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Synapse Films presents
Snake Woman's Curse (1968)

"Even if I have to eat dirt, I'll pay you back."
- Yasuke (Ko Nishimura)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: September 05, 2007

Stars: Seizaburo Kawazu, Yukie Kagawa, Sachiko Kuwahara, Shingo Yamashiro, Kunio Murai, Ko Nishimura, Akemi Nigishi
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, implied rape, mild gore
Run Time: 01h:24m:43s
Release Date: August 28, 2007
UPC: 654930306390
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C-A-A- B-

DVD Review

Panik House entered the DVD scene with their flashy Pinky Violence box set a couple years ago but have apparently gone under. Their last releases have thankfully been saved by Synapse, and this is one them. Nobuo Nakagawa first came to many filmgoers' attention with Criterion's release of Jigoku, and now we get Snake Woman's Curse, another stylish horror film. Nakagawa was nearing the end of his feature-directing career by this point, unfortunately, with only a couple more films to come before getting back into television and writing.

The story slots easily into a template shared by various other films of the genre, which I like to think of as the Righteous Vengeance tale. Essentially, the characters are there to be served up as cannon fodder for the authority figures who will get brutally punished later on. Hence, the sacrificed characters need to be sympathetic and fairly weak, so that their treatment at the hands of the authority figure really rankles us as an audience. And that's exactly what we have here, as a family is destroyed one by one by the heartless Onuma family, who run their village. Farmer Yasuke (Ko Nishimura) finds himself mired in debt to Onuma senior (Seizaburo Kawazu), but when Yasuke dies from illness and exhaustion, his wife Sue (Chiaki Tsukioka) and daughter Asa (Sachiko Kuwahara) are essentially sentenced to working for Onuma to pay off their debt, where they meet cruel ends. Cue some payback, as the ghosts of the wronged peasants return to torture the Onumas for some cosmic payback.

It's an easy formula to work out, and the better the vengeance served, the better it works. The Daimajin trilogy of films from the mid-1960s are a good example of the genre as well. It's a very curious genre, because the end result is that we are watching to see someone be punished. Yasuke, Sue, and Asa are ciphers in terms of personality; they only need to die, and do so under heartless circumstances. The Onuma family are equally underdeveloped; Nakagawa makes clear that they are rich scumbags, living the high life off the backs of their peasants, who are slaves in all but name. They have no redeeming qualities, and hence richly deserve their fates.

This leads to an interesting point: can this really be considered a horror film? We know with pretty much absolute certainty that the Onumas are going to be punished; so what's scary about it? Their fear and encroaching madness provide pleasure, rather than scares, for the audience (or at least me). It's a rather bizarre rationale for viewing, as the villains in these films have no chance at all against the threat they eventually face; in many tales of revenge, the evildoers need to be potent enough that the goal of revenge may not be achieved. In this formula, that's never the case. And it all goes according to plan in Snake Woman's Curse, where the Onumas capitulate to madness and death, without putting up much of a fight.

Without well-developed characters, this ends up being a less than involving experience. I found myself, despite the quality direction of Nakagawa, waiting for the film to get to the good stuff, namely the avenging. And that eventual payoff turns out to be fairly lame, as the Onumas begin seeing visions of Yasuke's family, not to mention a lot of snakes. Cue a lot of gibbering and maniacal ranting, and we're done. The snake element is weakly handled as well, with the main connection being Sue's attempt to save a snake from the Onumas, which results indirectly in her death. It simply feels tacked on to use the snake angle for the revenge scenes. The cast do a fine job with all this, given the lack of depth provided them by the script. If you've seen a few of these type films, you'll know exactly what to expect, and I found this one not quite up to scratch.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Remastered, as the jacket copy informs us, from original Toei vault elements, Snake Woman's Curse looks very good indeed, with solid (if occasionally fluctuating) color and detail. The optional white English subtitles are clean and free of errors.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono audio provides a suitable listening experience, with the music (featuring some kind of theremin-type effect for the snakes) coming across well.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The packaging includes a feature I wish more DVD producers would make use of, namely the reversible cover with original poster art. The new English language covers are pretty awful looking, so the option to flip the art and use the Japanese poster art is welcome. The spine and back cover art remain the same either way. Including in the packaging is an insert with essays about the film and Nakagawa by film scholar XX, which are worth your time. On the disc itself, the main extra is an audio commentary by film scholar Jonathan M. XX. Also included are the origina theatrical trailer (16:9 enhanced), a poster gallery of Nakagawa films, and a Nakagawa filmography/biography.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

As revenge movies go, Snake Woman's Curse provides tepid pleasures, and it has zero scares. Nobuo Nakagawa's direction is classy as expected, but this is otherwise limp, and even at 85 minutes, too long. For genre and Japanese afficionados only. Synapse's DVD looks and sounds good, with a couple decent extras.


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