Black Snake

Black Snake

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Black Snake is set in 1835 on San Cristobal Island which was part of the British West Indies. Here, a section of the locals has been enslaved by the Blackmoor sugar cane plantation to perform forced labor. The plant is run by the blonde-haired, dressed in black, whip-wielding Lady Susan Walker (Anouska Hempel). Susan rides around on a horse giving orders and is happy to use the whip should these orders not be followed through. On the contrary to what you might think at first glance, Susan isn’t enjoying the abuse but she does love the luxurious lifestyle she can only maintain by running the plant firm and ruthless.
Susan has also left behind a trail of dead or missing husbands in her wake. Susan’s latest missing husband is Jonathan Walker, his disappearance is the reason his brother travels from England to the plantation to go undercover posing as a bookkeeper while trying to find out what happened to him.
Most of the day to day slave-running chores are left to the sadistic Joxer Tierney (Percy Herbert) who has a wide range of racial slurs he yells at the slaves. His rage is fueled by his impotence and he refers to his whip as a “black snake”, hence the title.
Highlighted also are the slaves who are slowly but surely getting ready to revolt against their imprisonment. They’re led by young Joshua (Milton McCollin) but his pacifist bible-quoting father Isaiah (Thomas Baptiste) discourages him in fear of repercussions, which is justified as Susan and Joxer eventually crucify Joshua to set an example but achieve the opposite as the boiling point has been reached and it sets of the revolt.

Though mostly known for his exploitation work Russ Meyer wasn’t afraid to take on genres he wasn’t quite familiar with. With The Seven Minutes he made a courtroom drama and with Black Snake he takes on the blaxploitation genre. Sadly in both cases Meyer is like a fish out of the water as they’re both rather boring movies. But Black Snake is also one of his least enjoyable movies as it never quite hits the right tone.

Black Snake screenshot

The production of this movie had its fair share of troubles. The original female lead apparently overdosed days before shooting would start after which Anouska Hempel was brought in. The actress is one of Meyer’s least memorable leading ladies making you wonder why he didn’t cast his then-wife Edy Williams, who also had parts in The Seven Minutes and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. It’s also notable that Hempel is quite flat chested which isn’t very strange considering Meyer was probably going for a more serious tone here, but when Joxer in one scene rips her blouse off an obvious body double with larger breasts is used. This makes the casting choice even more peculiar, but with a tight schedule Meyer probably didn’t have that many options.

Meyer tries to be a more serious director her, playing it straight like he did in The Seven Minutes for the majority of the time. But the flimsy plot and Meyer’s colorful palette and fast editing aren’t suitable for this type of movie. Meyer is at his best when he’s obsessed with his leading lady and it’s clear that that isn’t the case with Hempel. Aside from The Seven Minutes all of his movies were at least titillating, but Black Snake even lacks that. What we’re left with is a movie that looks like a pure exploitation flick, but seems to focus more on violence than the expected nudity.

Black Snake screenshot

Talking about the violence: the violence on display here is quite fierce, especially the crucifixion and subsequent whipping of the Joshua is quite harrowing full of close-ups of his dehydrated face. There are plenty of scenes which revolve around the violent mistreatment of these people. Interesting is the inclusion of a flamboyantly dressed black man who helps white people enslaving black people. It reminds us that the slavery problem was not as black and white as people today like to remember it.

The end-result is a mixed bag of beautiful shots of Barbados in a weak movie which isn’t as fun, sexy or tongue in cheek as the posters promise us.

I had the same expression after watching this

Black Snake (1973) poster
Black Snake (1973) poster
Black Snake
  • Year:
  • Director:
    • Russ Meyer
  • Cast:
    • Anouska Hempel
    • David Warbeck
    • Percy Herbert
    • Thomas Baptiste
  • Genre:
  • Running time:


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