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.