Anacondas: the Hunt for the Blood Orchid

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Here it is, the sequel nobody asked for. Few people were surprised when a sequel to 1997's ANACONDA was announced. What was surprising was that it wasn't going straight-to-video. What could they have been thinking? Surely they know that the original gained a following mainly for being so idiotic? The studio greenlit the film and shuffled it off to the last week of the summer movie season, where films go to die.

ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID seems to know that its pedigree is almost nonexistent. It doesn't try to live up to any preconceived notions. It knows it won't outgross the new Roland Emmerich film, even though it should. So, it takes a laid back approach. It is content to be a fun little B-movie thriller. The interesting thing is it succeeds.

This is not the type of film you track down if you want a serious, terrifying horror film. That's not the audience for this film and you know it. ANACONDAS will appeal to you if you are a fan of either:

A. Those straight-to-video nature run amok films, all of which have a new lease on life thanks to the video success of the original ANACONDA.

Or B. Good old-fashioned jungle adventures in the vein of H. Rider Haggard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. The type of film where the jungle is an obstacle course of nature's most wondrous and most terrifying foes.

If you fall into either of these two categories, then get your leopard loincloths ready. This is a film so delightfully dopey that it triggers a sense of nostalgia for a time when not every movie tried to dress up in daddy's tux.

First of all, this has absolutely nothing to do with the original ANACONDA. It's not even set in the same place. The closest we get to a real connection is one character who briefly mentions the incidents of the first film, "I had a friend who had a friend who shot documentaries..." This film starts out with a pharmaceutical company on the verge of bankruptcy. They manage to delay the company's funeral by announcing they've discovered a plant in Borneo called the Blood Orchid. The flower allegedly has healing properties that liken it to a Fountain of Youth. The only problem is it only grows once every few decades and within two weeks, the flower will disappear forever. The company bets everything it has on a trip to Borneo to retrieve the flower.

And let's meet our one-dimensional cast of characters. There's the two heads of the company. One is a greedy bastard (Morris Chestnut - TWO CAN PLAY THAT GAME, BREAKIN' ALL THE RULES) and the other is a greedy bastard who is also British, hence evil (Matthew Marsden - HELEN OF TROY). Representing the shareholders is a no-nonsense businesswoman (Salli Richardson-Whitfield - ANTWONE FISHER) always willing to take charge and/or flirt with with rest of the group. There is also the comic relief (Eugene Byrd - 8 MILE), the intelligent and sexy assistant (KaDee Strickland - THE GRUDGE, ANYTHING ELSE) and some other assorted snake chow.

The group gets to Borneo in the middle of a very rough storm season. No one will go out on the waters. So the group hires a Dangerous Loner with Nothing to Lose (capitalized for all the subtlety given his character) with the dangerous name of... Bill Johnson. Wait, let me check that again. Bill Johnson? Shouldn't his name be Wolf or Hawk or some other dangerous animal? Okay, Bill Johnson it is. No wonder he tries so hard to be a badass. As portrayed by Johnny Messner (TEARS OF THE SUN), Bill is the film's answer to Indiana Jones, Alan Quatermain and Doc Savage all rolled into one. Really he reminded be of Willard from GWENDOLINE, but coming from me, that's a huge compliment. This is a guy who always keeps a machete nearby, who showers once a month whether he needs to or not, who you imagine kills his own food on a daily basis and likes it. Messner is so wonderfully macho in the part that the filmmakers could have replaced him with a walking erection midway through and I probably wouldn't have noticed.

Anyway, so they set sail on Johnson's boat, ominously named the Bloody Mary. No surprise, it's the biggest piece of junk in the country, and this is Borneo. They come across heavy waters and dangerous terrain. Soon it becomes evident that they should turn around but the more greedy people on the expedition convince Bill to go ahead anyway without informing the more conscientious members of the crew.

