Jaws of Satan (1981)

I have to stop listening to other people because I almost lived a life with no JAWS OF SATAN in it. A cursory scan of other folk’s reactions to the film had me wrongly assuming it was just another bad movie. You know the drill, “Some movies are so bad they’re good, not this one! This one is so bad, it’s just bad.” First of all, I’ll be the judge of that and second of all, wrong. JAWS OF SATAN is not just another bad movie; it is a perfect amalgamation of everything that makes movies not good. I also find it highly entertaining and worth my time because there is never a second of it where it is not doing exactly what it shouldn’t. I stand a bit amazed, here is a film that wasn’t satisfied with being simply a failure of a Satan film, it had to take a crap in the animals run amuck cage too. Just think about the title for a moment, it tells you everything that you need to know.

A snake attacks a couple of men in the cargo area of a train, which naturally causes the entire train to quietly come to a halt. (Don’t worry, a “train wreck” of another kind is imminent.) It’s no ordinary snake because it is…Satan! The Satan snake is on a mission to kill a priest because well, priests burn brighter in hell apparently and this priest is extra special because he comes from a family of druids who kill snakes, so there’s that. Maybe the less we get into that swamp the better, the point is the snake who is Satan hates the priest and wants to bite him and chase him around a graveyard. (Silly Satan, you don’t have to chase priests these days, you can just sit back and they’ll come to you!) I’m not sure what will happen once the snake catches the priest but in the meantime other snakes are getting rowdy and biting non-priests all over a small town in Alabama.

Thankfully Dr. Sheridan is on the case and don’t assume like other people in this movie do that because I said “Dr.” that I’m taking about a boy either because Dr. Sheridan is A GIRL! (Did you just spit your coffee out in shock? Sorry.) Yes, Dr. Sheridan (GRETCHEN CORBETT of LET SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH) is a new type of woman who is a professional doctor and don’t you forget it! She’s a real poster girl for women’s lib too especially when after two people are bitten by snakes she exclaims, “It’s an epidemic and I can’t cope with it!” and then a snake shows up after she takes a shower and she calls a guy on the phone she just met to run over to her house to shoot it and then she breaks down crying hysterically and has to be slapped in the face before he sleeps with her and she makes him breakfast and then midway through the film for no reason whatsoever another guy on a motorcycle forces her car to the side of the road so he can make her fellate his hand gun until she is rescued by….a priest? No, a snake!

Considering the non-stop pilfering you’d think we’d end up with something that resembles a movie more than this mush but nah. We have a mayor who wants to keep the snake issue under wraps so as not to wreck the grand opening of a fancy dog racing track, a coroner who eats chicken right next to a corpse and ye old “It was only a cat!” routine. It’s like a who’s who of movie clichés. I don’t want to complain too much about the clichés though because it’s when then the movie decides to get creative that it really humps the daggit. As dumb as everything is throughout the course of the movie (the list of offences goes on and on) it’s toward the end when we really fall into an almost abstract experience with weird shoehorned dubbing, people appearing in two places at once or out of nowhere and a climax that plays out like a battle between man and mop handle. Did I mention that Satan snake likes to stand straight up on his tail? Adorable much?

There’s one great shot of Father Farrow (CREEPSHOW’s FRITZ WEAVER) strolling past a gnarled tree but most of the film looks ho-hum which is astonishing considering the cinematographer is DEAN CUNDY who you might remember from such films as every movie I ever loved. (HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, THE THING, PSYCHO 2 etc.) Personally I’m comfortable throwing all the blame on director BOB CLAVER’s lap on account of he went on to poke eyes out and scramble brains via television by directing two of the most lunatic series in the history of forever, SMALL WONDER and OUT OF THIS WORLD. Besides being hilarious as hell, one of the other things going for JAWS OF SATAN is that it marks the debut of CHRISTINA APPLEGATE as a tyke who gets locked in a closet with a snake at a dog race opening. Aw, how can you not like APPLEGATE after growing up with her as Kelly Bundy? Her real life mother NANCY PRIDDY even portrays her mom in the film. PRIDDY is apparently responsible for a well regarded psychedelic folk album and sang back up for LEONARD COHEN!

All in all, this movie does deliver on the bad movie front in spades. There’s always something perplexing going on and the snake-eye view cemetery chase is an absolute ridiculous must see. This movie ssssssssucks but if you have a taste for terrible, you really couldn’t beat it with a stick.

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Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night(@amanda-by-night)
10 years ago

You had me at Gretchen Corbett!

Must see!

10 years ago

PVW and I watched this over the weekend. We laughed and laughed throughout the movie. I scratched my head at things like the rapist dude on the motorcycle. What was the point of that? I also thought they should have expanded the scene featuring Southern teens trying to make out. Best part: snake+glass=thud and streaks.

Erin Lashley
Erin Lashley(@fb1453165731)
10 years ago

Ah, mayor who compromises everyone’s safety to save an upcoming event. You are one of my favorite horror movie archetypes.

Professor Von Whiskersen
Professor Von Whiskersen(@professor-von-whiskersen)
10 years ago

This movie is the most accurate representation of living in Alabama of any movie ever made. I didn’t WANT to have to kill those snakes, but every one of them was necessary…

aunt john
aunt john(@admin)
10 years ago

The sheer size of Dr. Sheridan’s forehead commanded my respect. She obviously has a big brain and was not one to hide it behind bangs.

10 years ago

I love the scene where Dr. Sheridan is trapped in her bed by a snake, yet has time to get on the phone, call for help and wait for the guy to run across town to her aid. Almost every scene in this is classic.

10 years ago

EegahInc, And how does she know his phone number? She just met the dude and she dials directly to his motel room?

10 years ago

Even after seeing more than one snakebite victim’s gruesome remains, having a big snake threaten her in bed, and hearing Father Farrow blather at length about Teh Eeevil Serpent, Doc Sheridan goes traipsing into a snake-filled cave with absolutely no protective gear or weapons whatsoever. Derrrrrp.

Can you believe the composer of this nails-on-chalkboard score was once nominated for an Oscar?

Favorite moment: Herpetologist not-really-a-boyfriend SLIDES GENTLY down a gravely incline, and is rendered completely unconscious. Somehow. It’s not quite as “wait…that’s IT?” as the climax, but Mother of God.

10 years ago

This is really good one, i saw it few times and each time i like it more.