Throughout the course of genre storytelling in film, there have been all sorts of attempts at displaying human/animal hybrids onscreen. From the many iterations of Dr. Moreau’s island of chymera monsters, to the Asian influence of Hindu symbolism, filmmakers love working with manimals in their genre storytelling. There have been untold number of werewolves, many versions of cat people, and a plethora of apemen throughout film’s history. But a surprisingly recurring hybrid, one that’s particularly relevant for Snake Week, is the snake men (and snake women) that pop up in movies. Here then is a list of the best versions of snakepeople in genre film.
Please note: It’s a fine line between a snakeperson and a lizard person, but delineations have been made. In other words, Bossk or that guy from THINNER will not be appearing on this list, as they are both too lizardy.
9) Saurod in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987)
Alas, poor Saurod. When Mattel demanded that Cannon Films include new characters so they could create new toys for He-Man, Saurod was one of the creations that made it to the screen. Essentially a cheap take on the bounty hunters of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, specifically the beloved Bossk but much more snake-like, Saurod doesn’t really do anything in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. He terrorizes young Courteney Cox a bit, and then ultimately is most remembered for being the henchman that Skeletor dispatches back in Castle Grayskull for seemingly no reason. Still, it’s a pretty cool creature design that was unfortunately wasted within a lesser Cannon entry.
8) Kala in THE GOLDEN CHILD (1986)
A play on the “dragonlady” archetype of Asian folklore, Kala is a mysterious figure that provides cryptic hints and information for the Eddie Murphy’s main character. Mostly seen in shadow behind a screen, it’s eventually revealed that she is a mythic creature with the chest and head of a woman, and the rest being a long serpentine tail. The effects haven’t really held up thirty years later, but it’s a nice moment of weirdness halfway through the film that adds to the weird fantasy vibes that increase as the movie continues.
7) Clark Newman’s hand in CURSE II: THE BITE (1989)
CURSE II: THE BITE has no real relationship with the first THE CURSE, except there are some transformations of people due to a weird substance. But in this entry, radioactive snakes bite Clark Newman (J. Eddie Peck) who slowly begins morphing into a horrific creature. Eventually Clark becomes this weird shell of a person who vomits up tiny snakes and loses eyes as he turns into a giant snake, but for the majority of the film the change is represented by his hand become a giant, bloodthirsty snakehead. It’s a silly film, which includes MASH‘s Jamie Farr tracking down the snakeman who is spends a lot of time terrorizing THE STEPFATHER‘s Jill Schoelen, but there is a great moment (seen below) where the snakehand attacks a doctor in a hospital. It’s a weird, goofy take on the snake/person hybrid that is certainly unique.
6) Medusa in CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)
As Ray Harryhausen’s swan song, CLASH OF THE TITANS has some of the innovative stop-motion animator’s most iconic creatures, including the Kraken. But it’s Harryhausen’s take on the queen of the Gorgons that fits this profile, as he transformed the famed mythic character from simply a woman with snakes on her head into a full on snakewoman who terrorizes Perseus and the rest. It’s a nice, retro effect that still works well today, especially for children, and is a great, iconic monster appearance that has persisted in pop culture lexicon for years.
5) Cobra Commander in G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE (1987)
In G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE, audiences were treated to all manner of goofiness. From the revelation of Cobra Commander’s origins, to the discovery of an ancient world known as Cobra-La and its freakish denizens, there was a lot going on that was pretty wacky. But perhaps the wackiest part, and an oddly tragic turn in the otherwise light fare, is the mutation of Cobra Commander into a snake person, and then eventually into a talking snake. It’s pretty ridiculous stuff, with the newly devolved supervillain getting paired with Roadblock, the rhyming (and body massage enthusiast) G.I. Joe musclebound member, as they navigate their way to defeat Serpentor, Nemesis Enforcer, and the rest of the nefarious members of Cobra-La. Like I said… goofy stuff.
4) Lady Sylvia Marsh in THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
Ken Russell’s trippy film of Bram Stoker’s novel THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM has great imagery along with hilarious performances from Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi, and especially Amanda Donohue as the villainous Lady Sylvia Marsh. It’s a campy performance of a great part that allows Donohue to vamp it up as the serpentine immortal menacing the small English town. She gets mesmerized by music—leading to some odd dancing segments; she terrorizes would be sacrifices with a large snake tooth/dildo she straps on, and occasionally even appears in all blue body paint before X-MEN made it cool. The best moment may be in the video below where she has a scout in her clutches and dispatches him with her venomous bite. It’s a very memorable villain from an unforgettable movie that more people should check out.
3) Freddy Snake in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS (1987)
This may be Freddy’s best transformation in the entire series, a feat realized through the combined efforts of writer Frank Darabont, director Chuck Russell, and f/x guru Kevin Yagher. The discomforting nightmare of Kristen (Patricia Arquette) culminates with the appearance of this expertly designed and realized creature effect, complete with all sorts of Freudian undercurrents, as it begins to devour the heroine whole. This design really threw down the gauntlet for the next phase of ELM STREET films, and opened the door for a lot more imaginative nightmare monsters to terrorize the unlucky teenagers in Springwood.
2) Thulsa Doom in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)
Watching James Earl Jones morph into a giant snake is a great WTF moment in an excellent film. CONAN THE BARBARIAN only dips its toes a little in the mystical elements of the stories of the Crom-worshipping Cimmerian, so moments when it goes full fantasy are still surprising. As a devotee to the serpent god Set, Thulsa Doom gives in to his deity’s ways and transforms into a massive snake (python? anaconda? not a herpetologist) as revelers party around him and Conan embarks on his siege of the palace. The effect isn’t seamless, mainly using cuts and passable casts of Jones’ face, but it is still unsettling to witness this mutation into a snake man and a remains an incredibly memorable part of John Milius’ film.
1) Snake Man/Tommy Ray in DREAMSCAPE (1984)
DREAMSCAPE, directed by Joseph Ruben (though doesn’t it feel like Joe Dante lite?), has a few wacky dream adventures but delves into full-blown horror mode when Alex (Dennis Quaid) enters the mind of a child haunted by nightmares of a Snake Man that plagues him every night. It’s a nice detour from the main conspiracy plot of dream assassins that is filmed in a great German expressionistic style and features excellent creature design and stop-motion work.
But the real payoff is that later in the film, in another creepy segment in the mind of a guilt-ridden President, antagonist Tommy Ray (the great David Patrick Kelly) adopts the form of the Snake Man, because he knows how much it freaked out Alex previously. These one-two punches of scenes are great monster work, creating a lasting character and imagery that may even haunt the dreams of a few audience members after seeing this movie.
Why’d I have to be snakes?
Latest posts by Rob Dean (see all)
Tags: Amanda Donohue, Bram Stoker, Cannon Films, Chuck Russell, Courteney Cox, David Patrick Kelly, Dennis Quaid, eddie murphy, Frank Darabont, Hugh Grant, James Earl Jones, Jamie Farr, Jill Schoelen, John Milius, Joseph Ruben, Ken Russell, Kevin Yagher, Lists, Patricia Arquette, Peter Capaldi, Robert Englund, Snakes