Twitter (@RichardLeskosky).

Trending Videos