Tuesday, July 26, 2016


We open with a bucolic scene in 1890 Northumberland of a piping shepherd. But elsewhere in the same village, a woman is writhing in discomfort while her husband, Dr. Adderson, milks snake venom in order to give her injections he is convinced will cure her "sick mind." Unfortunately, she is pregnant and goes through a very painful delivery just after she has gotten another injection. The mother dies and Aggie, the eccentric midwife, thinks the infant girl is dead as well, as she is born cold, but soon the child begins breathing and when the midwife sees that she has no eyelids, she proclaims her the devil's offspring and tries to kill her. Adderson saves the child and gives her to Dr. Murton who leaves it with the piping shepherd we saw earlier. Aggie goes to round up some torch-wielding villagers to destroy Adderson's house and Adderson dies at the hands, er, teeth, of his snakes. Twenty years later, Murton returns to the village and learns the strange girl, named Atheris (oddly, also the name of a genus of poisonous snake) by the shepherd, has vanished and villagers are being found dead of snakebites; they specifically appear to be from a cobra which is not native to Northumberland. When Prentice, a Scotland Yard man, comes to investigate, he meets the mysterious Atheris wandering the moors, and finds it strange that she seems attracted to a snake-chamer's flute he happens to be playing. Could this wild child be the cause of the recent snakebite deaths?

This feels like a Hammer movie but without the style or atmosphere. It’s not a bad movie (one critic called it totally inept which it certainly is not—though it is, considering its short 70 minute running time, a bit of a slog at times), but it will disappoint viewers drawn in by the lurid promise of the title. Yes, Atheris can turn into a snake, but we figure that out very early on. This is not a special effects movie, but given its title, it's a letdown that we don’t see at least some graphic scenes of transformation or blood. Elsie Wagstaff steals the movie as the crazy midwife who is into voodoo and who's shown to be not so crazy after all. Susan Travers is attractive and spooky as Atheris, and John McCarthy (pictured with Travers) is so-so as the Scotland Yard hero. This is stronger on mood than action or character development, and even the mood is sustained only off-and-on. [Amazon]

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