When it comes to horror films the “Nature Attacks” subgenre is rife with both good and bad examples, from Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws to Irwin Allen’s hilariously bad The Swarm, but in 1982 director Bob Claver helmed a little gem called Jaws of Satan, where druids and curses were brought into the mix to add a little supernatural twist to things, which resulted in a film that, if anything else, cannot be considered dull.
I will admit that Jaws of Satan, or King Cobra as it was also known, does have a rather interesting start, with a king cobra using its telekinetic powers to escape a carnival train, but after that, the film rapidly goes downhill as the filmmakers never seem to come up with a cohesive plot for us to get invested in. We have the town librarian and local witch Evelyn Downs (Diana Douglas) foretelling that some great evil is after the soul of the town’s Roman Catholic priest, the Reverend Tom Farrow (Fritz Weaver), which he blows off as being nothing more than silly superstition, but Farrow isn’t the only one in danger as the Satanic king cobra is marshalling its forces and unleashing the local rattlesnake population to do his bidding. Dr. Maggie Sheridan (Gretchen Corbett) is concerned that not all of these attacks are the result of your average snake bite but the local coroner (Mark Richards), who is in the pocket of Mayor Grady Thorpe (Jack Gordon), has the bodies cremated before Maggie can bring in herpetologist Dr. Paul Hendricks (Jon Korkes) to verifying her suspicions. Lucky for Maggie, Evelyn shows up dead with the same strange snake bite and Hendricks is quick to point out that this is like no snake attack he’s ever seen.
And just why is Mayor Thorpe so concerned with a potential snake threat that he resorts to covering up snake attacks? Simply put, this film is attempting to be a Jaw rip-off and thus we get a subplot about Thorpe and real estate developer Matt Perry (Bob Hannah) opening a dog track in their town and they can’t have panic over snake attacks endangering their grand opening, basically, we swap out “We can’t close the beaches, it’s the Fourth of July” for “We can’t postpone the dog track opening, we could lose investors” so yeah, this is pretty sad and makes no bloody sense. At one point Perry even explains his reasoning to his wife about the dog track, declaring that “This is the biggest thing to ever happen to this state” but is it really? Is the state of Alabama so lame that something like a dog track would make headlines and boost the economy? That the Mayor and Perry threaten jail time if Maggie or Hendricks cause any trouble that could jeopardize the opening is simply hilarious.
But this film isn’t just attempting to rip off Jaws we also have the supernatural element to contend with, and for that, we get The Monsignor (Norman Lloyd) informing Farrow that back in the day one of his great ancestors really pissed off some Druids, burning down their shrines and the like will do that, so the druid high priest cursed him and his descendants, all the way down to Farrow and his father, but this brings up the question “Why exactly is a druidic curse using a satanic snake as its weapon?” Druids were known to perform human sacrifices but they were a pagan religion and had nothing to do with Satan or his snake-like familiars, thus this back story makes about as much sense as corrupt politicians worrying about the success of something as stupid as a dog track.
• I guy playing craps rolls “Snake Eyes” while transporting a king cobra to a carnival and is then attacked by the snake, and that’s what I call on-the-nose foreshadowing.
• Evelyn reads the coffee grounds of Father Farrow and foresees evil coming to take his soul, and that’s why I stick to tea leaves, they tend to give less threatening foretellings.
• This film keeps alive the standard trope that all coroners are quirky individuals who constantly eat while examining bodies.
• When Dr. Paul Hendricks arrives to meet Dr. Sheridan, he assumes Maggie was sent to bring him to the meeting because who would believe Maggie could be a doctor? This sexist “meet cute” lasted way too long in movies.
• A rattlesnake crawls onto Maggie’s bed and her first thought is to call Hendricks at his motel, hoping he’d get there in time to save her, as opposed to maybe throwing a pillow at the snake and saving herself.
• The mayor hires a biker to get rid of Maggie, who runs her off the road and proceeds to sexually assault her, but the rape is interrupted by the king cobra, and I’m left pondering “What the fuck is going on, did the Devil just prevent a rape?”
• Fritz Weaver fleeing the king cobra and running straight into an open grave, in broad daylight, is probably one of the dumbest things to ever appear in a horror film. The snake doesn’t finish off Farrow here, probably because it’s too embarrassed to kill such an inept priest.
The key failure here is that the filmmakers didn’t quite have a handle on what kind of movie they were trying to make because neither the “Nature Attack” element nor the “Evil Curse” subplot works well together, it’s like someone took the script of a Jaws rip-off, mixed it with the script of an Exorcist knock-off and then called it a day, not worrying if any of it made a lick of sense. I was also put off by the Satanic king cobra out-sourcing his kills to the local snakes, if you’ve got supernatural powers why rely on a bunch of random rattlers to get it done for you? Now, one could let the nonsensical premise of this movie slide if we got some cool horror moments but there is not one single frame of this film that generates a modicum of tension or scares, the snake attacks were so poorly choreographed as to be laughable, basically, Jaws of Satan provided us with a ludicrous premise that was then crippled by a complete lack of scares and is mostly guilty of being a little boring.
Jaws of Satan (1982)
Movie Rank - 3/10
Snakes are pretty scary creatures yet somehow the people making this movie managed to undercut their innate scariness and gave us a film where the biggest threat is idiot politicians.