Víbora Caliente (Hot Snake)

(CONACITE Dos, 1976)

Director: Fernando Durán Rojas; Adaptation: Antonio Orellana; Story: Eric del Castillo; Photo: Raúl Domínguez; Music: Nacho Méndez; Film Ed: Angel Camacho; Asst Dir: Damián Acosta Esparza; Camera Op: Agustín Lara; Makeup: Antonio Ramírez del Río; Sound: Consuelo Jaramillo; Union: STIC; Eastmancolor and Panavision

CAST: Eric del Castillo (Emiliano), Christa Linder (Eva), Carlos East (John Jenkins), Ricardo Noriega (Eric), Noé Murayama (Miranda), Jorge Russek (Sheriff), Mónica Miguel (Ramona), Carlos Bravo (bartender), Ponciano del Castillo, Federico Falcón (Army captain), Gustavo del Castillo, ?-aúl Hernández, Antonio Leo, Diana Herrera, Angel de la Peña, Magnolia Rivas, Ernesto Juárez, Fernando Pinkus (?hotel employee), Oscar Zaro, ?José L. Murillo (dancing drunk on stage in saloon)

NOTES: this grim psychological Western was allegedly shot in two versions, English and Spanish. Based on a story by Eric del Castillo (who apparently packed the cast with his relatives, as the above list shows--Federico Falcón is his brother, and the other "del Castillos" are probably related), Víbora caliente is an "adult" Western with sex, violence, and bad language (also a scene of two horses copulating, a la Charle Bronson's Chino). The film moves along at a decent pace and is generally entertaining, although not outstanding.

The characters are mostly unsympathetic, from the crude and blustering Emiliano, the mercenary Eva (Christa Linder, topless in a fair amount of footage), the necrophiliac Jenkins, to the obsessive Eric (played by weasel-faced Ricardo Noriega, son of actor Eduardo Noriega). The performers are all satisfactory, and the look of the film is appropriately bleak (it was shot in Durango). The video transfer loses the Panavision aspect (except in the letter-boxed opening sequence): one scene towards the end features a classic "empty screen" due to cropping--Eric is off-screen to the left, and Emiliano is off-screen to the right, leaving the audience with a nice view of a rocky landscape but no clue as what is supposed to be happening!

As the film opens, two members of the U.S. Cavalry are escorting a flag-draped coffin through the desert, accompanied by the dead man's widow. They are stopped by Jenkins, who kills the two men and robs a strongbox on the wagon. He strips the widow and starts to kiss her, but she scratches his face. Jenkins shoots her but then starts kissing and fondling her nude corpse! (A tasteful opening sequence if there ever was one)

The Army offers a $5,000 reward for Jenkins. The sheriff of Hot Snake encourages bounty hunter Emiliano to try for the money, but Emiliano is busy in the bedroom with saloon girl Eva (in one rather audacious scene, Emiliano performs oral sex on her, mostly signified by closeups of her face in ecstasy). Eventually, he goes to Indian bruja Ramona, who predicts that someone "close" to him will be his downfall. Miranda, another bounty hunter, arrives in Hot Snake; he tells Emiliano that he has a score to settle with Jenkins. Emiliano suggests that Miranda see Ramona first. Miranda says "You believe in those Indian superstitions?" and Emiliano replies, "We both have Indian blood in us." But Ramona's magic doesn't help, and Miranda is killed by Jenkins.

Emiliano goes out looking for Jenkins. He doesn't know he's being shadowed by Eric, a young man whose story is revealed in a series of flashbacks: one day, while shooting at some bottles, he is seen by Emiliano and Eva, who laugh at his efforts. He is also present when Emiliano brings in the body of an outlaw, receives a large cash reward, and is greeted warmly by Eva. Later, Eric is the waiter who brings some liquor to Emiliano and Eva; Eric accidentally fires Emiliano's pistol while looking at it, and the drunken Emiliano knocks him down, then mocks him and forces him at gunpoint to pick up a coin off the floor as his tip. Thus, Eric is not only jealous of Emiliano's success and his relationship with Eva, but also has a personal grudge against the bounty hunter.

Emiliano confronts Jenkins and kills him (Jenkins is about to eat a rattlesnake he caught--a visual pun on the film's title--a "hot snake" roasting over the campfire). However, as he begins the long ride back to Hot Snake with the corpse, mysterious things begin to occur. One morning, he wakes to find Jenkins' body sitting up, eyes open. Later, Emiliano falls off his horse and is surrounded by rattlesnakes. When he finally catches up with his mount, Jenkins is sitting up again, next to a campfire! The bounty hunter riddles the corpse with bullets, but it later vanishes once more. During a solar eclipse, Emiliano thinks he sees Jenkins on horseback, chasing him.

Finally, Eric reveals himself to the nearly-insane Emiliano, and shoots him in both hands. Emiliano pleads with Eric to finish the job, so the younger man does. When Emiliano dies, the witch Ramona gets a "feeling" and viciously whips her stone idols. Eric turns in Jenkins' corpse for the reward, and Eva is now his for the taking. However, she sees Emiliano's pistol, and then drugs Eric's whiskey. As he begins to feel the effects of the drug, Eric drowns her in the bathtub.

Riding out into the desert, Eric sees the undead Emiliano and Jenkins shooting at him. As he dies, they change into the sheriff and his deputy.

Víbora caliente has a minor supernatural component (Ramona's prediction and the implication that she had something to do with Eric's downfall), but most of the unusual occurrences can be explained away rationally. Presumably, Eric is the one who keeps stealing Jenkins' corpse and setting it up in compromising poses to confuse and terrorize Emiliano; in one scene, he has the chance to shoot Emiliano from ambush, but decides not to, obviously choosing to draw out his vengeance. Emiliano's visions during the eclipse could be the result of his physical and psychological deterioration. Eric's final hallucinations could be attributed to the drugged drink.

On the whole, Víbora caliente is well-made and interesting, if a bit bleak and depressing.


Vibora caliente can be purchased from Oxxo Films

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Review posted 18 May 2000 by D. Wilt (dw45@umail.umd.edu).