The ‘90s often get a bad rap with horror fans. After the numerous successful slashers and creature effects films of the ’80s, the ‘90s offered a different variety of horror fare. Though there were plenty of hits, hidden gems, and misunderstood classics, the ‘90s usually don’t get the kind of love that other decades get when it comes to horror. It’s time to change that.
If you talk to a lot of horror fans that grew up in the ‘90s, you’ll probably find that many of them (myself included) have a particular love of the animal attack sub-genre. It’s no wonder when you look at how many of these movies got big theatrical releases during the decade. It’s likely that a few other notable titles from then will pop up on this column, but the one that I felt most compelled to defend was Anaconda. Because Anaconda is AWESOME.
Granted, there are probably plenty of people who thought the same thing at the time and continue to stand by that assessment. Even Roger Ebert was kind to the movie upon release. So, why does it feel like Anaconda has become something of an easy joke for people? And why doesn’t it get brought up in celebration when we talk about horror movies of the ‘90s?
Maybe it’s to do with its simplistic nature in terms of story. It’s a bare-bones adventure yarn with a bunch of characters making their way down a river Heart of Darkness style. Throw in a Jaws riff but with a gigantic snake and you’ve got Anaconda. Yes, this is what you could boil down Anaconda if you wanted to be as basic as possible. But, what you’d be missing are all the little bits of flavoring that make Anaconda an absolute delight.
A huge factor in making Anaconda a real treat is the casting. Y’all can take your easy potshots at Jennifer Lopez but she’s a perfectly capable anchor for the movie. Often in these kinds of flicks, you get an even-keeled lead actor and surround them with character actors who go broke with their roles. That’s exactly what Anaconda does and it does it well. Ice Cube is a great comic relief that perfectly captures the audience’s disbelief at the situation. Jonathan Hyde can play annoyingly prim in his sleep and his nose-in-the-air documentary host is a perfect fit for his acting talents. Owen Wilson is… well, he’s Owen Wilson. You know what you’re going to get there and he always injects the right amount of doofy slacker energy into his roles.
And then, there’s Jon Voight.
A lot of people give Voight flak for his portrayal of snake hunter Paul Serone. His cartoonish accent and equally over-the-top performance are worth critiquing, but they are also the source of a lot of Anaconda’s gleeful fun. Voight is basically taking the Quint character from Jaws and blending him with Tony Montana from Scarface. It’s gonzo stuff that makes Serone an immediately memorable antagonist as the film progresses. Even if you say Voight is bad in the movie, it’s hard to say he isn’t entertaining.
But, where Anaconda deserves way more praise than it gets is in its production. With a reported budget of $45 million, Anaconda looks like a big studio picture in every single way. Considering that these kinds of creature features have become assembly line ordeals thanks to TV/direct-to-video movies and a dwindling market, Anaconda showcases a real appreciation for the technical side of these kinds of movies. That’s not just in the creature effects, but in the location shooting, set construction, and even the costuming. Without searching for a picture of them, I can remember what the characters in Anaconda look like as purely aesthetic ideas. That’s a sign of crafting a strong visual concept for your movie.
Now, if we’re gonna praise the production of Anaconda, we have got to talk about the effects that brought the titular beast to life. Animatronic wizard Walt Conti — who also provided the truly astonishing animatronic sharks for Deep Blue Sea — and his company Edge Innovations helped craft the giant 40 ft. long practical snake and it’s an impressive feat. When the conversation about great practical movie monsters comes up, we really should be recognizing the work in Anaconda. And while some of the digital effects haven’t aged well, the practical elements are still splendid.
And if we wanted to boil Anaconda down to its most base pleasures, this is a picture that delivers on the kills and gross-out moments. From the anaconda catching Jonathan Hyde when he jumps off a waterfall to Jon Voight being devoured whole and then puked back up, this is a movie that knows how to have a blast with its simple enjoyments. There’s no way I’ll ever forget the image of Owen Wilson’s corpse screaming from inside the anaconda. Heck, the most horrific part of the movie doesn’t involve the snake at all. It’s the scene in which Eric Stoltz’s character swallows a wasp and has to have his throat stabbed open. Still gives me the willies.
Looking around the web, it’s clear that many people view Anaconda as a “so bad it’s good” kind of experience. That appraisal often reads to me as viewers not wanting to admit that certain movies were genuinely entertaining. Anaconda is not so bad it’s good. This is a top-tier creature feature from the ‘90s, and audiences responded extremely well to that type of entertainment during that decade. Anaconda was the #1 film in theaters for two weeks in a row and ended up grossing more at the domestic box office than L.A. Confidential, The Fifth Element, Anastasia, Spawn, Starship Troopers, Austin Powers, Speed 2, Alien Resurrection, and the Special Edition re-issue of Return of the Jedi.
It’s time for us to accept Anaconda as one of the premier animal attack films of the decade and possibly of all time. It knows it’s going to be a B-movie in concept, but it wholeheartedly embraces that attitude while executing its direction with an A+ production. Don’t be ashamed of loving Anaconda. This is some of the most fun you could have at the theater in the ‘90s, and it’s still some of the most fun you can have with a movie today.
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Author : Drew Dietsch
Publish date : 2019-09-12 15:37:55