Before he became one of the nation’s most preeminent purveyors of super-wild “alternative concepts”, aka nutty theories, Whitley Strieber wrote a couple of standout horror novels in the midst of the horror paperback and movie boom of the 70’s and 80’s. The first of those novels was adapted into the film Wolfen, which was released on July 24th, 1981. Starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora and Edward James Olmos, Wolfen is a strong adaptation, a stylishly brutal supernatural monster movie that featured something akin to “Predator-vision” five years before The Predator came to be. Between Wolfen, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, 1981 is almost indisputably cinema’s greatest year for werewolves (or, if you prefer, wolf-god-spirits in the case of Wolfen).
And while we’re here in 1981, and on the date of July 24th, no less, we can talk about a different type of supernatural animal with a deadly bite, and a very different type of movie in terms of quality and legacy. First, let’s set the scene: the 70’s are in the rearview mirror, and of all the horror sub-genres to find success in the decade, the most impactful is one I like to call, “The Devil’s Gonna Get You.” The Exorcist, The Omen and The Amityville Horror–all descendants of Rosemary’s Baby, by the way–all made more money than the overwhelming majority of horror movies released in the 70’s. And yet, not one of them was the biggest horror movie of the decade: that distinction belonged to the biggest movie of all time to that point, Jaws, which kicked off its own wave of “Nature’s Gonna Kill You, Probably by Eating You” horror stories.
Now, with the 80’s in its infancy, if you’re a filmmaker looking to exploit the hottest horror trend, which one do you go with? The story of Satanic threats, or the one featuring an animal killer? Well, who says you have to make a choice at all? Why not take inspiration from the following quote from the trailer for the aforementioned highest grossing movie ever made at the time: “It is as if God created the devil and gave him… jaws.”
Indeed, the snake in Jaws of Satan, aka King Cobra, is literally the Devil himself and that’s almost the least of this film’s absurdities. With its meddling, inept, opening-day-obsessed mayor, and its hero priest who’s battling both the forces of Hell and his own crisis of faith at the same time, the movie can be rightly and succinctly characterized as a “Jaws/Exorcist ripoff hybrid.” Despite this infusion of the devilishly supernatural, it’s a movie that mostly consists of snake stalking and snake biting, with what must surely be some of the most ominous snake-hand-puppetry ever committed to film.
Lastly, I leave you with a couple of illustrations from the late, prolific pulp and horror artist Lee Brown Coye, born this day in 1907.