Snake Woman's Curse (1968)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Gothic Film, Natural Horror  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |  
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The title might sound like a monster-movie shocker but Snake Woman's Curse is actually a restrained, quiet affair. Director Nobuo Nakagawa was known for the subtlety of his technique and that observation holds true here: the script builds its story in a slow but effective manner, allowing the viewer to truly feel the suffering of its heroes and the shockingly casual cruelty of its villains. Fittingly, the performances conform to this conceit -- the downtrodden victims seem ghostly even before their suffering while the rich villains all tend towards an arch, overstated approach to their misdeeds. The script is also unique in that it functions as a social critique, using the plotline as a sort of allegory for the cruelty of the caste system and how it can do damage on both sides of the system. Shocks are doled out sparingly but are fairly memorable when they occur -- the best is when the rich family's son hallucinates that his fiancé is turning into a snake while locked in a romantic embrace with her. The third act sidesteps the bombastic revenge finale one might expect in favor of ending on an unexpectedly thoughtful and Buddhism-influenced note. The final result is more creepy than scary, which might disappoint horror fans who favor a more 'blood and thunder' approach, but Nakagawa's gentle, atmospheric approach is as effective in its own way. He truly creates a somber, haunted mood, using the lush photography of Yoshikazu Yamasawa and the minimalist yet hypnotic score of Shunsuke Kikuchi to sell the viewer on the story's dark mood. In short, it is not for all tastes but those who can appreciate a understated style of horror will find plenty to appreciate in Snake Woman's Curse.