ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE (1971)

* This is the fifth installment in the series “Karloff’s Bizarre and Final Six Pack.”

Snake People (AKA Isle Of The Snake People) feels like pure ; that is, Jack Hill the exploitation guru to whom Quentin Tarantino has built an altar. The opening narration is a duller variant of Criswell’s repetitive but puerile Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) monologue: “During Many centuries in Various parts of the world, Various diabolical rites and ceremonies have been practiced in homage to Various sinister gods who are believed to have Many supernatural powers. These rites are generally known as voodoo!”

Cue nightly voodoo ceremony. , dressed as the priest Damballah (dark goggles, black mask, top hat and cee-gar) carries a skull walking stick. Since voodoo god “Baron Samedi” shares a name with a minor Bond villain, you almost expect Live and Let Die‘s Geoffrey Holder to make an appearance. Captain Labesch (Rafael Bertrand), who does appear, is no Roger Moore. He’s what the narrator describes as an “unscrupulous adventurer taking advantage of the superstition to put a docile native girl under his power, transforming her into a zombie so she will submit to her primitive instinct.” Well, maybe he is Roger Moore in his uncanny ability to make his amorous traits look sluggish. Mexican dwarf character actor  carries a squirming rooster. He laughs maniacally. He inexplicably cries. PETA runs for cover as he decapitates the fowl. He squirts the chick’s blood over a grave site. Rise of the dead docile native girl! Captain Labesch hops into her coffin and, well, all you need to know is that he’s a necrophiliac. Now comes the 70ish pop credits with stylish jazzy font, voodoo drum music, Karloff as a demonic Col. Sanders, and the revelation that this film guest stars Tongolele (i.e., Mexican exotic dancer Yolanda Montes)!

Still from Isle of the Snake People (1971)The ubiquitous , as Anabella, is on hand as niece to Uncle Boris. She’s a bit of a missionary, wanting to rid the world of the evils of alcohol. Lt. Wilhelm (Carlos East) wants to rid the island of voodoo. Such high faultin’ proselytizing is, naturally, due for comeuppance. Tongolele is just the one to give it, too. As a buxom Elsa Lanchester, she belly dances with big snakes, spikes banana milk with venom, and intones “offer your dreams to Damballah!” as she puts the voodoo hex on Anabella. In a freakish dream sequence Anabella sucks on a snake’s head, but Lt. Wilhelm has it worse. He’s hounded by visions of serpents and his men are cannibalized by island babes.

Tongolele takes her voodoo seriously enough to cut off Captain Labesch’s supply of zombie tail, and he foolishly retaliates by playing informant. More cannibalism, more human sacrifices, and Annabella kidnapped by the voodoo snake cult!

Snake People is pure trash cinema that is helped little by Karloff’s presence. Unfortunately, his considerable health issues took even a deeper dive in this film. According to his biographers, the actor spent most of his set time reaching for the oxygen. His performance is rendered numb and he is clearly lost as he struggles to react to his co-stars. His voice is horribly dubbed in the final voodoo rite ceremony, and the film limps towards a non-finale.

Many reviewers have commented that the film is dull and incoherent. With this disparate mix of wacky plot ingredients, it would be difficult to produce an entirely dull affair, but the producers come very close to doing just that. It is minimally aided by its plot’s capricious writhing, Tongolele’s garish, cartoonish personification, and by the morbid fascination of witnessing a horror icon lethargically breathing his last. But these are mere random images, and the opening credits do a better job of conveying that.

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