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  Black Snake Whip Up A Storm
Year: 1973
Director: Russ Meyer
Stars: Anouska Hempel, David Warbeck, Percy Herbert, Thomas Baptiste, Milton McCollin, Bernard Boston, Vikki Richards, David Prowse, Bloke Modisane, Anthony Sharp, Robert Lee
Genre: Thriller, Trash, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1835 and the place is the West Indies where slavery on the island plantations is rife, nowhere more so than on the property owned by Lady Susan Walker (Anouska Hempel), a totalitarian whose love of whipping her slaves is legendary. She is assisted by Joxer Tierney (Percy Herbert), her right hand man, who is also fond of the whip when it comes to keeping his charges in line, but often it is Lady Susan who enjoys employing the cruelties of tyranny. Meanwhile Sir Charles Walker (David Warbeck), the brother of her mysteriously missing husband, is on his way from England to clear up the conundrum of what exactly has happened to his sibling...

Not everything exploitation director Russ Meyer touched turned to box office gold, as Black Snake proved; after his attempt at serious filmmaking with The Seven Minutes, he evidently had it in mind to make movies with a message, hence the anti-racism themed effort here. According to Meyer, the lack of buxom women was the real reason this flopped, and indeed there is a notable absence of nudity or even much in the way of sexual situations, with the main sequence to feature Hempel undressed actually putting an obvious body double into play, whether to spare the actress's blushes or because he felt the film needed more nudity is unknown.

Maybe it did need more nudity, as otherwise it's a wearisome experience for the most part with its single-minded emphasis on sadism. Warbeck's Sir Charles, using a pseudonym to protect his investigations, is representative of the fact that not all whites are as bad as Lady Susan (for some reason he is first seen at the family home of "Maxwell House", which suggests less landed gentry and more the brand of Meyer's preferred instant coffee). Once he arrives, posing as the new book keeper, he is plunged into torrid emotions and untrammelled violence, as everyone here seems to be on the verge of exploding in fury - Charles starts to head that way himself after a short while in their company.

Not all the black inhabitants are slaves, and Bernard Boston puts in a creditable performance as Daladier, Lady Susan's captain of the guards who happens to be gay for no motive apparent in the script, but of the slaves there is rabble rouser Joshua (Milton McCollin), who early on encourages another slave to escape only to see him eaten by a shark rather than face the soldiers' rifles (oddly, the shark makes submarine sonar noises). Joshua tries to arrange an uprising that is obviously awaiting its time to occur, as without it the film would fizzle out, and it's true that Meyer does work up an atmosphere of mounting hysteria, but you'll likely be tired of it before the climax.

In fact, Black Snake looks less like an indictment of racism, although it certainly doesn't make it look admirable in any form, than it does a determination to keep a strong woman in her place. Lady Susan, with Hempel spitting out her lines with relish, appears to represent the kind of strong willed woman that Meyer despises on this evidence, a female who is so sure of her mind and her ability to keep men down under the heel of her boot that everything she does looks reprehensible. She's the kind of character who if you took away her blatant prejudices would fit right in on a BBC Sunday night serial of the seventies, a heroine with whose velvet glove concealed a fist of iron. Sadly, as essayed here, it's hard to enjoy the outrageousness when it's played so straight, so while it's well made there's not much to distinguish its tone from failures like Mandingo. Music by William Loose.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Russ Meyer  (1922 - 2004)

American director and one of the most notable cult filmmakers of the 60s and 70s. Meyer worked as a newsreel cameraman during World War II, before becoming a photographer. In 1959, his work for Playboy led to his first film – the hugely successful ‘nudie’ feature The Immoral Mr Teas. Other soft-core features followed before Meyer moved to a series of trashy, thrilling B-movies – Mudhoney, Motor Psycho and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! – that combined the two elements – incredibly voluptuous women and graphic violence – that would become Meyer’s trademark.

Cherry, Harry & Raquel! and Vixen were more sexual and cartoonish, developing Meyer’s excellent visual sense and skilful editing techniques. Meyer made two films for 20th Century Fox – the bawdy satire Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (written by critic Roger Ebert) and the semi-serious The Seven Minutes, but their commercial failure led the director to return to his independent roots. Supervixens, Up! and 1979’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens were even more energetic, inventive and sex-filled than their predecessors, the latter proving to be the last film Meyer directed.

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