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Snakes in Movies
 
Dante's Inferno [L'inferno] (1911)
 
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
 
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This is a silent movie made in Italy based on Dante Alighieri's "The Divine Comedy" written in the 14th century. It is reported to be the first feature film to be show in one screening instead of in episodes. It was an international success, making millions of dollars in 1911. It's full of special effects that must have been spectacular for the era and with lots of huge sets full of nearly-nude background actors, and, you'll be happy to know, there's a place in Hell full of snakes.

Midway through his life, Dante has lost his way on his spiritual journey to salvation. He tries to climb the hill of salvation, but the deadly sins of Greed, Pride, and Lust are blocking his way. So Dante's muse Beatrice asks the ancient Roman poet Virgil to guide Dante using the back way to Paradise, which goes through Hell. (We've all been there...) Dante's Hell is made up of 9 concentric circles that represent a gradual increase in wickedness down to the center of the Earth where Satan is imprisoned. As Virgil guides him through Hell we are shown how various sinners are punished for eternity. This is the crowd-pleasing stuff: blasphemers are stricken by a rain of fire and whipped by demons, flatterers and dissolutes try in vain to wash themselves clean in a river of filth; people who abused their position in the church for their own gain are buried head down with their feet tortured by fire; hypocrites are forced to wear heavy clothes that look like gold but are really lead; fraudulent councillors and evil advisors are wrapped in flaming garments; the sowers of discord and promoters of dissent are maimed by demons (there must be lots of Fox News employees there); traitors are buried up to their necks in a frozen lake where Satan chews on people; and finally, the absolute lowest level of Hell is reserved for the monsters who invented internet pop-up ads.

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When Dante and Virgil get all the way to the 8th circle of Hell, the circle of Fraud, we are told that robbers are bitten by horrible serpents and that one of the robbers steps up to speak to Dante, but a snake grabs him and tells him to shut up. The movie is silent so we don't get to hear the snake talk. The original book also describes a thief who yells an obscenity at God and then snakes swarm over him.

We see a man walk into what resembles a giant pit full of writhing serpents and one of the snakes jumps at him. Then he walks over to Dante and starts shouting and pointing. To punish him a couple of snakes jump out and wrap themselves around him until he slowly walks out of the frame and we see the next title card.

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The next title card tells us that grafters and stealers of public funds are changed into loathsome and disgusting shapes of animals and reptiles. In the same snake pit setting we see lizard or alligator-like reptiles walk up to a couple of men and they turn into some sort of human-reptile hybrid creatures.


In the book, thieves are kept in a pit full of monstrous snakes and lizards that steal their identities just as they stole from other people. One of them is bitten by a snake on the jugular vein and then bursts into flames, to be re-formed from the ashes. There's a nice illustration of Dante's snake pit by by Gustave Doré titled "The Thieves Tortured by Serpents".


We see a bunch of fake snakes, not live ones. If I had not been told they were snakes I might have confused them for giant pasta noodles since it's an Italian movie and I was hungry when I watched it. Some of snakes are moving around a little bit, probably controlled by wires or maybe by hidden people, which does make them a little bit more believable, but not much. The lizard or alligator-like reptiles are also props. I'd guess that the movement of the snakes and reptiles when they interact with the actors is created by stop motion effects.


You can watch the full movie and read a better summary of the movie over on The Silver Scream website.