PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.
Starring Pierre Kirby, Edowan Bersmea, Danny Ravebeck
Directed by Godfrey Ho
With this weekend being the American release of the long-in-the-works South Korean giant monster epic Dragon Wars (review) I decided what better time than now to dig out my old “From Here to Obscurity” column and tell you all about another deliriously incomprehensible giant monster movie from Asia made by a director known for being quite the insane hack: Thunder of Gigantic Serpent.
From what little information I’ve been able to find, Thunder of Gigantic Serpent was made in Hong Kong back in 1980, but for whatever reason it wasn’t released until 1988 – and seemingly only in parts of Europe, in some places under the alternate title of Terror Serpent. The film’s year of origin is still a matter of debate. Real obscure is this one. I do know this little known ditty comes to us from Hong Kong uber hack Godfrey Ho, a filmmaker known for splicing together random footage from TV show and movies he’s acquired in order to create truly hackneyed works of art that he then releases as an entirely new film with English dubbing that makes the typical old school Godzilla movies’ sound positively Shakespearean. Zombie vs. Ninja? Robo Vampire? Do those ring any bells?
Whether or not Thunder of Gigantic Serpent is another one of Ho’s cut & paste jobs or just one of the least lucid films ever assembled I cannot say, but I can attest that it most definitely plays like three movies in one. Movie #1 is an insipid and surprisingly violent spy film about an evil terrorist out to steal this super formula that will help him take over the world and the only thing standing in his way is an American super agent. Movie #2 is a combination Lassie-style “child with an animal for a best friend” family movie. These two storylines converge into movie #3: essentially a Japanese giant monster movie. Who was the target audience supposed to be for this?
Things get off to an auspicious start when the first scene following the opening credits is of a thunderstorm causing a massive snake-filled mudslide. This sequence has absolutely nothing to do with anything that follows.
After the brief bit of nonsense, we’re then introduced to Solomon, the world’s most dangerous terrorist, who from looking at his clothing clearly knows the softer side of Sears. Solomon is introduced shooting soda cans for target practice, another thing that doesn’t exactly evoke menace. He orders his henchmen to retrieve “the formula” and begins cackling like a madman.
Jump to the bedroom of a young girl by the name of Ting Ting or Tintin, depending on which poorly dubbed character was saying her name. For the sake of argument, let’s just call her Ting Ting. She’s sitting on her bed with a snake she’s found and knitting it a bow while trying to decide on a name. She’s rejects Fluffy and Charlie before deciding on Mozlah or Mozzler, again depending on who says it. I’m just going to go with Mozlah. How she goes from Fluffy to Charlie to Mozlah is something I’d like to know. She asks the snake if it likes the name Mozlah and (I swear I’m not making this up) the snake perks up and nods its head in approval. Take my word for it when I tell you this Ting Ting is one of the shrillest, most obnoxious, little rugrats in film history. Just wait.
Meanwhile at some military laboratory, scientists are discussing “the formula.” At no point is any attempt to actually explain “the formula” aside from it looking like a Plexiglas fish tank with some electrodes inside it. The scientists place a tiny frog inside the tank and turn on “the formula”. A few electrical flashes later and suddenly the frog glows blue and grows to the size of a small dog. The scientists celebrate. This will benefit mankind and/or the military how?
All soldiers in this film wear camouflage fatigues and snazzy red berets. Too bad they didn’t pack body armor; Solomon’s goon squad guns down everyone wearing a snazzy red beret. No one in the film can just get shot and die either. You almost never see any bullet holes or blood when someone gets shot but you will see that person have some super seizure before falling dead and/or performing an exaggerated flip of some sort. One dude will get shot in the chest by a machine gun and die doing a forward flip with a couple extra rotations into a swimming pool. Up yours, physics!
Every scientist also gets shot dead except for one female lab assistant named Lynn who jumps into a car with “the formula” and makes a break for it. A hillside car chase straight out of an early Seventies TV cop show follows. She tosses the box out the window and ditches the car seconds later. Good thing she did, too, because the car explodes even before it goes over the side of a cliff. The goon squad pulls up and decides to go down and sift through the wreckage because they’re sure “the formula” is fireproof. They don’t even know what it looks like yet they’re positive it’s fireproof?
Ting Ting will find “the formula” on the side of the road and decide it would make a great new tank for her pet snake. Can you guess what happens next? Mozlah begins glowing, then growing and springs out of the tank 15-feet long – now brought to life through the magic of bad puppetry. Startled, Ting Ting questions Mozlah as to what happened and the snake either shakes its head or nods in agreement depending on the question. Too big to keep secret in the house, she drags the snake out to the shed with a dog leash while it makes an odd screeching sound akin to that of a tropical bird. This snake doesn’t hiss, it chirps.
