Anacondas: Hunt For the Blood Orchid is out on DVD just a few months after its theatrical run. Perhaps those that avoided it on the big screen will give it a second life on DVD — it really is a great little creature feature.
Anacondas: Hunt For the Blood Orchid is a sequel to 1997's campy semi-classic, Anaconda. Anaconda had known names in it, like Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson; and somewhat known names like Kari Wurer, Vincent Castellanos, and Danny Trejo. When you read the cast list in the credits of Anacondas, you are unlikely to recognize any of them (except maybe Morris Chestnut, and even then only if you are a card-carrying fan). The director, Dwight H. Little is hardly a household name either -- I've seen a few of his movies, but the only one I've even semi liked is Murder at 1600 from way back in 1996.
Of course, the real star in these snaky horror flicks are the reptiles themselves. Who can forget Jon Voight being sucked up then regurgitated half-alive in the first Anaconda installment? Who can forget the dodgy CGI and rickety snake puppets? It was bad, but somehow that's what made Anaconda so much fun. Anacondas is a guilty pleasure too, but it's a rarity in sequel-dom in that it is slicker, snappier and markedly better than its predecessor. And it holds up in repeated viewings (OK, well, I’ve seen it only twice… but I wouldn’t mind seeing it again in its cable run, if I was flipping channels.)
The actors, while not especially well-known, are quite good in their roles. Johnny Messner plays Bill Johnson, a taciturn boat captain who's been hired by a group of greedy scientists out to collect the rare Blood Orchid of Borneo, which only blooms for a short time, once every seven years. The Blood Orchid, it's been discovered in the city labs, holds the key to the fountain of youth: A guaranteed bestseller on the pharmaceutical market. The greediest of greedies is Dr. Jack Byron (Matthew Marsden) who will stop at nothing -- not dangerous monsoons, not toothy crocodiles, not ravenous snakes -- to get the flower that will add up to his big payday. As the danger increases, the rest of the scientists, researchers and venture capitalists start to value their lives a little more than the almighty dollar. The lowliest person on the boat -- Byron's assistant, Samantha (KaDee Strickland) -- turns out to be the smartest and toughest when the chips are down.
And the chips are down a helluva lot. It starts off like Disney's Jungle Cruise Adventure, but that idyll does not last for long. The river and its banks are rife with crazed crocodiles, paralytic arachnids, blood-sucking leeches, and headhunting natives. And worst of all, there's no cell phone reception. The horror, the horror!
Comic relief is provided by Kong, an expressive little capuchin monkey belonging to Captain Johnson. Played with panache by two simian thesps, he is one of the most memorable characters in the film with his adorable, over the top reactions to all the perils that befall the expedition in water and on land. Another source of smiles is Eugene Bryd as Cole, who at first appears to be the token minority character who loudly expresses his fear of everything — but don't judge him too quickly.
Despite their title billing, the anaconda action is actually kept to a bare minimum. This is probably a good thing, as the CGI budget hasn't gone up much since the first movie. At least these snakes get to have a decadent orgy scene towards the end (yes, that's true -- even I couldn't make up something like that).
Anacondas is not 'snakespeare' but it's got the right mix of horror, suspense and camp and it delivers exactly what it promises. It’s a safe bet for a rental, and a possible keeper for fans of old fashioned man-vs-monster horror flicks.
There isn’t a commentary on the DVD, but you do have a choice between full screen and widescreen, seeing deleted scenes (mostly showing the character of Sam), and watching a Special Effects featurette. The featurette is actually pretty informative as it compares the CGI tools from Anaconda to Anacondas, and the actors all talk about what it was like to work with the latest technology. The featurette of course focuses mostly on the snakes, but it also shows how CGI aided some of the scenes with the Bloody Mary river-boat going over the falls.
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson