Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Curse of Snakes Valley (1987)

Original title: Klatwa doliny wezy

More than thirty years after having stolen a statue and some scrolls from Indochina, soldier of fortune Bernard Traven (Roman Wilhelmi) - hopefully not related to the writer - finally finds somebody who can translate the language on the scrolls.

Polish orientalist Tarnas (Krzysztof Kolberger), working in Paris, is just about the only scientist who believes in the people who used that language, and he's just too happy to get an opportunity to translate the scrolls. One of them has a secret hidden inside - a map that "smells like the jungle", as Traven explains. The map points to a valley "of wisdom and power". Something's more curious about the map than just its smell, though, for once Tarnas has discovered it, he and Traven are attacked by poisonous yet strangling snakes, which, as far as I know, is not the sort of thing that happens often in Paris.

The snake attack awakens the interest of reporter Christine (Ewa Salacka), who won't leave Tarnas in peace, not even when Traven and he decide to go to the former Indochina (I suspect Laos, well actually, I suspect the writers didn't care) to look for that mysterious valley.

Christine isn't the only one interested in the discovery of the map. Shady people who may belong to an evil corporation or an evil secret service think the valley contains a powerful weapon. Not only will the two Ts have to travel with Christine, cope with the guys following them, or the fact that Traven is pretty untrustworthy himself, they'll also have to fight further snakes and some choice traps guarding the secret of the valley.

The Polish/Soviet co-production Curse of Snakes Valley demonstrates nicely that the Indiana Jones-alike adventure movie wasn't just the province of Cannon Films and the Italian genre film industry - basically, everyone who could put a silly hat on a man could play that game.

Production value-wise, Curse is above the sort of film somebody like (house favourite) Antonio Margheriti could have fielded. Mostly, because parts of it look like they were actually filmed in South East Asia, making the obligatory scenes of our heroes trampling through the wilderness and some old ruins that decisive bit more attractive. The film's effects, on the other hand, are pretty much sub-par. There's an especially stiff giant snake thing attacking in the film's final third that may be mechatronic but carries the whiff of bad puppet theatre, and an alien transformation sequence that's of the technical standard of the 1940s. Of course, even when the execution might be as dubious as it is here, I'm never really going to complain about statues that shoot laser beams from their eyes, giant snake things or alien transformations in my 80s adventure movies, because those are exactly the sort of thing my inner five year old desperately wants to see; and as you know, Jim, inner five year olds don't care about believable execution, which seems to be a value they share with the film's director Marek Piestrak.

In form and structure, Curse is just like an Italian Indiana Jones rip-off, with all the running around, the plot convolutions, and the dubious ideas about foreign countries that implies (though it has to be said that the film treats the teleporting South East Asian monk with a degree of respect, and actually disapproves of stealing treasures that belong to other cultures), some mild action sequences and a female lead who is mostly there to get snakes, corpses etc dropped onto here until the script gets around to remembering why she's in the film except for having breasts. The silly and fun ancient alien nonsense that underlies the whole affair is exactly what you'd expect from a film like this - it makes decreasing sense (just wait for the next to last scene and guffaw with joy), but it's not taking itself seriously enough to become annoying (unlike a certain CGI fest about a crystal skull). Even the soundtrack by Sven Grünberg fits into the Italian mold with generic minimal synth plonks puckering generically along, Grünberg's reputation as something of an avantgarde musician notwithstanding.

The only real difference between Curse and other adventure movies of its type is the immense passivity of its protagonist Tarnas, who never actually does much of any impact, not even the kind of impact a fist has when it meets a human face. I think that may be what happens when David Warbeck isn't around to take the leading role.

Apart from that, Curse of Snakes Valley is another film out to demonstrate that the common language of exploitation filmmaking is truly international. Since that means more 80s adventure movies for me to watch, it's clearly a good thing.


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