You know all those kid and their pet movies where the two frolic and bond? Well, after Mozlah helps Ting Ting defeat some neighborhood boys as the sport of downhill skating (Why do their skates have tank treads instead of wheels and wear can I get a pair?) it’s off to the beach for some mind-blowing antics.
Ting Ting has a beach ball and she and Mozlah bounce it back and forth with their heads. It’s like a scene from “Lassie” on crack. The music playing sounds like it came from a late Seventies PBS kiddy show. Suddenly, they go from the beach to an abandoned shack. There’s also some Asian guy dressed like Sonny Crockett spying on them from the bushes. Inside this shack, she feeds Mozlah fruit by tossing it into his mouth from across the room. Positively surreal stuff.
Next the two of them are playing hide and seek in and around an old shack. Lightning strikes a tree causing it to topple over onto the shack that then instantly bursts into flames. Next thing you know, you’re seeing the exterior of a flaming diorama shack, a hole erupts in its side, and you very briefly see this plastic-looking snake wrapped around an obvious female action figure literally fly straight into the air to safety. WTF?!?!
Meanwhile, Solomon isn’t happy his goons failed. He’s still not giving up hope of finding “the formula” because he’s “got faith” in his #1 henchman, Billy. An evil terrorist mastermind named Solomon and a right hand man named Billy… Who can stop such evil?
Ted Fast can! He’s young, blonde, Caucasian, and he works alone, which means he’s pretty good. This is confirmed to be true in the following exchange between Billy and Solomon.
BILLY: Boss, they sent a special agent to deal with us.
SOLOMON: Who the hell is the guy?
BILLY: His name is Ted Fast. (Pause) He’s a highly trained specialist. (Pause) And he always works alone.
SOLOMON: He must be pretty good then.
How good? Ted Fast is walking under a bridge somewhere for no particular reason. A van pulls up being driven by two terrorist goons who look a lot like Hall & Oates. They spot Ted Fast despite the fact that up until this point we were given no indication that Solomon even knew what he looked like. I guess he must have ordered his thugs out to track down the only white guy in army fatigues not wearing a snazzy red beret in all of Hong Kong. They’ll prove no match for Ted Fast’s unique style of combat; he tumbles around a lot on the ground before gunning them down. Similar scenes will be randomly sprinkled throughout the movie.
Ted Fast: He doesn’t find danger; danger finds him – usually when he’s taking a casual stroll.
That Sonny Crockett-attired Asian was one of Solomon’s goons scouring the area and he tells the boss about the big snake. Solomon instantly deduces that the big snake must be tied to “the formula” and orders his men to find Ting Ting. You have to give the movie credit; it’s utterly absurd but at least it doesn’t give you time to stop and think much before it moves on to the next bit of absurdity and incoherence.
Lynn is awake in the hospital being quizzed by the military about the location of the formula. She keeps telling them where she ditched it and they keep telling her they didn’t find it. Police Inspector Chow and shows up at the hospital to speak to Lynn and the previous scene repeats itself all over. Four armed thugs arrive to capture Lynn. Solomon sends four thugs to capture an injured unarmed woman in the hospital but only two at a time to kill the super duper Special Forces guy?
Lynn doesn’t give Billy the answers he wanted so he removes his sunglasses in a manner that only someone truly evil could. This was apparently the unspoken signal for the other three goons to just start beating the crap out of her. Inspector Chow saves the day. I wasn’t aware that the Hong Kong police normally carried Uzi’s, but hey … Like Ted Fast, Detective Chow also has a special method for winning gun battles: sneak up behind a guy, get his attention, and then shoot him the moment he turns around. Okay, so not exactly the most heroic way of taking out a criminal, but whatever works.
Lynn then breaks down and confesses her sob story. Turns out she was in on it all along, working for Solomon to help steal the formula. Not only is this subplot completely unnecessary, it makes absolute zero sense. No matter since this is pretty much her last scene in the movie.
The army General, who for some reason has chose this particular occasion to swap out his uniform and snazzy red beret for a business suit, is at Ting Ting’s house questioning her parents about having seen or come across anything unusual in the area. Ting Ting overhears this conversation and realizes the jig is up. Mom and dad are horrified by her giant snake, Solomon and company show up to commit some terrorism, and Mozlah saves the day with some tail fu. Billy still manages to nab Ting Ting. Mozlah gives chase. Oh, and Mozlah is now bulletproof for reasons unknown.
But wait, the terrorists have actually set a trap for the snake because they’re psychic, I guess, and fully expected it to chase them into this field out back. What is the trap? Why they’ve set up a few metal stakes in the ground in a rectangular shape with metallic wires attached so that Mozlah will slither right into the center and get electrocuted. This backfires on them when the electricity causes Mozlah to grow even larger. Mozlah, roaring like an elephant now, does some super-sized tail fu on a couple of hapless henchmen and then Ting Ting rides off on the snake’s back as if it were a pony.
