Saturday, May 23, 2015

JAWS OF SATAN (1981) Blu-ray Review

Jaws of Satan (1981) d. Bob Claver (USA)

By the late '70s, there wasn’t a movie fan around who hadn’t seen the two “instant classic” horror flicks Jaws and The Exorcist. Similarly, there wasn’t a thriving and/or conniving independent film producer who hadn’t contemplated cutting off a slice of that sweet, sweet exploitation gold, as countless "animals attack" and "demonic possession" flicks followed the suit (and, quite often, the script) of their Oscar-winning Hollywood forerunners. But what screenwriter Gerry Holland (working from a story idea by James Callaway) came up with was nothing short of pure genius: Why not combine the two into a killer creature feature where the beasts are driven to murder by The Beast Himself!

A small Alabama town, struggling to keep up with the times, decides to open an exotic new source of revenue: a brand new greyhound racing track. I know, exciting stuff, right? Wouldn’t you know it, the week before the gala ribbon-cutting ceremony, the divine moment when all the hayseeds finally get a chance to lose their hard-earned dough is threatened when a possessed King Cobra busts out of its circus train car and starts mind-controlling its fellow belly-gliding brethren to chow down on the local homo sapien populace.

Dr. Maggie Sheridan (Gretchen Corbett) tries to persuade the town elders to call in the National Guard to deal with the forked-tongue peril, but they shut her down quick, not wanting to spoil the canine cash cow. (I kept waiting for the mayor to say, “You keep those beaches, er, dog track betting windows open, y’hear?”) Her only ally is pragmatic snake expert Paul Hendricks (charisma-free John Korkes); together, the two race against the clock to save their burg from the venomous villains.

Of course, Science is no match for the Dark One, so it’s up to boozy priest Father Tom Farrow (Fritz Weaver), who apparently descends from a particularly strict religious line that stamped out a family of Druids a century ago. However, Farrow is struggling with his faith, so a few unfortunates have to be head-butted in the face by our unfriendly neighborhood reptilian ne’er-do-wells (solid special makeup effects by Ron Figuly) before the collared one springs into action, falls into an open grave, then springs back into action.

Jaws of Satan, making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout! Factory, isn’t the best known of the 70s/80s eco-terror movies, but it’s got plenty of cheesy entertainment value, courtesy of Eoin Sprott’s impressive “mechanical snake effects” and a boatload of unintentional comedy. The performances range from not-bad to pretty terrible, with a special qualifier for screen vet Weaver (Creepshow, Demon Seed) who manages to get through the proceedings with a straight face.

Corbett (Let’s Scare Jessica to Death) falls squarely into the not-bad category, while her onscreen love interest Korkes does a passable attempt at human behavior without ever quite succeeding. Every line, every gesture feels just a little bit off, and that’s not even talking about the “romantic” scenes. The film also marks the screen debut of little Christina Applegate (Married with Children) as the rambunctious child of the town’s main moneybags tycoon (Bob Hannah).

Roger Kellaway, tunesmith for such flicks as Evilspeak, Silent Scream, and The Dark, provides the horns and strings here, and none other than Dean Cundey, John Carpenter’s go-to DP at the time, brings the moody light and serpentine shadows.

Television mainstay (including exec-producing The Partridge Family) Claver and Holland do their best to pad things out with extended shots of planes and helicopters landing and taking off, a mysterious motorcyclist hit man, and lots of wriggling inserts. We also get to spend an abundant amount of time in the company of the Mayberry-ready law enforcement team of John McCurry and Jordan Williams. All of which builds up to a Weaver/Satan showdown in a damp cave on the outskirts of town, where the limbless wonder has somehow constructed an altar to himself and laid Corbett out as his sacrifice.

No classic (which might account for the lack of supplemental material), but fans of this type of cinema will not be disappointed.

Jaws of Satan – paired with Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants – is available on Blu-ray May 26 from Shout! Factory and can be pre-ordered HERE:

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine


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