King Cobra

Director: David and Scott Hillenbrand              
Pat Morita, Scott Brandon, Kasay Fallo

Hot in the city, beginnin' to rain
Out of the night come two cries of pain
One of them human, the other unknown
The cat's in the cradle, the chill to the bone

Our people are dyin', there's nowhere to run
Seth is the devil - at least he's his son
God help us fight him, 'till he's in his grave
We need a hero who's bold, strong, and brave

Um...thank you, Hoyt Axton, for writing and performing that end credit song ("Seth Is The Devil") for King Cobra, a movie that seems to have been inspired by the success of Anaconda. Say what you will for that movie, but I think you'll agree with me that Anaconda - whatever you thought of it - was a lot better than King Cobra.

For starters, take the title creature, a genetically engineered snake, composed from the genes of a diamond-back rattlesnake and a king cobra, with extra engineering to make it as big as an anaconda. (Why was such a big snake made? Because scientists were wanting to create a formula from it that would "produce an intensified level of aggression, without causing harmful side effects.") When the credits listed the Chiodo brothers as the special effects artists behind the snake, I was filled with anticipation, having previously sampled their impressive work in other movies, including Killer Klowns From Outer Space. But as the movie went on, my positive outlook quickly diminished,  because for a long time you don't actually see the snake. We're shown a piece of broken fang, and some skin it shed, though this is far from satisfying. Eventually, we see the snake; to be more exact, we see one or two second shots of the tail quickly sliding offscreen, or a close-up of the body of the snake gliding quickly past the camera - in either case, the movement is too quick to get any idea of what they snake is like. Finally, after much of the movie has already passed, we finally get to see the snake in a shot more than two seconds long, and the snake is more or less still. Then, we learn why the filmmakers were so reluctant to give us a good look at their animatronic creation. This creation is not one of the best works of the Chiodo brothers. The snake looks too plastic, too stiff. Even in the scene when the snake is playing dead in order to trap its human prey, it looks all wrong lying there on the ground. To my recollection, it seems to have all been one color, as if they couldn't even afford a few lousy tubes of paint to give it a few touches here and there.

Not only does the snake look pretty phony, the directors ruin any possible remaining hope of generating chills by directing the snake attacks in the worst way. They don't seem to have done enough (if any) research about snakes - one P.O.V. shot from the snake lets us not only see from the snake's view, but hear the way he does (similar to hearing sounds underwater.) Since I was a child, I've known that snakes are actually deaf(*). The snake registers a respectable body count during the course of the movie, but how do the directors hope to scare the viewers when most of the victims are killed offscreen? The few times we actually do see the snake attack someone aren't much better. The attacks are directed with a shot of the snake lunging its head towards something out of the frame, and the movie then cuts to the victim, in usually a close-up of the face making an anguished expression, maybe adding a "Grunt!" or an "Umph!" noise. We never actually see the snake biting anyone!

Personally, I didn't give a flip to who got bitten or not. The movie is full of stereotypes, with not even an attempt to lampoon these roles or their actions; we have the redneck overweight hunters who think they can bag them the snake, but quickly learn that what they hunt has more brains than all of them combined. There's the overweight mayor (Axton), who upon hearing that his small town is threatened by a giant creature, refuses to cancel the upcoming town lager festival, for it may hurt the economy of the town. There's the concerned scientist, who created the creature and is determined to stop it. There's an animal expert (Pat Morita), who is hired to track down the creature and kill it. There's the sheriff who has a sweetheart who is about to move away from the town before the crisis starts. (The sexes of those last two roles are reversed, but they are otherwise exactly like the characters you find in similar films.) There's no point in me writing a plot description for this movie, because you have already guessed what more or less happens in this movie from the descriptions of those characters. There's a small cameo appearance by Erik Estrada as the advisor to the operator of the local brewery. In his appearance, he carries around a small dog, wears an open necked shirt exposing his chest and the gold chain he wears around his neck, and acts very, very gay. He is also a stereotype, but he's lively, and rises the audience out of its slumber for a minute or two.

What the main problem is about King Cobra is that it is dull. There's no horror, precious little blood, and the attempts at comedy relief completely fall flat. There are endless scenes, with no consequence of any kind at the end, that go on and on until it's almost painful to watch. About the only thing even mildly interesting is making a list of the things the directors forgot to do. For example, in one scene, two Hispanic teenagers sneak off from the festival to play hide-and-go-seek and fool around before the expected attack. This scene (which goes on forever) is completely done in Spanish, with no subtitles for those illiterate in the language. You just have to guess what they are saying. Another scene has someone talking with someone else over a radio, and the task of dubbing in the audio of the voice coming over the radio was forgotten!!! So you have someone talking into the microphone, seemingly pausing and listening to nothing, then replying to a voice that wasn't heard! (Strangely, when I replayed the scene, turning on the close-captioning on my television set, the missing dialogue appeared.) When a movie somehow manages to leave in such a glaring error, you know that you're not dealing with professionals, or even people who cared about the movie in the first place.

* What about those snake charmers from India, you ask, who play music on their flutes to charm the snakes in their baskets? Actually, the snakes are concentrating on the flutes' movements, not the music.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for availability on Amazon (Download)

See also: Brainwaves, The Last Shark, Ticks