Next we see Mozlah the snake will now officially be Godzilla-sized. Solomon must have had a back-up plan in case a gigantic snake showed up because how else does one explain the fighter plane he orders in? Silly becomes even sillier as the attack plane proves to be a model Cessna that fires lasers. Still no match for giant tail fu though.
Ting Ting gets nabbed by Billy again. Cops… Car chase… Gun battle… As Billy speeds towards the city, Ting Ting yells for Mozlah to save her. Despite being miles away, it hears her and takes off into the nearby river to give chase like Lassie.
Cut to Ted Fast back in his office calling the general and to tell him to break out the army because a giant snake is now on the loose. How does he know about this? He must really be that good.
A major difference between Mozlah and Lassie: Lassie never indiscriminately killed innocent people and destroyed tons of infrastructure when trying to rescue Timmy. First casualty: a bridge and everyone on it. Second casualty: a passenger train on another bridge. Third casualty: a dam is destroyed. Tens of thousands Hong Kong civilians appeared to have been killed in the ensuing flood.
Back out to some country road where Ted Fast comes strolling by on one of his many nature hikes and casually approaches the only other guy on the street, a guy he recognizes as one of Solomon’s men. Ted beats the hell out of the guy and demands Solomon’s whereabouts.
Back in the city, Ting Ting continues screaming for Mozlah to save her. If I were Billy I swear I would have shot her by now just to shut her up. Guess who arrives by water and begins trashing the city Toho-style? To be perfectly honest, the effects here are pretty decent, though this really is a movie made in the 1980s with effects that look straight out of the 1960s. I will say that giant-sized Mozlah is still more realistic looking than the Reptilicus marionette.
A close-up of a still picture of a tank with an explosion effect added to the gun barrel is what passes for attacking tank action. There’s cheap and then there’s this. They must have blown the film’s budget on all those snazzy red berets.
Billy sees a news report about the giant snake heading in his direction but doesn’t care because he’s convinced the military will kill it first. He’s clearly never seen a giant Asian monster movie in his life. Ting Ting then finally gets on his nerves to the point that he slaps the hell out of her. I know I shouldn’t be cheering a grown man smacking around a small girl, but good for him.
Meanwhile, Ted Fast is back in his office sitting at his desk (WHAT?!?!) and calls up Inspector Chow to inform him that Billy has Ting Ting held hostage in the Starlight Building skyscraper downtown. No point with a movie like this to even bother asking how he knew this or how he got back to his desk so fast. I’m also not going to ask how Inspector Chow magically teleported to the building that the snake has begun encircling upwards in a serpentine-like grasp.
Billy is about to do the world a favor and silence this annoying little girl once and for all when Inspector Chow barges in. Judging by the fixed position his body drops dead in, either rigamortis set in instantaneously upon being shot or Billy chose to die while dancing “the robot.” Chow grabs Ting Ting and now it’s a mad dash to get out of the building before the Air Forces goes all King Kong on her pet snake. Once again, she starts screaming Mozlah’s name non-stop. Shut up!
For some reason whenever Mozlah takes a direct hit it lights up like a glow worm. A pilot finally decides to go all kamikaze and rams his jet right into Mozlah’s head causing a huge explosion that decimates the top of the building and sends Mozlah’s corpse crashing to the ground.
Ting Ting runs over and goes into full-on Susan Lucci overdrive begging it not to die. As reality sets it, the little bitch throws the temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums, blaming everyone – mom, dad, the cops, the military, etc. – for conspiring to kill her beloved pet snake, the one responsible for the deaths of untold thousands. She finally collapses into her mother’s arms sobbing hysterically. Inspector Chow then lectures the General about the dangers of scientific experiments that tamper with nature and that they should learn to “trust their local constables”. Say what? Then Inspector Chow punches out the General for costing so many people their lives. Sure. Why not?
But the movie isn’t over because there’s still one last issue to resolve. Ted Fast, now wearing what looks like a snazzy red baker’s hat and the uniform of a fast food seafood employee confronts Solomon in a parking lot leading to a Mexican standoff. Fast even tells Solomon to “make his day.” So, of course, they drop their guns and have a kung fu battle instead. Solomon, the sneaky bastard he is, snatches up one of the guns off the ground and is about to kill our hero when Ted “He must be pretty good then” Fast flings his puffy red beret at him as if it were a ninja star to knock the gun out of his hand and then shoots Solomon right through the heart. Ted Fast kicks his snazzy red beret into the air, catches it, turns, and walks away. He takes all of about two steps when the movie abruptly cuts to a red title card stating that this is “THE END”.
What the hell did I just watch? It wasn’t good but it was definitely something.
2 out of 5
Discuss Thunder of Gigantic Serpent in the Dread Central forums!