Unrated - Cinema of the Extreme

Mondo Macabro, long a fan favorite among devotees of exotic, macabre cinema, early developed a reputation for its eclectic offerings and exceptional supplements. The company continues to strengthen its catalogue by adding erotica to its long list of horror and science-fiction fare. Equal parts documentary and jiggling flesh show, Snake Dancer is a surprisingly dramatic exploration of personal freedom -- recounting the story of one exotic dancer’s struggle against a hypocritical regime (things haven’t changed very much!) and the desire to be herself. A hip-grinding spectacle of live dance shows, gyrating flesh, and exploitative verve, this visual feast is somewhat uneven in its story structure, and sports a downbeat ending that rather negates the inspirational attitude previously established. This aside, its simplistic charm and exotic skin parade makes it a cultural snapshot. At the same time, the movie succeeds as simple yet oh-so satisfying exploitation. Appearing for the first time on DVD, uncut and with extensive extras, this snake-fondling, government bashing rallying call for freedom is smart, raunchy, and unrepentant -- not bad for a flick about a woman getting it on with reptiles!

Billed as “the incredible true story of Glenda Kemp. South Africa’s notorious ‘snake dancer,” this semi- biographical feature follows the life and times, struggles and triumphs of Ms. Kemp as she struggles to stay true to herself, her exotic art, and her God-given right to play with long, slippery -- er, snakes (what did you think I was going to say, you pervert!). Toiling beneath the heavy, well-oiled heel of one of the world’s most reprehensive, repressive governments, 1970’s South Africa was not a place to be . . . different. In fact, the politically strong subtext that instills this film with outrage depicts a government whose greatest fear was that someone, somewhere might be enjoying themselves! Gasp!!! Much like the cultural repression and self-appointed moral watchdogs raping the joy from living in both the Unites States and Europe, this government is clearly the enemy. The governmental institution comes across as ridiculous in its terror of strip-tease dancing, considering that the same culture saw nothing immoral in owning human beings. Glenda Kemp was one of the few folks who stood up to the government’s oppression, and by all accounts had a damn fun time doing it! Discovering within her scandalous dancing act -- soon to become a strip-tease -- a liberating expression of who she was, and who she wanted to be, she performed first in nightclubs and then in private parties. In the meantime, she battled heavy- handed community leaders, repressive governments, sleaze ball agents, and well meaning friends/family that couldn’t understand what she was doing. A supposedly devout Christian (a point that the director seems to emphasize), Glenda felt there was nothing wrong with her writhing, oiled-up snake routines, and neither will you !

Snake Dancer, directed by the workmanlike Dirk de Villiers, captures the moral battle between Glenda and her critics, as well as the environment of its troubled times, with honesty and style. More importantly, it focuses on the seductive performances of Ms. Kemp, never forgetting that, despite its thematic emphasis on personal liberation, it’s first and last about the skin. Glenda is her own source material, playing herself in a nod to post-modernism. A kick-start to the libido, Snake Dancer manages to depict the struggle between political tyranny and personal choice between its erotic if not explicit shots of fleshy thighs and hand-puppets fondling breasts. A troubling cultural mirror of our own modern government, it serves as both a warning against censorship and invitation to follow one’s bliss. Directed with enthusiasm if not inspiration, Glenda’s routines are the major selling point of the film. The coloring schemes and atmosphere are somewhat drab, yet in their simplicity and cheapness capture the harsh glare and heat of live club performances. Warning: Snake Dancer is not average sexploitation! While Glenda’s spicy live shows are tasty,, they are ‘naughty’ without being filthy, scandalous without diving into softcore territory. If you want smut, get a porn and some Kleenex. If you can appreciate the stylistic combination of Glenda’s sexual ‘teasing’ and the philosophical struggle it underscores, than this skin show is for you!

The picture quality for Snake Dancer is clean if not as pristine as other MM releases, sporting a Full Screen transfer in 1.33:1 that is mostly free of grain or speckling but occasionally soft. Colors throb with that sinful glean reminiscent of one of Glenda’s live shows. One can almost sense the sweaty heat of the environment. Audio is clear, free of any major distortion in Dolby Digital.

Extras in this nostalgic feast of pubic hair, snake coils, and strobe lights are not as exhaustive as the last few MM releases, yet informative. The fellows at MM certainly do their homework, as extensive liner notes by Pete Tombs prove, yet the highlight of the disc is the Exclusive Interview with director Villiers, which covers his career in depth, including his personal thoughts on the feature and the world of filmmaking in general. He discusses his early films, the financial difficulty working in South Africa, and how political pressure effected the movie industry. His memories are rounded out with memories of Glenda and the very real controversy that surrounded her at the time. We learn, among other juicy details, that Glenda is now a teacher, more religious than ever, and why the director tacked on her story such a downbeat (if symbolic) ending. We also learn why Villiers believes the film didn’t do well in his homeland (or as well as he’d hoped abroad), and various facets of his overall career. Divided into three major themes, the interview focuses mostly on Snake Dancer. The remaining interview covers The Virgin Goddess and cult filmmaker Jodorowsky. Next up is “Escape From Apartheid: A History of South African Cinema.” This critically introspective featurette on African Exploitation films is led by critic Trevor Steele Taylor, who, while occasionally dry, is indeed knowledgeable. Taylor discusses the cultural and filmic qualities/challenges unique to the South African government, its troubled history, and how political influences shaped the film industry. >From the bare-bones days of apartheid to government tax break incentives, we get a solid overview of the place and its talents. Along the way several genre and art film directors are discussed, including Richard Stanley. The MM preview reel rounds out this surprisingly enjoyable exercise in tasteful shlock.

William P. Simmons


Directed by Dirk de Villiers

English Language
South Africa/1976/87 Min. Colour

Special Features:
Interview with Director
Featurette on African Exploitation Films
Mondo Macabro Preview Reel

Region: 0 / NSTC
Full Screen (1.33:1)
Dolby Digital



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