There's one big thing to be said in Anaconda's favour. It takes you back to the days of old-fashioned B-movies, when man-vs-monster films were still made cheaply, and when cast and crew looked to be having all sorts of hammy fun. These days, films like Twister or Dante's Peak at heart, exactly the same sort of movie cost $60m or $100m, but much of the quirky rattling-yarniness gets lost. Not a criticism you could level at Anaconda. Yes, this is cheap, desperate, wretched movie-making. But dammit, it's fun.
The biggest laughs come from Jon Voight, who storms then hogs centre stage as Paul Sarone, the mystery riverman picked up by a TV documentary crew on a Hearts Of Darkness journey into the jungle. If you like the way Voight overacted "a bit" in Mission: Impossible you're in for a real treat here. He growls! He grimaces! He frowns! He laughs! He sneers! He speaks in a funny accent! When he says "This river can kill you in a thousand ways", you just know that waterborne bloodletting lies round the next corner. Basically, he's an exaggerated, freshwater Robert Shaw, playing his character with no restraint whatsoever - and loving it.
Long before Sarone has turned their anthropological mission into a dangerous game of hounds and reptiles, - you realise why there are so many people in this crew: they're 90 per cent disposable. Like the tornado hunters in Twister, or the explorers in Congo, most of them have the exact time and method of their deaths stamped on their foreheads. There's nominal leader Eric Stolz. There's documentary director Lopez (the lass from Blood & Wine); cameraman Ice Cube (quite good); production designer Kari Wuhrer; horny soundman Owen Wilson; and poncy Brit programme narrator Jonathan Hyde. And they're just the main ones. So who lives? And who gets painful first-hand experience of amphibian peristalsis? Let's just say that, if you're planning to grapple a giant snake, downtown LA has better training facilities than the BBC's Wildlife Department.
And the reptile itself? This slithering sociopath, realised with a combination of animatronics and CGI, is only fitfully convincing - and thus not very scary. Still, Anaconda is Luis "The Specialist/Sniper" Llosa's most alluring film to date, if only because the idea of a massive snake that eats people is so fabulously "Behind you!" retrotastic. Llosa is helped hugely by cinematographer Bill Butler, who manages to create a simultaneously convincing yet theatrically moody backdrop for the proceedings, and by the over-the-top ominousness of Randy Edelman's score. (A close cousin to the Jaws and Psycho themes, it never once lets you forget that this is a bums-off-seats horror movie, and that the beastie's next TV (crew) dinner is just around the corner.)
You know when they say a film is "so bad it's good"? That's Anaconda.