The Bigger & Badder Halloween Top 13: #13: Anaconda (1997)

The day has finally arrived. With only 13 days until the biggest holiday of the year (for me, at least), I've been looking forward since last year to penning this list of giant monsters, colossal critters, and enormous animals. Today, I kick off the countdown with a film that is near and dear to my heart. Way back in 1997 I watched today's flick in the theater, and instantly I knew two things, the special effects would be out of date by next week and I had just witnessed what should have become one of the new cult classics. Unfortunately, time has not been on my side of the latter argument. While I'm sure the film has found more than a few admirers, perhaps few have realized it's full potential as one of the best party movies ever made. From the insanely inspired performances to the laughable twist on Moby Dick, there's really nothing here for a cult film fan not to like. So join me, along with a rapper, an American Idol judge, a guy whose had the same haircut for 20 plus years, Angelina's dad, and Danny Trejo for a ride on the Amazon in a little something that I like to call Anaconda.

Dr. Stephen Cale (Eric Stoltz) and his team of documentarians including the director Terri (Jennifer Lopez), cameraman Danny (Ice Cube), sound guy Gary (Owen Wilson), script supervisor Denise ( Kari Wuhrer)  and narrator Warren (Johnathan Hyde) set out to record a film on the Amazon river detailing the lives of a lost native population. When they ask snake hunter Paul (Jon Voight) for his assistance in finding the Indians, he does more than that, he takes over the entire ship. When Stephen is taken out of commission by a deadly South American wasp, Terri is ready to run for help, but with Paul as their only guide, he has other ideas. He's done poaching little game, and now he has his sights set on a 40 foot long version of the deadly Anaconda, which sold into captivity could make him famous and very rich. Holding the crew at gunpoint, he forces them into a deadly game with the snake, and soon the crew is beginning to dwindle. As the fight between man and nature rages on, Paul forgets that he still must face off man to man as Terri and Danny fight for their survival.

I'll get to J.Lo. I have plenty of material on the snake. I won't leave Stoltz out like I was directing Back to the Future. Do not fret, I will speak on former African Americans With Negative Temperaments  but before I get to any of that, I have to get my fangs into Jon Voight. I can only imagine that instead of telling Jon he was going to be in a movie, they merely asked him to show up to a boat party as the most outlandish character he could dream up because no other explanation makes sense out of this turn by the one time Midnight Cowboy. Spinning an accent which occasionally sounds like a Spaniard, Voight primarily channels the mush mouthed performances of Marlon Brando in The Godfather with a bit of Apocalypse Now sprinkled in with guidance by Jean Claude Van Damme's vocal coach in Hard Target. I don't think there is a better word to describe what happens onscreen as inspired. I mean look at that face in the picture. That's not some weird freeze frame. It just cuts to him and he's doing this for an extended period of time before it goes back to Ms. Lopez staring at him. I can't imagine what he was like on set unless he just saved every ounce of everything to pour on the screen. While Anaconda makes the list because of the overlarge reptile lift one display, Jon Voight's performance itself I feel counts as a giant monster because it nearly eats this whole film. If you've seen it, then you know what I mean by "the wink", and if not, see it to find out.

Now that Jon got his paragraph, and deservedly so, let me move on to the attraction that brings us to Anaconda. First off, the title is a bit misleading. There should already be an 'S' on the end there because they protagonists face at least two, and perhaps three, of the slithery baddies on display. Perhaps they were holding the plural for the sequel because, when it finally materialized in 2004, it came correct as Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. However, that film is absolute shit, and don't get me started about parts 3 and 4 because we're not here to talk about them and that would be weird if I suddenly did. In 1997, as I stated earlier, the effects for the snake, a mixture of puppetry, rubber creatures, and what was on the cusp of being outdated CGI effects even then, looked pretty bad. It only gets worse during moments when it is supposed to be moving fast or, heaven forbid, eating people. The moment when it swims by underwater and you can see the outline of a screaming person being digested is all I have to tell you about the care the creators of Anaconda took to make the snakes seem real. They also tend to scream a lot, or whatever it is they were doing, which a snake friendly friend of mine described technically as "a bunch of crap.". That folks, is good enough for me. Though I would like to note that Frank Welker is credited with the "voice" of the snake, and while that may not be a household name, you might be surprised at how many times you've heard him as Fred from Scooby Doo and in dozens of other cartoons.

