Thursday, October 04, 2007

Snake Sisters (1984)

Snake Sisters (Celso Ad. Castillo, 1984)

Like Elwood Perez's Silip (Daughters of Eve, 1985), Celso Ad. Castillo's Snake Sisters has gained some sort of international notoriety. The film lasted only nine days in its local run before being censored and left unseen, except for a few enterprising film enthusiasts worldwide, for several years. The reputation the film has gathered over the years is not very surprising.

Snake Sisters, is at first glance, quite a shocking picture. Throughout its running time, we see its three female cast members (actresses whose names were creatively crafted after famous carbonated beverages, Pepsi Paloma, Coca Nicolas, and Sarsi Emmanuelle) prancing around the pristine beaches or the virgin jungles in the near-nude, with only a g-string to cover their pertinent body parts. They play primitive siblings thriving in the wild. Their provisions include wild bullfrogs, lizards, and birds (all shown by Castillo's uncompromising camera being caught, skinned, and eaten with ravenous gusto by his pretty actresses).

Its premise is actually more intriguing than its curiously sensual visuals. The three siblings are actually unique hatchlings of a group of snake eggs, who instead of being the typical slithering creatures turn out to be in human form. One morning, they discover blood in their vaginas; their father (a snake with a human head) eases their shock by informing them of the normalcy of the situation, that the blood represents a phase in their lives. He warns them, however, that accompanying their adulthood are carnal temptations which would lead to sin which would cause them to turn into snakes, as punishment for their transgressions.

The film is accurate as a portrait of sexual awakening. Castillo was able (quite a miracle at that, since he is working with very sexy starlets) to invoke an endearing innocence or naivety early in the film. At play in the beaches with their pet monkeys, you can hardly grasp any sexual indication despite the abundant nudity. The three sisters, more than what their adult anatomies suggest, bring about a simplistic folly, a wonderment that lacks the worries and temptations of adulthood. This makes their discovery of menstruation all the more alarming, the palpable surprise and fear in their faces all the more understandable, and their search for answers to the opening curiosities and mysteries of humanity all the more compelling.

Their awakening is fastforwarded when they rescue a tattooed man (played by Ernie Garcia), who they see floating along with a piece of wood. The man represents the typical macho who upon landing, climbs the beach's highest peak, and quick to impress, brandishes his blade to forage for food (first, by breaking open a few sea urchins then unsatisfied beheads the sisters' monkeys and roasts them). He is the film's phallic symbol, the source of temptation and of sin. He is unwavering in his manifestation of his superiority, shown in the way he delights in showing off his control of fire, or the way he repels any idea of control over him. Observe how in every moment of defeat, he purposely claims back superiority by an act of violence and invasion. It is, he believes, his natural right to dominate, which is reflected by his incapability to accept defeat or succumb to the wills or strengths of the people he thinks are subservient to him (the sisters, and the tribal woman). At the moment of embarrassment, he retaliates or in absolute defeat, he asserts his dominance with loud and angry threats, until he meets his metaphorical doom, his castration.

Castillo's mythological world is primitive and the behavioral motivations of his characters are primal, sex and violence. The law of the land, of the sisters' doting father, is very simple --- for every transgression, there is a punishment. It is the law that requires no concept of civilization, just a working philosophy of right and wrong. It is a law that the tattooed man misunderstands. He after all, represents civilization or that creeping acknowledgment of control over the land; natural law does not bind him as it does his three victims. What binds him is human law, flawed and ridden with prejudices. The punishment dealt on him by his human comrades is the one he explicitly understands, one that quickly establishes fear in his soul.

Castillo differentiates these concepts of sin and retribution, the one imposed by nature and the one imposed by humanity. In a way, he implicitly distinguishes the two, a difference which marks the film's motivations as something more than mere exploitation and thrills. It is, as dissected, a film about awakening, not only sexually but also to the crude intricacies of human life, its varied rituals of affection and sex, its harsh, crude yet real concepts of sin and punishment.


John Santos said...

If Snake Sisters exceeds Celso ad Castillo's Secrets of a Dove in its boundlessness and imagination (as it sounds like it does), then I think I'm going to have to move this film to the very top of my must-see list.

My fingers are tightly crossed for that DVD release planned by Mondo Macabro of this movie, as well as Perez's Silip, which I thought is very strangely poetic. I have to say, I used to have very little respect for these video outfits because they tend to be these runaway companies that would transfer films from cheap sources, sell them at exorbitant prices, and then disappear. But after I've heard their sourcing Silip from original stock that they themselves restored, and doing the same for Snake Sisters, I have become in awe of what they have done and are still doing for these small films.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi John,

Thanks for the comment. According to Mr. Tombs, they're having difficulty restoring Snake Sisters since the original prints are heavily damaged. In defense of his company, I believe Mondo Macabro is established enough to release a more-than-decent DVD for our filmic treasures. The 2-disc DVD for Silip, with its extras and the tremendous effort done to restore it from the original print, is to die for and is proof that their efforts are labors of love and respect for our cinema. I just hope that they become unbound from the niche that they have established themselves in, and start restoring and releasing films which are not in the same genre as this or Silip.

alphalpha said...


maybe this info has already reached you, but you may check out rotterdam and berlinale film fest trainee program -- for film critics below 30. :-)

rotterdam trainee project festivalrot
deadline: november 9

berlinale talent campus: Talent Press
http://www.berlinal e-talentcampus. de/story/ 90/1890.html
deadline: october 15

reg and stay is free and sbsidized yata ang plane fare.

and please continue reviewing more films. thanks!

John Santos said...

How appropriate that his name is Mr. Tombs :)

It really sucks that a movie made in 1984 would have deteriorated that badly. Does this mean I'm going to have to resort to the VCD version, which I heard was just terrible? I hope that they successfully restore the print, or at least another uncut print resurfaces in the near future.

I think even if they don't move out of their niche market, there would still be a whole lot from the Philippines they can source. All those Darna films, 50s fantasy films, comic book-based films, sex films, etc. would be great for their company. Imagine if they released a mastered DVD of Castillo's Nympha or de Leon's Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo...

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Alpha,

Khavn forwarded me an email about the trainee programs and I'll try to apply although I'm not really anticipating being accepted since I don't have any published works as of yet, but it's worth a try.

Hi John,

Yeah, our cinema is so vast and undervalued that it's quite a pity that the world is only discovering these gems now, now that when most of them are in a pitiful state or are already gone.