Jaws of Satan (1981)


aka King Cobra

USA. 1981.


Director – Bob Claver, Screenplay – Gerry Holland, Story – James Calloway, Producer – Bill Wilson, Photography – Dean Cundey, Music – Roger Kellaway, Snake Mechanical Effects – Eoin Sprott, Art Direction – Robert Topol. Production Company – United Artists


Fritz Weaver (Father Tom Farrow), Gretchen Corbett (Dr Maggie Sheridan), Jon Korkes (Dr Paul Hendricks), Norman Lloyd (The Monsignore), Diana Douglas (Evelyn Downs), Jack Gordan (Mayor Grady Thorpe), Bob Hannah (Matt Perry), Christina Applegate (Kim Perry), John McCurry (Sheriff George Tatum), Mark Richards (Dr Owens), Nancy Priddy (Elizabeth Perry), Bill Gribble (Trainman), Jamie Lawrence (Carnie Kid)


In the town of Eutaw in Greene County, Alabama, local doctor Maggie Sheridan becomes concerned at an increasing number of deaths where the victims appear to have been killed by massive doses of snake venom. She brings in herpetologist Paul Hendricks but he is puzzled over how ordinary rattlers could be responsible for such high doses. Local white witch Evelyn Downs warns the local Catholic priest Father Tom Farrow of great danger she sees looming over him but then she too becomes a snakebite victim. Farrow comes to realise what is happening is due to a curse placed on his family by druids that they killed and that the snakes are now being satanically empowered to kill.

Jaws of Satan is a largely forgotten B-budget film that came out in the early 1980s. It did not receive a very widespread release at the time and even failed to get picked up during the video revolution that came along a couple of years later. Today the only real footnote that Jaws of Satan has is that it was the film debut of a ten-year-old Christina Applegate of Married With Children (1987-97) fame who plays the young daughter of the self-interested businessman who is briefly threatened by a snake as she sneaks into her father’s stadium near the end.

It feels as though Jaws of Satan has been conceived as a mix of two fads from the 1970s horror film. The title alone suggests a mix of the massive hit of Jaws (1975) and the fad for animals amok that we had in the 1970s having been thrown together with the fad for occult and devil worship films that we had throughout the decade after the successes of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). In actuality, Jaws of Satan is just a standard Animals Amok film and the element about the snakes being satanically empowered to enact vengeance for the crimes of Fritz Weaver’s family is poorly integrated.

Jaws of Satan is badly directed on most levels. The film’s credibility gets shot fairly much from the opening scene where we have actors on board a train pretending to react to and be attacked by closeups of a snake’s fangs and the door of the train just happening to slide open as the victim falls back – a scene that is completely lacking in believability. The snake scenes throughout are poorly directed and Bob Claver fails to generate any suspense. There is a scene where a snake gets into Gretchen Corbett’s house – here Claver’s cutaways, his attempt to mislead us that it has crept into the shower, his following it as it crawls up the bed – all have a tedious pedestrianness to them. You can predict every single thing that is going to happen in the scene and Claver’s attempt to create fake suspense out of situation achieves zip. Although the most ridiculous and absurd scene in the film is the climactic one where Fritz Weaver’s priest must venture into the cavern, holding out a crucifix and confront the evil snake as it stands over an altar preparing to sacrifice Gretchen Corbett. The image is as ridiculous as it sounds.

The script deals in a great many cliches. There is the tedium inducing post-Jaws cliche of the mayor who refuses to do anything about the menace for reasons of the town’s commercial interests. Although Jaws of Satan must hold the lamest excuse ever offered up in one of these characterisations – the mayor doesn’t want to endanger the opening of the town’s new dog track! Claver throws in a scene with a pathologist (Mark Richards) who eats food while examining corpses, which, aside from the fact that it has become a cliche for every almost film ever featuring a pathologist, draws attention to it as an affectation because Claver directs it in such an obvious and distracting way.

Jaws of Satan was the only cinematically released film ever made by tv director Bob Claver, best known as one of the producers of tv’s The Partridge Family (1970-4).

Full film available online here:-

Actors: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Themes: , , , ,