Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
This is an HBO TV movie fantasy mystery about Los Angeles in the 1950s in a time where magic is commonly used in daily life for anything from lighting a cigarette with a finger to a movie producer hiring a witch to bring Shakespeare from the past to write screenplays. Loosely based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, it features a private detective named H. Philip Lovecraft. The movie is a sequel to "Cast a Deadly Spell," a 1991 HBO movie also set in L. A. in a world full of magic that also uses detective Lovecraft and some of the same characters, but it's set in 1948 instead of the 1950s. You don't need to watch the first one to understand the second. What I don't understand about the magic universe of both movies is why magic is only used occasionally by a few people instead of all the time by everybody. Why doesn't everyone use a flying car and live like a movie star?
Lovecraft refuses to use magic in his detective work because it makes people lazy, but his landlord is a witch for hire named Kropotkin who gets caught up in the witch hunt of U.S. Senator Larson Crockett who is modeled after Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch hunts that scandalized Hollywood in the early 1950s until McCarthy was condemned as a demagogue by his own Senate. Crockett's slogan is "No more magic in Hollywood" and maybe he succeeded, because this one could have used a little more magic in its script and production. But it does have its moments, including three brief snake scenes, and best of all, a rare movie appearance of a live salamander (which you can see on this page.)
The first snake shows up when Lovecraft (Dennis Hopper) meets an old enemy named Finn Macha. When they meet at a Hollywood studio Macha tells him he likes to take things apart to see how they work - he likes to see what's inside. Then he throws his cigarette onto the floor and a small puddle of water appears. As the puddle gets larger, we see the two men's faces reflected in the water as a snake appears and swims across the puddle. As he walks away, Macha tells Lovecraft they've still got business to settle. The snake seems to be a warning or maybe it's meant to be a sign that there's something ominous inside Lovecraft.
The second snake appears when Lovecraft is sitting in his car, staking out a location, which later we find out is a brothel that uses magic to change the appearance of women to suit their clients interests. (Not a bad idea.) A raven flies onto the hood of Lovecraft's car holding a snake in its beak. Immediately after he sees this, Lovecraft passes out until he wakes up in the morning, which ruins his stakeout.
A snake (maybe the same snake) appears a third time. Lovecraft has been hired by a film actress named Kim Hudson who is married to a Hollywood producer she thinks is unfaithful. After the producer is killed by a magic spell that shrinks him so small that his vicious guard dogs eat him, Lovecraft continues to investigate him. Lovecraft goes to a drive in movie theater where he finds Hudson in a pink convertible watching one of her own movies with a girlfriend. When a man in the movie shoots at Hudson's character, the bullets fly out of the screen toward Hudson and Lovecraft. They get out of the car and run away, but the girlfriend drives away with the car. Later, Lovecraft meets his ex partner in the police department at the waterfront where Hudson's car was pulled out of the water. Her friend is in the driver's seat where she has been turned into a mannequin. As the men stare at the mannequin, we see a snake crawling over her hair.
At the very end, we see the same kind of snake tattooed onto the arm of the Senator's evil doppleganger.
Nobody gets too worried about seeing snakes and ravens and mannequins of dead women because of the widespread use of magic in the world. Lovecraft's witch friend Kropotkin tells him that the raven belongs to him along with the snake in its beak, so the snake appearances could be omens or warnings to Lovecraft, but really they don't make a lot of sense to the plot, they're just interesting oddities used to creep out the viewers, like a lot of snakes in movies, especially since the snakes are red with bans around them, similar to the coral snakes we are taught are deadly. It's hard to see them well but it's possible that the same live snake was used in all three scenes - a species of milk snake, probably a Honduran Milk Snake, the type with no white or yellow bands that is popular in the pet trade.
Thanks to Melanie at The Silver Scream for telling me about this snake movie. You can watch the movie and read a review of it at The Silver Scream.