It's not often that I review a film that has been completely disowned by its writer/director, but here we go. In this interview Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David Lynch) urges people not to watch the film she spent the best part of a year on.
“Don't see Hisss!” comes the startling reply. “It's not my movie. I shot it, but then they took it away, they cut it, edited it, scored it. It's not my movie.”Well, that's pretty clear. When I watched Hisss (it's really hard to keep typing that extra S, by the way) I had no idea Jennifer Lynch was the daughter of the cult director. I'm not sure it matters, because the only David Lynch film Hisss resembles is Dune. It has the same bonkers attempt at a rationale, the same ramshackle structure, the same over-the-top villainy. That said, it is a far better film that Dune. I know that's like saying I'm a nicer person than Stalin, but still.
Anyway, here's the thing - I enjoyed Hisss. I watched it all the way through, finding some bits absurd, some bits downright funny, some effects ropy. What makes it better than most Western horror films, though, is its exuberant bonkersness, some very good visual moments, and a general air of 'Why the hell not?' that is quite refreshing. Also, I had a drink beforehand, which made some of the comedic bits involving a confused Indian mother-in-law very enjoyable.
So, what's it about? The story is relatively simple. An evil American who is dying from a brain tumour (very well played by Jeff Doucette) gambles all on an Indian legend - that the Cobra Goddess or Nagin will cure him if he takes her lover hostage. We know from a pre-credit sequence that the said goddess is a. real and b. scary, so the stakes are high. Evil American - whose name is George States - hires some local muscle and kidnaps a male cobra during the very act of ophidian congress.
This prompts the Nagin to transform herself into a lovely young lady, Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat. Ms Sherawat spends a lot of of his film writhing in mud, coiling herself around people and things, and generally being sexy 'n' scaly. She does not have any lines, perhaps because having a goddess speak would undermine her sensuous mystique somewhat. What she does have is a quick way of dealing with nasty men, starting with two sleazeballs who try to rape her during the Holi festival.
The transformation sequences are quite well done, considering the film did not have a big budget. Also (and I know this says something about me) I was pleased that the Nagin actually swallowed one guy whole, lay around digesting him for a bit, and then left his remains in his apartment as a kind of huge, denim-clad owl pellet. It was very satisfying when my half-cut prediction of 'a giant snake turd' was verified.
Such shenanigans will tend to attract the attention of the authorities. Inspector Vikram Gupta (Irrfan Khan) investigates, and as the body count mounts he becomes convinced that this is no normal serial killer. This is partly because the victims are killed by 1,000 times the lethal amount of cobra venom, but also because eyewitnesses keep talking about this huge snake. Lynch's story focuses on male violence in various forms and, if you're that way inclined, you can see the Nagin as a force of avenging womanhood.
Meanwhile evil George States is preparing himself for the showdown with the Nagin. This is achieved via convoluted means that include smearing snake shit on a hapless minion, electrocuting a snake charmer, and some folderol with night-vision gear and sacred music. But there's also time for a scene in the temple of the Nagin, where the goddess meets her own priesthood. This adds nothing to the plot, but it is lovely to look at. Anyway, in the end we know the baddie will suffer, and the Nagin will get her lover back. And, in a sub-plot, Gupta and his wife will be blessed with a baby, because the Snake Goddess also controls fertility. Which is nice.
In conclusion, then, Hisss is a somewhat silly but entertaining film that has a few stunning moments. It's nowhere near as bad as its writer/director seems to think.