Jaws of Satan (1981)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-05-03 03:32

Written by: James Callaway (story), Gerry Holland (screenplay)
Directed by: Bob Claver
Starring: Fritz Weaver, Gretchen Corbett, and Jon Korkes

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

With a title like Jaws of Satan, am I absolved of the obligatory and obvious observation that this is another rip-off sprung from the loins of Steven Spielbergís immortal classic? Itís all right there. The other, more demonic component of that title represents another 70s staple, so this one is maybe a disco number short of being a one-stop shop for that decadeís horror output. Despite the title, however, this one isnít ďJaws with pitchforksĒ or whatever, but rather, ďJaws with fangs and forked tongues,Ē as the dark lord takes on his original, serpentine form in an effort to conquer the world one small town at a time.

In this case, itís a Podunk hole-in-the-wall in Alabama (so, Alabama, basically), where passengers on a nearby train are killed in what appears to be a mysterious accident to the locals. Viewers are let in on the secret, though: the men were attacked by a bunch of snakes, which are now slithering their way to the town. Their target? A priest (Fritz Weaver) who hails from a family with a proud history for destroying snakes. With the help of a couple of scientists (Gretchen Corbett and Jon Korkes), Father Farrow must unravel this mystery and take up the family mantle before Satan (in the form of one giant-ass snake) drags him to hell.

And you thought Jaws: The Revenge was ludicrous. As it turns out, Satan was making it personal six years earlier, and however wacky its concept may be, Jaws of Satan doesnít consistently deliver on any level. As a bad movie, itís simply bad in a dull way: none of the performances are particularly noteworthy (save for an early appearance by a young Christina Applegate), nor is the film particularly exciting in a trashy manner. Unlike many of the films in Jawsís wake, this one doesnít lean on an abundance of schlock, which would be an admirable approach if it had much else going for it. Alas, it simply slithers along without much urgency or self-awareness; of all the creatures that could run amok, snakes may be among the most skin-crawlingly creepy, but they arenít exactly the most grave of threats.

Jaws of Satan doesnít do much to alleviate such concerns by making a laughable concept even more laughable by charging ahead with such profundity. Of course thereís some crisis of faith stuff wrapped up in here (gotta hit those Exorcist beats too), but itís difficult to take seriously when most of the film is devoted to snake attacks of varying effectiveness. Some of the surprise attacks make for decent jump scares and tap into the creaturesí creepiness, but the less confined spaces arenít as harrowing. A sequence in a hotel room is sort of silly, while the filmís most memorable scene is noteworthy only for its sheer absurdity. Following a funeral, Farrow and a fellow priest discover that the Satanic snake is also hanging out, waiting to strike; instead of sneaking up, though, Satan makes his presence known, thus giving the two ample time to flee. Undeterred, Satan keeps slithering right along for a ludicrous chase scene that asks viewers to believe that these two guys canít just outpace a huge snake. Instead, Farrow has to resort to falling into an open grave and relying on the power of Christ to compel Satan to leave him alone (the line isnít actually uttered, unfortunately).

There are other, more minor absurdities sprinkled in to keep Jaws of Satan just interesting enough for a few laughs. John McCurry is a real bozo of a town sheriff who keeps insisting everything is alright even as heís loading up the meat wagon with Satanís latest victims. On the other hand, Korkes doesnít screw around with the killer asps and chooses to dispose of one by splattering its brains at point-blank-range in the filmís best and goriest effects sequence. Even the filmís requisite Jaws subplot is kind of charming: instead of fretting over closing the beaches, this mayor is worried about the annual dog races. Unfortunately, that doesnít provide an awesome, climactic set-piece, as the ending instead involves a bunch of guys attempting to bag Satanís slithering minions before Farrow realizes heís endowed with a literal Deus ex machina with which to wrap things up.

Of all the nature run amok offerings from this period, Jaws of Satan is certainly one of the more unremarkable, even if it does boast some remarkable talent in the form of Dean Cundey, who finds a few inspired shots here and there. Still, this is nothing thatís going to be on the Lifetime Achievement reel or anything. Jaws of Satan might feature an inspired and unexpected mix of creature-feature and occult horror, but itís not well-made or schlocky enough to excel in either category. Perhaps unsurprisingly, itís remained so obscure that it still hasnít made it to DVD in the States; it was streaming on Netflix (with a restored widescreen transfer, even), but it was a casualty in the recent, semi-apocalyptic purge that saw several films of this ilk rendered unavailable. Even though itís not nearly the most essential of titles, one has to wonder just how many obscure films will come and go in the foreseeable future on the whims of studio contracts. Some might not count Jaws of Satan as a huge loss, but where else are you going to find a movie where Lucifer actually thwarts an attempted rape? I guess he does owe women a solid after that forbidden fruit business. Rent it!

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