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The Snake God: DVD Review

The Snake God (1970)

by Troy Howarth

Directed by Piero Vivarelli

Starring Nadia Cassini, Beryl Cunningham, Evaristo Marques, Sergio Tramonti

Paola (Nadia Cassini) joins her older husband (Evaristo Marques) in the Caribbean and gets drawn into a local cult which helps to liberate her libido….

   

Don’t let the title and the voodoo elements of the plot fool you: The Snake God is not a horror film.  If anything, it’s more of a melodrama with erotic overtones.  Director Piero Vivarelli had previously worked in genres as diverse as musicals and Spaghetti Westerns, co-writing the original Django (1966) for Sergio Corbucci and collaborating on some of Lucio Fulci’s earliest works.  Just prior to The Snake God, he had directed the fumetti Mister X (1967) and Satanik (1968).  The Snake God was probably his most significant hit, though it received scant distribution and has fallen into obscurity.  The Encyclopedia of Horror Films granted it an entry, but the review is so off-the-mark that one wonders if the writers were in fact able to screen a print at all.  Vivarelli would go on to direct the steamy Summer Temptations (1988) starring porn star Moana Pozzi in her most “mainstream” assignment, but his work is somewhat forgotten and neglected these days.

  

The film is most successful as a pure aesthetic exercise.  It looks great, has a number of beautiful actresses on display and it moves along at a good pace.  Vivarelli handles what could have been very racist material with care and finesse, turning the story into a tale of liberation rather than overindulging in embarrassing “native” stereotypes.  The tone vacillates from the dreamy to the carnal, with some of the voodoo sequences threatening to push the film into proper genre territory – but it never goes down that road, which will no doubt frustrate some viewers who were hoping for a more conventional film.

  

The action is dominated by the gorgeous Nadia Cassini.  American-born Cassini became a cause celebre in Italy with her wild partying and love affairs but her film career never really kicked into gear.  She would appear in a number of films, including Luigi Cozzi’s endearingly juvenile Starcrash (1978), but she missed out on what could have been a major artistic experience when the Mario Bava sci-fi picture she was pegged to appear in went down the tubes.  The Snake God is a literal love letter to her sensuous beauty, and Vivarelli was clearly aware that her shapely figure and features would be a major selling point.  She spends much of the film in various states of undress, thus assuring that the film will appeal to many viewers who might otherwise be unmoved by the film’s subject matter.  She is paired with the lovely Jamaican actress Beryl Cunningham, who has the distinction of being one of the relatively few black actresses to make much of a dent in the Italian genre scene of the period.  She can also be seen in Massimo Dallamano’s updated version of Dorian Gray (1970).  The two actresses play well off of one another and ensure that the “scenery” is always attractive.

  

Vivarelli makes excellent use of the widescreen frame throughout.  The locations are attractive and well utilized and the music score helps to set the right mood.  The script was co-written by Ottavio Alessi, who was responsible for the gloriously sleazy Rosalba Neri/Edwige Fenech vehicle Top Sensation (1969).  The editing was Carlo Reali, who served as Mario Bava’s editor of choice on a number of his late period titles.  The combination of their efforts help to make The Snake God a brisk and enjoyable diversion.  It may not deliver the cheesy frissons one might anticipate, but it does offer plenty of raw sexuality and beautiful scenery – and it’s worth seeing on that level alone.

Video:

Mondo Macabro brings The Snake God to DVD for the first time ever in the US.  The 2.35/16×9 transfer looks superb.  Colors are rich and vibrant, detail is strong and the print is uncut and in excellent condition.  The disc is coded for Region 1.

Audio:

The film is presented in Italian mono.  It’s unlikely that an English track was ever prepared, as the film doesn’t appear to have secured any kind of American or British release.  The track is in decent shape.  The music has ample presence, and the removable English subtitles are clear and easy to read.

Extras:

The most substantial extra is a video interview with Vivarelli.  The director – who passed away in 2010 – talks about everything from his fixation on sex to his love of marijuana to his respect for Lucio Fulci.  It’s a good interview.  Production notes and cast and crew bios are included, along with a trailer, which is also presented in anamorphic 2.35.

Film: *** out of *****

Video: **** out of *****

Audio: *** out of *****

Extras: *** out of *****

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