Black Snake (Sweet Suzy) (Dutchess of Doom) Reviews
The time is 1835, the days of Negro slavery. Charles Walker (David Warbeck) is a handsome London aristocrat whose brother Jonathan (David "Darth Vader" Prowse) has mysteriously disappeared in the British West Indies. Charles suspects foul play and launches an undercover investigation, sailing overseas to take an unlikely accountant job on a sugar-cane plantation.
He introduces himself with a pseudonym, and soon encounters the three authority figures who keep the island's dark-skinned harvesters in check. There is Lady Susan Walker, a cold-hearted blonde and former prostitute who gained her title through strategic marriage. Her faithful cohort is Raymond, an educated French black who also happens to be flamboyantly gay. And the sadistic field boss is Joxer, an older Irishman who deals out a steady torrent of racial slurs and vicious beatings. He affectionately calls the whip his "black snake."
Charles has a lusty servant girl in his quarters, but also samples the wares of Lady Susan -- despite a strong suspicion that she's responsible for Jonathan's disappearance. Little does Charles know that his brother has fallen into a supernatural, zombie-like state. Oh my. Meanwhile, the slaves are plotting a mass revolt, though they're torn between the leadership of militant Joshua and his more philosophical father.
It's difficult to label this film "racist," because its racism is a matter of historical fact. And Joxer's and Susan's verbal abuse of the slaves is so over the top that some perverse giggles are inevitable. A drinking game focused on hearing "nigger" and "black bastard" would render its players unconscious within the first half-hour.
Though "Black Snake" has plenty of violence (including a grisly crucifixion), Meyer can't quite commit himself to crafting a serious drama. The film turns abruptly burlesque during a couple of bedroom scenes -- even the soundtrack radically transforms -- and the epilogue with happy, modern couples running naked through a field belongs in a whole different movie. Raymond's campy mincing is a hoot, and in a moment when Charles furiously tries to choke Susan, the actress goes cross-eyed like she's in a silent comedy. The incongruous shifts in tone can be laughably jarring. And really, did anyone flip the middle finger in 1835?
Still, "Black Snake" is more interesting than Meyer's films of pure sexual slapstick. Whether you giggle at its unsubtlety or recoil from its brutality, it's a memorable experiment.
It's worth a watch for a fan of this type of film.
The film intriguingly charts the slaves' political journey from placid sufferers under the rod of their bosses, kept in line by violence from others and their own colonially installed Christian beliefs although occasionally stirred by a firebrand martyr, to fully Africanised rebellion, turning the tables on Lady Susan, Joxer and the rest and meting out as good as they got. One feels very little for the whites who get killed (although they are such florid characters that it does seem a kind of shame to let them go) but also there's an uneasy feeling that the blacks when in charge of their own lives won't be exactly uninfected by the violent circles of history, a feeling which belies the touchy-feely images of contemporary black and white couples with whom the film ends. There's a sense to which, behind all the film's monstrous fustian, it is a catastrophic vision of a humanity in which every human fights for his or her own lusts, survival and will to power, all of them heading for the fire (a bit like Shakespeare's monstrous Titus Andronicus, with whom it shares an uneasy mix of lurid violence and dark humour).
There's something wholly unacceptable about Meyer's slavery film, as if he were taking one of the most sensitive areas of history and using it to mock everyone whether on the left or right of the political spectrum with a vision of humanity as utterly insane and corrupt. In a weird way, there's something positively Blakeian about the film's vision of a depraved world presided over by a monstrous and lustful female will, populated by Satanic selfhoods and involving Biblical prophecy, crucifixion and the consumption of a Babylonian Whore by fire. Yes, finally the Russ Meyer of Black Snake can be safely sat alongside the Marquis de Sade, William Shakespeare and William Blake.