So in my world Jon Voight gets top billing and then the snake. Now we get to the rest of them. This seems like light years ago for Jennifer Lopez. I mean she practically made Anaconda when she was still Jenny from the block. That was when she used to have a little, and now, my friends, the word is that she has a lot. Surprisingly  what she doesn't have a lot of in Anaconda is a decent wardrobe. It's just bad and dreary, and if you made a drinking game out of taking a shot after every time she put her hair up or took it down, then you wouldn't even make it to the halfway point without a hospital visit. Lopez is not bad, but I've seen her be more compelling in other movies such as Out of Sight, The Cell, and Enough. This is actually one of Ice Cube's better performances on an average that now includes Are We There Yet?, and surely one of the biggest snakes he had ever fought with since the passing of Eazy-E. Cube and Lopez make a good team in the film's climax, but where was the theme song from the two of them? That's what I really want to know.

Owen Wilson pops up here with the haircut that defined a career, and he shows off all the same subtle acting cues that still make him unwatchable today. He was paired with Kari Wuhrer, and I thought her acting was better by far. The only one who really came to act was Jonathan Pryce who not only plays a magnificent douche bag in the film's front end, but also has the only dynamic character that it really felt like it mattered when he got Anaconda'd. Danny Trejo, who scores something like third of fourth billed as the movie comes on, gets offed in the first minute of the film, but it's interesting to see him back then because he was so much smaller. Perhaps he was Danny Dosjo and bulked up to Trejo. I hope he doesn't get any larger though because Cuatrojo is a name that will kill a career. There was one cast member that really bothered me, Vincent Castellanos as the boat driver Mateo. It never would have occurred to me before this viewing, but he looks just like a Jon Hamm SNL character waiting to happen and it kept distracting me.

By this point, some of you might be questioning my sanity because of either the level of jokes in this review, my unnatural love for Anaconda and its' inclusion on my countdown, or because that's what you normally do, but I have good reason to have placed Anaconda at Number 13 on the Bigger & Badder. First off, this movie is pretty damn big and pretty damn bad, in all the right ways. As a cult/genre film fan, there's something magical about a movie that doesn't just beg to be re-watched, but begs to be re-watched with friends. Who will make the best Voight face? Who will notice the waterfall going backwards? How many references to Sean "Puffy" Combs, Marley & Me, and not having to use one's A.K. will come to pass before the evening is over? So I placed this on my list both because I think it's a hell of a fun movie, but also because as you begin to plan Halloween get-togethers, I encourage you to add Anaconda  to your list of party films. That brings to a close the first bite of The Bigger & Badder Halloween Top 13. I hope you all enjoyed it, and please join me back every day for the rest of this month as I put the squeeze on giants! Don't forget to scroll down under the trailer to check out my first submitted list of Bigger and Badder features.

Bugg Rating

Today's list comes to us by way of the man, the myth, the legend in his own time, Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror. Mr. Solomon has long been a supporter of The LBL, and if memory serves me correctly, he has participated in all five years of the event. He is truly a wonderful person and a great writer. So if you don't know his stuff, then know it!

Here's Brian's list:

1. Gojira
2. King Kong
3. The Host
4. It Came from Beneath the Sea
5. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster
6. Them!
7. The Blob
8. Jurassic Park
9. Godzilla: Final Wars
10. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
11. Cloverfield
12. Frankenstein Conquers the World
13. The Giant Claw

And a great list it is. I wonder if we're going to see any of those titles coming up? To find out and to see more of what my friends and I love when it comes to giant beasties and colossal creatures, tune in every day at 6PM EST for the next entry all the way up to the big day!


  1. I dont get people who say that Anaconda is so-bad-it's-good.From the first time i watched the movie in 1998 I fell in love with it and judging by its box office success I am not the only one.
    I also appreciated the Ice Cube and J. Lo duo. I mean it is not in every horror movie that a black guy lives to see the end credits.

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  8. The wink! I also enjoy Anaconda as a party movie. It's just so joyously ridiculous, and while the effects WERE outdated a week after its debut, they also continue to look a hair better than most of what airs on SyFy today. And based on watching Jon Voight milk a weird southern accent in Karate Dog, I'm thinking he went entirely insane right about the time of this movie and has brought that energy to every movie since. I am fine with that.

  9. This is one that I need to go back and give another looksey. I haven't seen it since opening weekend 1997, and I don't really remember having much of an opinon one way or another. I do remember watching Siskel and Ebert reviewing it and they both said unironically that Voight deserved an Oscar nomination.

    I have to disagree with you on "Blood Orchid." I actually find that one to be quite a bit of fun, but I have a weird fascination with Johnny Messner.

  10. Waitaminute...Johnathan Pryce is in this? I don't remember that!


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