With a very weird and twisted screenplay by first-time director/writer Valdimar Jóhannsson and poet, novelist, and Bjork songwriter, Sjon, this Icelandic import from A24 Films is moody, creepy, strange, and gives you a case of “what-if’s” with its unusual plot.
Somewhere in the desolate outback of Iceland lies the lonely sheep farm of hard-working farmers, Maria (Noomi Rapace) and her husband, Ingvar (Hilmir Snaer Guonason). On Christmas night, sheep #3115 gets a surprise visit from some thing that knocks her up. Santa? An alien? A disturbed sheep lover? Who knows! But months later, as the couple are delivering baby sheep (yes, that’s really shown!), they’re in for a shocker as #3115 pops out a. . . thingamajig! It’s a baby sheep and human hybrid that Maria & Ingvar decide to raise as a human instead of an animal, most likely because they lost their own little girl years before.
Calling her Ada, this hybrid “child” grows up in their house as their daughter, as she walks on two human feet and understands Icelandic. However, sheep #3115 wants her kid back and causes some problems, but more problems arise when Ingvar’s worthless, lazy brother, Petur (Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson) shows up and thinks Ada is an abomination. But after spending some quality time with the little mutton chop, Petur’s heart melts and accepts Ada as part of this very odd family. Petur tries to hit on Maria, but she’s having none of it, after all, what would the neighbors think? Oh, wait. . . they don’t have any. Never mind.
After some deceptively long and drawn-out chapters (the film is told in chapters for some reason), the shocking, surprising, and out-of-nowhere ending hits you in the face. As much as that one-two gut-punch ending is one for the books, what follows afterwards is just plain awkward and strange. I don’t know if director Jóhannsson was going for some artsy-fartsy statement at the very end, but it didn’t work for me. Up until then, the story was off-kilter and nutty enough for me to stay invested in the story and the people, which, for these first-time writers and a newbie director, wasn’t too bad. Jóhannsson clearly has some style and just needs to polish it a bit more.
The real credit of this peculiar piece of cinema goes to the actors. Rapace, known in the U.S. for being Elizabeth Shaw in the last two Alien movies, gets to speak her native tongue (when she speaks at all) and delivers a powerful, nuanced performance, considering she’s playing a doting mother to a hybrid child that’s part CGI. Guoanason, who does mostly Icelandic V/O for Disney animation, plays Ingvar so real, so natural, you’d swear he’s never acting in any scene. If you want weird and unexpected, this movie is for you. Oh yes, it’s in Icelandic with English subtitles, so be prepared to read!
**Now showing only in theaters
Yeah, I know, that’s a weird title for a movie, but in 1973 it was a mini-blockbuster at the theater, thanks to the off-beat story, the cast, and the outstanding SPFX. It also has a distinction for having real and very poisonous king cobras on the set as part of the plot. Yikes!!
Five years before he became a household name with TV shows like Battlestar: Galactica and then later on with The A-Team, Dirk Benedict played a college dweeb named David Blake who needs a job. Luckily, ex-professor Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) has just the position for him–working in the doctor’s secret laboratory. Y’see, Dr. Stoner loves snakes. I mean, this guy is obsessed with snakes! He’s convinced that Earth is doomed and transforming humans into reptiles is the only way they’ll survive any ecological disaster which will wipe out humanity. Hmmm. . . okay, sounds good.
But what David doesn’t know is, all those ‘anti-venom injections’ the good doctor keeps giving him are really Dr. Stoner’s secret snake elixir! Uh-oh! David begins to experience strange nightmares, skin peeling, losing weight, and other terrible side effects, but the doctor tells him those are merely effects of the toxin. Meanwhile, David begins a romance with Stoner’s daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies), although her father objects and insists that she not have any sexual relations with him. As things worsen for David, Dr. Stoner’s suspicious colleague, Dr. Daniels (Richard B. Schull), arrives and berates Dr. Stone. OOOoo! Not a good idea! He’s soon put to a sinister “snake test” and then fed to a hungry python.
Things escalate as David sees his snake-like face in a mirror and goes nuts, while Kristina visits the local carnival and sees their “Snake Man” freak show. Horrified, she recognizes the half-man/half-snake as their old assistant and races home, only to find that David has been completely changed into a huge, blue-eyed King Cobra! Needless to say, this movie does not end well. Written by Hal Dresner (TV’s Night Gallery) and make-up man Daniel C. Streipeke (his one and only screenplay), this film plays out like an extended TV episode of Night Gallery or Outer Limits, and it’s no wonder as Bernard Kowalski has a long and impressive history of directing TV shows and made-for-TV movies.
John Chambers, famous for his Star Trek and Planet of the Apes make-up, did the snake effects and they’re plenty creepy. Although the premise of a man being turned into a snake is pretty silly, this movie gives it an edge and nice feel to it, making it plausible and fun to watch. Benedict even makes it convincing, not slipping into some B-schlocky melodrama that it could have gone. Strother Martin is always a delight and plays the deranged doctor with such honest sincerity that you almost feel sorry for him.