No-Budget Nightmares: Pirates: Quest for Snake Island (2009)

Chart a course for adventure! I couldn’t blame you for being a tad skeptical about the quality of a no-budget pirate film lensed in Ottawa, Ontario. There’s a reason that low and no-budget filmmakers tend to gravitate towards the horror genre – it generally requires less production value. Less special effects. Less effort on the whole, really. Pirate films tend to have a few necessary elements in common, and they don’t come cheap. For one, they are inevitably period pieces – that tends to be expensive – and they necessitate a high sense of adventure, sword-fighting and – of course – a pirate ship. Getting these elements on the cheap are not just a difficult proposition, it could very well be near impossible. However, while it’s often rather rough around the edges, Brett Kelly’s PIRATES: QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND impressively manages to pull it off.

I’ll admit to initially being a little confused about what to expect from this DVD, not only considering the obvious influence (and popularity) of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films, but also the similarity of the title to the PIRATES series of pornographic films. Yeah, I notice these sorts of things. When I discovered it was Canadian, I found my enthusiasm growing rapidly. QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND was directed by the prolific Brett Kelly, who has made a cottage industry out of filming fun b-movie genre pastiches. With titles like SHE-REX, or the upcoming JURASSIC SHARK, you probably have an idea what to expect. But this is something a bit outside his wheelhouse – a comedy/adventure movie with a few monsters thrown in for good measure.

 Kelly plays “Blackjack” Cutter, a notorious pirate (or privateer) who happens to be bedding the daughter of the governor of.. somewhere in England, making him a marked man. Thankfully, he runs into the young Jacob (Dan Tait) who has randomly picked up a map to the mysterious Snake Island, which – after some convincing – sends the group off on Cutter’s ship. Cutter is being followed by the evil Killian, who not only has a vendetta against Cutter, but was also the previous owner of the treasure map. Accompanying Cutter on his trip are his crusty crew, his beau Victoria (Amanda Leigh), and the poor, but moral, Jacob. The trip has all of the usual great stuff: sword fighting, mutiny, and fantastic sea creatures (Snake Island, eh?), before things get appropriately wrapped up while still leaving the possibility open for a sequel.

Having helmed over 15 features in under a decade, Brett Kelly has proven himself to be a reliable workhorse director who knows how to get things done quick and dirty, so attempting to mount a sweeping adventure on the high seas might have been a risky proposition. He mostly succeeds by making the most of his resources – historical sites around Ottawa for the locations, some impressive costuming – and a sense of fun that can help you ignore some of the shakier accents or modern looking structures occasionally visible in the background. This ingenuity is also visible in overcoming the film’s biggest hurdle, the ship itself, which is accomplished through a combination of green-screen and some brief CG shots of the sailing ship. It’s not very convincing, but you can’t help but admire the sort of balls that would even attempt such a thing.

 The acting is, predictably, of varying quality. Kelly does a fine job in the lead, though his accent leans more towards Irish than British, making him sound surprisingly like a confused Newfoundlander (I can relate!). Much better is Barry Caiger as the governor, though sadly his appearance is rather brief. Amanda Leigh as the romantic lead has the shakiest accent of all, though is obviously giving it her best effort. What you’re looking for here is enthusiasm, and the cast has that in spades.

In our interview, Brett Kelly mentions that STAR WARS had a much bigger influence on the plot than the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, but either way the plot won’t hold many surprises for those familiar with the genre. In fact, it serves mostly as a collection of usual pirate movie tropes and cliches, though with obvious and enjoyable winks at the audience. The appearance of some giant computer generated snakes once the group reaches the island makes for a fun pulp addition, and gives Kelly a chance to show off his obvious love for monster movies. Rather shockingly, the film also includes a rousing score with a repeated main theme that serves to adequately liven up scenes which threaten to get a little bogged down with dialogue. While it may seem like a minor touch, music is usually an after-thought in low-budget productions so it makes the whole thing seem that much more professional.

 While it won’t win any awards for originality, PIRATES: QUEST FOR SNAKE ISLAND is a rollicking low-budget adventure film which is continually inventive and has an infectious sense of fun. Shaky acting and sometimes unconvincing special effects do little to dampen the goofy fun, and the plot – while familiar – delivers everything you might want in a swashbuckling pirate film. Worth checking out, and makes me excited to check out more of Brett Kelly’s filmography.


Three Nightmares out of Five

One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me

Join us this week for an interview with Pirates: Quest for Snake Island director Brett Kelly






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Doug Tilley

Doug has been a geek for as long as he’s been alive, but has only been blogging about film since 2008; originally writing for his personal site and eventually moving to Daily Grindhouse where he writes regularly about micro-budget films and film-makers in his No-Budget Nightmares column. At the end of 2011 he started the popular No-Budget Nightmares podcast with Moe Porne, and regularly contributes to a variety of other genre film podcasts. He likes movies, movies and movies.

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