Anaconda (1997) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The new episode of the Black Sheep video series looks back at the 1997 film Anaconda, starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight

The Anaconda episode of The Black Sheep was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Ryan Cultrera, Produced by Lance Vlcek and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

I’ll be the first to admit my mistakes. When I made that Alligator 2 defense, and no, doing that video is not the mistake I’m referring to, I mentioned that the giant monster movie had become somewhat of a lost art, particularly in the ’90s. Then I ended up rewatching Anaconda (watch it HERE) and realized I had totally forgotten about it. That’s because it got lost in the likes of Deep Blue Sea and Lake Placid. Both those movies seem to have longer lasting impacts. Deep Blue Sea has that great surprise kill and Lake Placid has, well, it has Betty White. There are others, too. The Relic is a gory fun time, Bats isn’t a giant animal but has fun with the idea of murderous bats, and Deep Rising is just a blast. Now I’m not saying that Anaconda is better than all of these flicks, but it deserves more than being buried and is a step above a couple of them. Let’s take a look at what makes a 25-foot snake monster more fun than it sounds.

Now, again, this isn’t about being better than the other creature features that are released around the same time, it’s simply about being better than the forgotten entry into that sub-genre that it is. 1997 in horror specifically was an interesting year. We had independent breakthroughs like Larry Fessenden’s Addiction, sequels to big name franchises like Amityville, Scream, Alien, and Leprechaun, and wholly original works like Event Horizon, Wishmaster, and Mimic. While almost all of those are either more fondly remembered or received sequels or both, Anaconda came, was successful, and went. Like I said, the movie was successful. It made 137 million on its 45-million-dollar budget and it did get sequels. It got three standalone sequels before being paired with its most famous contemporary in Lake Placid vs Anaconda. I thought about talking about one of those, particularly the second one which is way better than it has any right to be, but the original deserves its due.

Written by a trio of men with varying degrees of credits and directed by a lesser-known journeyman director. That director, Luis Llosa, made a couple of 80s movies with the Erik Estrada vehicle Hour of the Assassin and Crime Zone starring David Carradine. Before Anaconda he would mix military action and environmental pictures. Sniper, 800 Leagues Down the Amazon, The Specialist, and Fire on the Amazon would kind of give him the experience needed to shoot on a river but after this, he would only get 2 more directorial jobs in the next 25 years. Two of the three writers, Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr, were a sort of team. They penned Dick Tracy, Turner and Hooch, and even Top Gun together. It’s amazing what I find out doing the research for these movies. Why Anaconda needed 3 writers is something I don’t think we will ever know but the third writer, Hans Bauer, also wrote the story for Titan A.E. and best horror movie you never saw Highwaymen.

Anaconda The Black Sheep

In front of the camera is one of the strangest and most diverse casts you could find. It is also violently 90’s in a way few titles can match. The two main protagonists are Danny and Terri who happen to be played by Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube. Then you have the backup protagonists, who are mostly fodder, in Steven, Warren, Gary, and Denise. For these roles we were given Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer, and Jonathan Hyde. It’s missing something though. How about a past his prime academy award winning actor? Jon Voight is the true villain of this picture as Paul Serone in what I hope is even in the realm of a realistic accent from Paraguay. To add two cherries to the top of this Sunday you have Danny Trejo as the first snake victim and Frank Welker, you know, the voice of Scooby-Doo for over 50 years, as the snake. It’s a fun group and you root for almost all of these guys.

The movie opens with a boat stranded and Danny Trejo calling for help on the CB. Something attacks his boat and it scares him enough that he climbs to the top of the vessel before shooting himself rather than be taken by whatever awaits below. The movie wears its Jaws influence on its sleeve here as it goes above and beyond to keep the actual snake hidden from view for really much of the movie. This ends up being a good decision as while the actual practical snake looks fine enough, mostly, the CGI is, well, its not good. It’s not like Tales from the Hood or Night of the Demons 2 bad by any means but it holds up the least out of anything we’ll talk about today. Whatever they did to make the actors look like they are being wrapped up and twisted by the CGI snake looks good but it’s somewhat undone by the goofy looking computer image. It’s not like it had a small budget either but when you look at something like The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 it gets blown away. To be fair, the first Jurassic Park four years earlier still looks amazing today and was able to blend CGI and practical to great effect.

We then meet Jennifer Lopez who is there with her camera man Ice Cube to shoot a documentary. The rest of the cast play the narrator, sound engineer, production manager, and a real anthropologist to help them find the long thought lost indigenous tribe. They don’t all get along and don’t all come from the same background, but it works, especially as they all eventually bond against poacher Serone who is willing to sacrifice all of them to get his giant anaconda. They find his boat stuck in the rain and its clear, to us anyway, that boat driver Mateo and Serone have a history, but Doctor Cale is a good dude and offers to take him anyway. This comes back to bite him as their boat gets stuck in the river and when he goes down to free it, he ends up getting a poisonous wasp to the throat. Serone has other plans and takes over the boat under the lie that he wants to get Dr. Cale some help and knows a shortcut. He also just happened to know of and where the tribe they are looking for are. Look don’t let the plot get in the way of the movie for this one.

When they come across the boat from the first scene, we discover that Mateo, Serone, and dead Danny Trejo are all poachers in it for the money. Mateo gets eaten but the rest of the crew still haven’t seen the snake. Horny Denise and Gary almost get upended by a boar but no big snake yet. That changes when the Anaconda attacks the boat at night and kills Gary. The way the snake wraps around its prey to crush and bite them is cool. You can almost feel their bones being crushed under it’s massive weight. While Terri tries to kill the snake and save Gary, Serone knocks her over before he too is taken captive and tied up. It should also be said that Gary sealed is fate when he sides with Serone to find the snake and get some cash out of it. Between being greedy and sex crazed, you KNOW he wasn’t going to make it. With Serone out of commission, the rest of the crew head home and hope to get Cale the help he needs.

Anaconda The Black Sheep

This is that bonding I talked about earlier. Westridge is just as stuffy as his name and there is a conflict early on involving golf and loud music. By this point in the movie though, they are all survivors, for now anyway, and discussing the first thing they are going to do when they get back to civilization. Of course, there’s dichotomy here but its fun to see them get along so well. Denise though is too distraught though and while the rest of the group goes to cut the boat free of its shackles when it gets trapped near a waterfall, she goes for the kill on Serone. He kept calling her baby bird in the absolute creepiest way and he is able to use her grief to overtake her and we have the only non-snake death in the movie. He snaps her neck and drops her body in the water. The Anaconda comes back for an easy meal and Westridge essentially sacrifices himself, again some cool character growth here, to let the others onto the boat. The snake is shot and Serone goes crazy, attempting to kill the remaining survivors. A groggy Dr. Cale stabs him with a tranquilizer and passes out again.

We then get the tried-and-true false ending where the remaining crew finds a dock to get gas but its been a trap from Serone. The snake they killed wasn’t the biggest thing out there and Serone has our heroes tied up as bait. They are able to break free and turn the tables on Serone. He gets a little tenderized and a lot eaten which just leaves Danny and Terri to kill the hunter. As they run throughout the dock house and figure out how to kill it, the snake realizes its mobility isn’t quite there with a surly Oscar winner jamming up its gullet. It spits out Serone who is now melted like you took a Hot Pocket out of the microwave a tad too late and he has the AUDACITY to wink at Terri before falling over dead. This is dumb and silly and a 12 year old me loved every second of it in theaters. I remember arguing that he may not be actually dead and could come back for the sequel. He didn’t and we would eventually get hassled by the Hoff in the third movie. But I’ll wait for Tyler to discuss that Awfully Good Horror Movie.

Danny and Terri hatch a plan to blow the snake up and almost get caught but make it out as a badly done CGI snake floats down into the water. Fake ending number 2 ensues before Danny finally gets an axe into its head and a classic ’90s closing quip. They are safe and of course are treated to finding the tribe they were looking for the whole time. The cast would go on to make other horror movies, some better like The Cell, The Mummy, or Crimson Peak, and some that aren’t as good like The Haunting or… nearly everything Kari Wuhrer did in the mid 2000s. Anaconda was nominated for tons of Razzies and other bad movie awards shows and may not be as fondly remembered as some of the giant animal movies I mentioned at the start but it deserves better. I wont let it go into the mist of the amazon and be forgotten to time because I had just as much fun as twelve year old me did rewatching this and the movie is a good time. Check it out and let its charm twist around you.

A couple of the previous episodes of The Black Sheep can be seen below. To see more, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.