Now here is a real oddity: a cut and paste exploitation film mixing American B-movie stars with effects footage stolen from the Hong Kong cult classic Calamity of Snakes (1983). It opens with a sub-Indiana Jones prologue in 1946 where an American jungle trekker helps a Chinese boy and his scientist father locate his kidnapped sister, just as she is about to be sacrificed by a snake-worshippers. Either the kid is a moron or just doesn’t like his sister, because his idiotic antics alert the snake cult to their presence, whereupon the girl is killed and the American gets speared to death. After shooting the snake chieftain dead, the boy and his father escape by leaping off a waterfall. Forty years later that boy grows up to be arrogant property tycoon Jason King (Kao Yuen) - not to be confused with the mighty moustachioed hero Peter Wyngarde played in the 1970s (more’s the pity) - who orders immediate extermination after his construction crew unearth a huge nest of snakes at the site of his latest apartment complex. He personally squishes a slew of serpents with a forklift truck. Splat! What Jason doesn’t know is the snakes are only the first in an invasion force acting at the behest of a mad Snake Priestess (Eartha Kitt) who inhabits a cave in Mexico along with her serpent-fondling avant-garde dance troupe.
Worried over her husband’s safety, Jason’s wife Michelle (Kathleen Lu) contacts American snake expert Doctor Morgan Bates (Clint Howard), whose father was the man who died helping Jason’s dad. Small world, ain’t it? This perhaps explains why surly Dr. Bates is less than enthusiastic about helping Michelle when she arrives in America, but perky lab assistant Laura Chase (Anne Lockhart) persuades his colleague, Professor Tim Muffet (Christopher Mitchum) to lend a hand. Muffet dons shades and camo gear, straps on his six-gun (what kind of a herpatologist is he?!) and leads the ladies into the Mexican desert. Quite what they hoped to accomplish is anyone’s guess, but the snake cult turn out to have more than face paint and slinky dance moves in their arsenal. Soon Muffet and the ladies are on the run from an oddly multiracial gang of machinegun-toting road warrior types. Luckily one-man army Dr. Bates swings into action.
At least the makers of Serpent Warriors had the good sense to lift only the juiciest scenes from Calamity of Snakes, including the infamous battle between a kung fu snake-catcher and a giant flying boa constrictor the third act showstopper wherein hundreds of slithery fiends invade the skyscraper to attack its disco-dancing residents, and the climactic money shot of one character getting set on fire whilst wielding a samurai sword against the biggest snake. Otherwise, the stolen footage is awkwardly intergrated into a dull plot that muddles the EC comics morality of the original. Whereas before Frances Chang, or Jason King as he is called here, was simply an odious man being punished for his sins, the new version throws in a sinister snake cult with some nebulous plan for world domination. Frenetic pacing and whiplash editing make the HK scenes stand out from the additional footage which crawls along at a snail’s pace between poorly staged shootouts in the desert.
None of the sullen characters, essayed by western veteran Clint Howard, exploitation stalwart Chris Mitchum, nor Battlestar Galactica alumnus Anne Lockhart, are especially engaging while King (or Chang) remains an unrepentent bastard and his wife an annoying drip. Jazz vamp and erstwhile Catwoman Eartha Kitt camps it up in gold face paint, funky robes and a Tina Turner fright wig surrounded by scantily-clad dancers while oiled hippies in loin cloths suckle snake guts for tea. At the fadeout she morphs into a hideous snake woman whilst delivering an incomprehensible “beware the serpents” speech. How did this presumably Far Eastern snake cult end up in Mexico? There is a perfectly logical explanation, but we’ve no time to get into that...