Anaconda, a movie often derided as a horrible, campy movies is, in its own way, a champion.
The 1997 horror film has dominated the “It’s So Bad it’s Good” Division for over a decade; an almost unparalleled cinematic reign. It’s fended off challenges from Gigli (which, while bad, was not quite as offensive as one was led to believe), Star Wars Episode III (the No.1 contender to Anaconda’s throne) and Lady in the Water (which is just plain fucking bad).
From beginning to end, Anaconda is unmitigated trash. It is a B movie that struggles so pitifully to escape its inevitable B classification that I wanted to put it out of its misery by shooting it in the head. It begins inauspiciously enough, as a National Geographic crew commandeer a boat, along the way picking up a shifty hunter, while in search of a seAmazonian tribe. What follows is a gruesome, iconic, raping of cinema; a relentless pummeling of common sense and sanity.
Where the film’s beginning is passable, hardly noteworthy cinema, the whole enterprise begins to careen wildly off course, scattering a crowd of onlookers to safety, once the snake hunter arrives on the scene. Paul Sarone, played with bile-inducing relish by the overrated Jon Voight, hijacks the boat, hoping to use it to track down a giant Anaconda. His motives for capturing the snake remain unclear though, judging by the loving, nearly sexual way he speaks of it, his intentions for the animal might be best left for another film.
Voight soon sets about terrorizing the crew, mostly by unleashing an arsenal of smirks and incomprehensible non-sequiturs. The plucky documentary crew is forced to devise schemes to usher Sarone into a grizzly end, and for good reason. Two minutes of Voight’s hamming, in such a confined space, would surely have had me plotting his demise as well. Well, honestly, I’d have wasted the majority of the crew’s film surreptitiously capturing hours upon hours of Lopez’s inspirational buttocks. But back to the movie. Time and time again, as the boat progresses down the river, the crew fails in their plots to incapacitate Sarone as, you see, he possesses a tranquilizer rifle capable of shooting a single dart, and a rickety revolver that looks more likely to disintegrate in the hunter’s hand than fire any meaningful projectile. Though, perhaps I am underestimating the hunter’s ability. In possibly the film’s silliest scene, Sarone levitates five feet into the air from a sitting position and locks Kari Wuhrer in a fatal leg scissors. This gripping scene occurs while our heroes battle the snake, a laughable CGI contraption seemingly devised and designed in a local community college. As with every horror move, the monster is preternaturally vengeful, going so far as to snarl and give chase to its “prey” while easier meals lay sedentary on each passing riverbank. Never mind most Anacondas float aimlessly underneath the water’s skin, hoping a bird or monkey will wander close enough for it to snatch; this particular beast will scale a waterfall in order to get its jaws around our heros. In a nutshell, the snake devours nearly the entire crew before being killed by a gun blast to the face. Unsurprisingly, there is a second, larger Anaconda who gives chase to the surviving crew members. It meets a similarly campy end, by being blown up in a smokestack. As the movie draws to a close, the tribe that was the cause of all this horror in the first place is discovered, staring dimly at the boat from the shore.
More important than the movie itself, which was an admitted riot – between the laughable effects, the implausible plot and hammy dialogue – is who starred in it and the great lengths they went to to ensure the film lived forever in infamy.
J-Lo stared as Terri Flores, the director of the National Geographic documentary. This was several years prior to the version of Lopez that has been seared, through relentless, ingratiating self-promotion, into the world’s skull. Refreshingly, she strives to be accepted as a serious actress instead of a global deity. She spends the majority of the movie wearing an unflattering pair of pants stolen directly from my grandmother’s closet, while also saddling her face with a threatening mane of dark curly hair and a curious absence of eyebrows. It is almost impossible not to fall in love with such imperfection, especially in light of later years, when her entire image was the apex of deliberation; six hours in a makeup chair, three separate nutritionists, two personal trainers and US Weekly puff pieces.
The indomitable Ice Cube joins the cast as cameraman Danny and becomes the first black man in the history of horror to arrive at the end credits alive. Equally as curious, he survives the entire 89-minute runtime without once stealing from his white boatmates or groping a terrified Lopez in a darkened corner of a nightclub. Nevertheless, Cube’s screen presence is amusing in the saddest way possible. He scowls and bites off grade school dialogue with a lackadaisical urgency the likes of which I’ve not seen since the opening frames of a Scandinavian porn flick where a glassy-eyed blonde begs a shirtless, supremely Aryan, security guard to protect her from a “prowler” skulking about the motel.
The film also features Owen Wilson who occupies a small, perplexing role as a film crew member. His purpose is never quite defined and he struggles mightily with the atrocious dialogue, not yet having grown into his blasé stoner persona; which he would go on to play in each and every movie for the next nine years. Looking back on Owen’s ensuing mental breakdown, it is not hard to imagine this movie contributed significantly.
However, the movie belongs truly to Jon Voight, who turns in perhaps the single worst performance of the past ten years. His work throughout the film perfectly encapsulates the train wreck cliché as he treats us to bloody crash after bloody crash for an hour and a half. His horrifying turn as an inconsistently accented snake enthusiast is one of the more powerful performances ever committed to celluloid. That he delivers his stilted lines without the faintest hint of a smile playing on his lips should have earned him an automatic Oscar. I will argue that no man could tear a screen to tatters quite like Voight does here. Sure, his performance was putrid, but that should not be held against him. It was a ridiculous role to begin with and Voight went above and beyond in filling the role’s requirement. An example of the lunacy Voight was asked to act: Toward the film’s end, Voight douses J-Lo and Ice Cube with animal blood, hoping to lure a second Anaconda for him to trap. The snake obliges immediately, slithering with menace toward our two heroes. However, Voight underestimates this particular snake’s irritability and is promptly smothered in a scene that must be seen to believe. But, Voight is perhaps at his best when he is seduced by Lopez who hopes to distract him long enough for Ice Cube to bash Voight over the head. The scene is terrifying and awkward and brilliant. I felt a genuine sorrow for Lopez as a streak of revulsion flashed across her eyes as Voight cinched her around the waist.
Some lines of exceptional notoriety:
“Never look into the eyes of someone you kill, they will haunt you forever. I know.” Said to Kari Wuhrer, moments before snapping her neck.
“See this? Human bones. That’s how it comes out. Ashes to ashes.” Said while dusting his hands together like Lebron James prior to tip-off.
“Please people, don’t make me out a monster. I didn’t eat the captain Mateo.” No indeed.
“Presume? How you like I presume to throw you in the river? You like that presume? Huh? Take it upstairs.” Said to the British fellow after said Brit foolishly refused to take Voight’s bags to the sole cabin on the boat.
A spectacle this putrid can’t help but delight. It is captivating, mesmorizing. From start to finish, Voight demands attention and, like a child, achieves this mean by destroying everything that surronds him. As fantastic as Voight was, he was not solely responsible for creating this gleeful mess. Each appearance of the snake, slithering at lightning speed, and each pained, constipated expression on Lopez’s face as she (unsuccessfully) attempted to convey emotion, and each constipated grimace from Ice Cube nearly propelled me to orgasm.
Final Verdict: A modern masterpiece – for all the wrong reasons.
Before I forget: Instead of (rightfully) spelling the doom of the entire cast’s career, nearly everyone involved with the film went on to achieve success in the following years. However, God, proving not to be a complete dickhead, ensured the movie’s director Luis Llosa (who also helmed the senseless but inoffensive Sniper and the abominable The Specialist which won two Razzie awards) faded into a rightfully earned oblivion.