Looks Can Be Deceiving – The Snake Woman (1961)

If you were to judge this movie by the title alone, you would probably think it is some Z-list picture with terrible effects.  How could you not when the poster itself says ‘serpent-girl?’  On the contrary, she is not some strange hybrid of a creature and the movie turns out to be a solid little B film that concentrates on script, mood and some effective cinematography to convey a story of a woman who is possibly more than she seems.

Set in rural England, a doctor is trying to save his wife by injecting her with various forms of snake venom.  The wife is naturally worried about her unborn child, thinking that the venom cannot be good for the child.  The doctor disagrees and soon the baby comes.  The mother dies, the baby is born cold and old Aggie Harker swears it is a demon child and vows to kill it.  Soon the child is left with a farmer as the doctor, her father is killed and his house burned down as well.  Twenty years later, people are dying of snake bites and everyone suspects the cursed devil child Aggie Harker warned them about.

This film is one of those cases where a strong script, written by Orville H. Hampton and more than competent direction by Sidney J. Furie can turn what might possibly be a bad film, into a good one.  It helped as well to have some fairly decent actors to carry the movie as well with Susan Travers as Atheris, the devil child of note, who is a beautiful young woman and John McCarthy as the handsome Scotland Yard detective Charles Prentice.  The little bits they added in, about Atheris’s cold skin, how she would need to occasionally shed said skin and how the music charms her are nice little touches that add credibility to the story they are trying to tell.

There are a couple of, not necessarily plot holes, but items which could have been put in the film to extend the running time a bit and fill in some information gaps, but the movie was fine and worked without them.  One such item was the twenty year gap in Atheris’s life.  Her reasoning for killing people was never explained, whether from some sort of natural instinct or something more, we will never know.  Another bit concerned Aggie Harker, played by the irascible Elsie Wagstaff.  If she could perform what essentially amounted to black magic, why did she have to wait twenty years to charm a Scotland Yard detective to kill Atheris when she could have gotten literally anybody in that amount of time to do so.  And she herself is a bit of a hypocrite for calling Atheris a cursed child when she clearly practices magic and voodoo.

Other than a couple of minor things, the Snake Woman is a perfect example of what a good, story-driven horror film from the 1960s, or frankly any era, can do.  The locale where the film was shot is beautiful and being filmed in black and white was a great choice, not merely to save on budget, but because it added to the intensity of the film.  The picture was ethereal, suspenseful and gave you a sense of foreboding.  Every time you heard the music or saw a snake in the grass, you knew something could happen at any moment.  A truly wonderful, little gem of a film that is not to be missed.

4 out of 5

3 replies »

  1. This is a cool looking film! I actually like the cover, believe it or not! But I know what you mean! It could give off a bad impression and I would not have expected much from this! Glad that it turned out awesome despite its flaws!


  2. I am a real horror buff and I expected the worst but your review was, as the English say, “spot on”. A really good horror movie. Much ,much better than I would have expected. Val Lewton-like.

    Liked by 1 person

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