Soon, the group is stranded with no ways to get out of the jungle. The weather is getting worse and nobody knows where they are. Worse yet, there are snakes. Big snakes. Huge snakes. In the time-honored sequel tradition, ANACONDAS tries to up the ante from its predecessor. We already know from the title that there is more than one snake. But they're bigger and faster too. This is something considering that the original featured a 40 foot contraption that defied the laws of physics. This time, the snakes are 60-80 feet and go so fast that I'm now trying to convince my folks to trade in their gas-guzzling Ford Taurus for a jungle snake.

This is impossible of course. But give the film props for not simply shrugging off the size and speed of the suckers. They comment at length on this phenomena and finally offer an explanation. To the film's credit, it is a nice explanation that figures prominently into the film's plot and helps bring the whole thing full circle. Which is not to say that it isn't total bullshit. We don't need a great scientific explanation here, we just need one that's good enough for jazz. If this were the fifties, they'd chalk it up to atomic testing and call it a day.

Anyway, the snakes are getting more and more frequent (they actually never encounter the same snake more than once) and much more frisky. They realize that the closer they get to their destination, the closer they are getting to an entire nest of Anacondas.

The original ANACONDA was terrible in such an entertaining way it would be impossible to repeat. The original presented us with a cast of rising stars (including Jennifer Lopez before she concentrated on being a mediocre pop star) who all got served up as meat for one hungry and very persistent snake. It offers loads of impossible situations where the audience just gaffawed in disbelief. The only one who seemed in on the joke was Jon Voight who hammed it up for the entire film. The film's highlight was when he was swallowed up and then spit out whole by the title character.

The sequel, ANACONDAS: HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID makes the wise decision of not trying to repeat the original's camp value. Camp is a difficult thing to do intentionally. So, director Dwight H. Little plays things very straight. It is not trying to be a yuk-fest and although the film is ridiculous from beginning to end, there are no scenes to compare with Eric Stoltz's brief and miraculous recovery from the original. It exists well on it's own terms. We might not take the film too seriously, but they do and it works.

And there are silly things to be sure. Notice anything strange about the film's geography? If you noticed that there are no Anacondas in Borneo, give yourself a gold star. There are also no squirrel monkeys or the tropical birds of the type encountered in the film. You'd think one of the seven writers would have noticed this (Waitminute. Seven writers? Seven?!?). Really, Hollywood execs don't know and don't care about realism in the world. No wonder few scientists watch network television. The filmmakers typically play darts with a map and decide on whatever exotic location they hit. They do all of this, because they know they'll really get crucified if they just say, "Our film takes place in Big Scary Jungle, hidden in the depths of Country Where Non-White People Live."

The cast is mostly unremarkable. Many of the stars of the original were either on their way up or down from big things. Chances are you won't see too many of these people in big name roles. There are a couple exceptions. KaDee Strickland proves herself to be an engaging and charismatic performer who really good do something with a more well-rounded role. Messner earns my applause simply for raising the bar on pure gruffness a few notches.

The only really bad performance comes from Eugene Byrd, partially because of some poor writing. Someone in the script pool said, "Hey, we need an annoying character who screams a lot, waves his arms around, complains about how scared he is and provides lame comic relief." That character is inhabited by Byrd and if the above statement is all that's required, he can only be accused of overachieving. His performance is the type of grating obnoxiousness that has made every sane person in the world hate the likes of David Arquette and Marlon Wayans.

A reason that the film works is expert pacing by director Dwight H. Little. The film doesn't play like a straight horror until midway through, relying on jungle adventure for much of the running time. And you know what? It works. Little has a long history of salvaging films few people cared about. I may be one of the people who wanted Michael Myers to stay dead at the end of HALLOWEEN II, but Little's HALLOWEEN 4 was a good little slasher film.

Far from calling it a great film, we still forgive ANACONDAS for crimes we would hold against other films. It makes ludicrous decisions but is so darn charming about it, that it all becomes part of the fun. This marks the return of the fun Dwight Little who gave us the Robert Englund version of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. If that's not a selling point to you, stay away. Otherwise, you know who you are and welcome. For 96 minutes, ANACONDAS: HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID manages to entertain its skeptical crowd.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis