The Serpent Warriors (1985) aka Calamity of Snakes (1982)

From the Editor’s Desk, December 10, 2022: Pure insanity! As with Delirium (out now) and UFO: Target Earth (coming in 2023), both which we previously reviewed on a whim just because we love ’em, here’s another obscurity that’s readying for a reissue. (Well, not a “whim,” per se: the reviews were inspired by our “Video Nasty Week” and “Space Week” features.)

On December 10, Unearthed Films (with a special thanks to the gang at Dawn of the Discs Facebook) officially announced the April 11, 2023, Blu-ray release of the original Calamity of Snakes as an official 2k scan restore-remaster for preservation in the Hong Kong Category III horror cinema annals.

The bonus materials include: A commentary from Nathan Hamilton and Brad Slaton, a Full Length Documentary: From Shaw to Snakes: The Venom and Violence of Early Chinese Language Horror Cinema, and Reptilian Recollections: Lin Kuang-Yung In Conversation With Chui-Yi Chung. The release, which comes with an English dub and subtitles, features three cuts: the Full Uncut version, an Alternate Cut, and a Cruelty Free Cut (but there is so much cruelty in Calamity, e.g., the hard-to-watch, extended snakes vs. mongooses battle, the jumping (well, thrown) snakes vs. samurai sword battle, the gassing and flame throwings—complete with their dying-wiggling aftermath—what’s left in that cut?).

Based on the likes, shares, and comments on the Unearthed post, everyone is clamoring for the calamity on this one!

“I’m sick of these mother f’in snakes in this mother f’in plane!” shouts Samuel L. Jackson. Only, there is no plane. But there is a temple (of dud and not doom). And we have Eartha Kitt in place of Samuel L. Jackson.

“John Howard didn’t make this or Scorpion! He only made Spine, you stupid mother f’er. Don’t make me go medieval!” threatens Mr. Jackson on your VHS-lovin’ ass.

Yes, ye analog warrior of the snowy tundras: Contrary to the web-chatter: B&S About Movies brings you this caveat emptor regarding the “specialty video” oeuvre of writer-director John Howard, he of the shot-on and edited-on 3/4-inch video, lo-res and audio-buzzing Big Box/SOV horror-classic Spine.

Nope. John Howard never went “mainstream” and he never worked outside of the adult film industry. Not only did the John Howard of Spine fame not direct the 1986 Tony Tulleners-starring Scorpion (he did, however, direct the Linnea Quigley one, also released in 1986), he did not direct this Hong Kong-Taiwan actioner. Hey, you know how it is with these Asian-Pacific Rim-produced oddities from the ‘80s VHS fringe: they’re infamous for their untraceable, Americanized director-pseudonyms—thus the John Howard-confusion.

So sure, with our adult film knowledge and the infamy of Spine, the name of “John Howard” piqued our interest—at first. Then we see the what-the-hell-why-not-we-need-a-paycheck kitchen sink cast and say, “Oh, hell yes! We must watch this!”

Yep. The same “New Line” that repacked the ’70s TV movie Death in Space.

Seriously, how can you turn away from a film starring ‘60s TV cowboy Clint Walker (in his final film) from our beloved TV movie, possessed construction equipment romp Killdozer, Eartha Kitt—as a snake-mistress bitch!—from TV’s Batman, Christopher Mitchum from the ‘80s apoc-slop fests Aftershock and SFX Retaliator, and the comely Anne Lockhart from Battlestar Galactica: TOS?

You can’t. You break out the hot-air popper and convince the little lady to go out to have a few drinks with her girlfriends. “No, sweetie, really. I’m not trying to get rid of you for a booty call. I just wanna hug my VCR and reel in the ’80s for the evening,” you assure her furrowing brow.

While its rare VHS goes for about 40 to 60 bucks in the online marketplace, beware of those bogus DVD-R grey-market rips of The Serpent Warriors (and know your regions before you buy, if you must). If there’s ever a film that the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome or Arrow Video need to reissue, it’s this slithery, beautiful disaster that, somehow “roped” Catwoman and BSG’s Sheba into starring.

“Okay, so what’s the movie about, already? Get to it R.D.”

Crazy ass heavy metal snakes, that’s what! Seriously: Every time the snakes appear, you get screeching metal guitars!

Another You Tube clip bites the dust.
Thanks for ruining the bit, content flagger.

After that, uh, I don’t know. You have to take in account this movie is a patch job from two different directors, the other being some guy named Niels Rasmussen who, if we believe the IMDb (they got the whole John Howard thing wrong, so, well, you know), he was the editor on some late ‘70s never-heard-of-it-before 3D Asian slop fest, Revenge of the Shogun Women, and the Frankie Avalon-starring ‘80s horror film, Blood Song*. (We’ve also reviewed Kiss Daddy Goodbye, the other ’80s slasher starring another ’50s teen idol, Fabian, by the way. Just so you know.)

Most of the film is actually culled from a 1983 Chinese nobody-ever-heard-of-it (well, if you’re a normal person) nature run amuck potboiler Calamity of Snakes starring iconic Chinese actor Yuen Kao. Kao worked on some 70-plus films from the early 1950s to the late 1980s—most notably the martial arts movies The Angry River (1971) and Flying Sword Lee (1979), for us fans of the genre. Here, Kao’s been Americanized as “Jason King.”

Hmm. You know, we’re a having a “Kaiju Week” in the coming weeks at B&S About Movies, and that just about sums up what’s going on with this snake fest. Remember how 1955’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was Americanized with those annoying inserts with Raymond Burr and he’s never in any scenes with the lead Asian actors? That’s what’s going on here: you’re really getting a repack of Calamity of Snakes with awful American dubbing and worse American-acted inserts shot outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The “plot,” such as it is, concerns the death of Yuen Kao’s Taiwanese sister some 40-years ago on a Pacific South Seas island. The group of Americans—well, the relative of one of them—responsible now find themselves stalked by a snake worshipping tribe that’s triggered by the discovery of a den of snakes at a construction site managed by Kao.

So a zoologist-herpetologist (Clint Walker and his assistant-son, Chris Mitchum, and their lab assistant, Anne Lockhart) are dispatched to the site. The trio soon discovers the building site sits upon the ancient temple of a snake-worshiping cult (so, yes: we are in Spielberg rip-off territory here, not only with Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Poltergeist as well) and that Clint’s father was responsible for the murder of Kao’s sister. Of course, they discover it all too late and find themselves attacked by thousands of deadly snakes. And Eartha Kitt is going to take over the Earth with her reptile minions.

At least I think that’s what’s going on. . . .

Well, the one thing we do know: If you were offended by the animal mutilations committed by Ruggero Deodato in Cannibal Holocaust, then buckle up, young VHS warrior. Calamity of Snakes is beyond the offensive in its on-screen killing of reptiles. At least The Serpent Warriors gives you a reprieve from the animal cruelty and just pillages Calamity of Snakes for stock-snake footage—of which there’s plenty of it!

The Serpent Warriors’ source material: 1982’s Ren she da zhan, aka Calamity of Snakes, which is actually a horror action-comedy-thriller in the vein of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. (In my opinion, yes, even with the cringy animal violence.)

“I’m sick of these mother f’in pieces-o-shite movies in my mother f’in VCR!”

Okay, Samuel L., calm down. Here, have a Royale with Cheese and let the B&S About Movie hoards enjoy the original William Chang/Cheung, aka Chi Chang, version of the film, Calamity of Snakes, on Daily Motion, since there’s no online rips of The Serpent Warriors. By the way, both films are in the marketplace under a variety of titles; however, because of the two-films-in-one mess that it is, it’s hard to know which retitle is which: is it a retitle of Calamity or The Serpent Warriors? Throughout the overseas markets the titles used are Snake Inferno, Golden Viper, War Between Man and Snakes, and Revenge of the Snakes.

What we do know: The title of The War Between Men and Snakes, which itself features alternate footage, is the South Korean-language cut of Calamity. Phew! Oh, and there is an undubbed/non-subtitled, previously issued laser-disc version of Calamity of Snakes out there for the taking. Also, the release dates vary: some video repositories use dates of 1983 and 1987 for both films. (So, yeah, we need the upcoming Unearthed Films release, since we’re sure the booklet and commentaries will clear it all up for us video hounds.)

Nope. This is not a repack of The Serpent Warriors. This is a reedit-repack of King of Snakes, aka Da she wang (1984), done up by Godfrey “Oh, no!” Ho, the master of remake-remixes.

And the adult film industry-employed John Howard of Spine fame didn’t make any of them. Nor did William Riead of Scorpion fame. Neither did Joe Livingstone, aka Willie Palmer, aka Godfrey Ho . . . but he did make Robo Vampire!

* We did two, quick overviews of the Frankie Avalon-starring Blood Song as part of our “Exploring: Video Nasties Section 3” and “Drive-In Friday: Musician Slashers Night” featurettes. Check’ em out!

New film Intel for 2022: Inspired by Unearthed Films’ reissue, I started digging . . . I really needed to know MORE . . . and discovered Paul Freitag-Fey’s insane, deep review of Calamity of Snakes/The Serpent Warriors from 2017 for Daily Grindhouse. God bless ya, Paul!

Paul sifted through the confusion to discover that four distinct films with a total of seven different titles were made from director Chi Chang’s original.

During its next year of release, Calamity of Snakes reached English-speaking countries via a dubbed version issued on Brentwood’s out-of-print “Eastern Horror” DVD collection (which are easily Googled). One of the first remixes was released in Pakistan as Revenge of the Snakes (1982) (artwork). Then, Korean directors Kim Seon-gyeong and Qi Zhang (either using the original Calamity or the Pakistani cut) added addition scenes (of a girl having a nightmare initiating the horror), as the film we previously mentioned, The War Between Man and Snakes (1983). This was a Korean-only release.

Then, apparently—not with the Chang original, but the Korean cut—the film was repurposed by U.S. filmmaker Niels Rasmussen, aka’in as John Howard, as The Serpent Warriors. That cut—using three different sources—edited-out the animal cruelty and most of the plot—with new sequences shot in Los Angeles, California, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Nevada. From that point, Rasmussen’s remix failed to find distribution in the U.S. but was distributed in Denmark, Spain, and Germany (as Snake Inferno), and Hong Kong as Golden Viper.

As the early ’90s arrived, the titles became more confusing as the original Calamity of Snakes was re-release as Snake’s Revenge (shouldn’t it be Snakes’ Revenge?) with newly, computer-generated snakes, while 8 minutes from the original film were cut for a 78-minute running time. And, as you can see from our VHS image above, New Line (no, not that one) finally brought The Serpent Warriors version to U.S. home video shelves.

So, in the end: If you must have the snake violence: go for the Calamity of Snakes original—which you can get in a restored version from Unearthed Films.

Phew. I’m exhausted. No more snake films or Hong Kong Category III films for me. Yeah, right. That’s not gonna happen.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.