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6 December 1990: The Serpent of Death/Out of Time

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Dec. 6th, 1990 | 08:00 pm

“The Serpent of Death”, also known as “Out of Time”, is an archaeological thriller, filmed in Greece and Egypt in 1989.

The US video premiere was 6 December 1990, and it was released under various titles in West Germany, Portugal, Egypt, Greece, and Finland.

The role of Xaros gave Michael Gothard another opportunity to travel to exotic places, but he must have been less than delighted to be playing yet another hit-man, especially one with so few redeeming qualities.


Jake Bonner (Jeff Fahey), the supposed hero of the film, is an unscrupulous archaeology student, who thinks nothing of damaging historical sites and relics. He finds a sculpted head of Alexander at the bottom of the sea, breaks it open, just to see what’s inside, and finds a small carved snake, which he believes is a clue that will lead him to a hidden and forgotten hoard of Alexander’s treasure.

Omar (Gamil Ratib), a dealer in antiquities, for whom Jake does occasional identification work, hears about this, and decides to get the treasure for himself, with the help of cold-blooded hired killer, Xaros (Michael Gothard).

Xaros mistakenly kills Jake’s friend and colleague, Donald, strangling him with a string of beads – his trademark method of killing. When Omar expresses surprise at seeing Jake alive, when he thought he was dead, Xaros, unphased, simply says ‘Someone is.’

Omar and Xaros pursue Jake, and a girl he has recently met, Rene (Camilla More), from Greece, to, and across, Egypt.

Xaros kills a number of people who get in their way, including the henchmen of millionaire Stavros, who is also interested in Alexander’s legacy. Xaros even threatens a little girl who happens to live with one of Rene’s friends, to get information.

Xaros kills an old expert to whom Jake has taken his carved snakes for examination, and his assistant, but the clues Xaros brings back to Omar are fakes. Omar is annoyed, but Xaros just shrugs, and says he isn’t in the resurrection business.

Eventually Omar and Xaros catch Rene on her own, steal the genuine relics from her, and set off after the treasure; this time with Jake and Rene in pursuit.

Thinking to find the treasure himself now he has the clues, Xaros leaves his employer, Omar, dying on the road.

Jake and Rene find Xaros’ car crashed into some abandoned World War II tanks. He seems to be dead. They wait until dawn before going to check, but Xaros has more patience, and Jake falls into his trap, and loses a fight with him.

Xaros thanks Jake for supplying him with both a vehicle, and a woman. But while Xaros is trying to rape Rene, she throws a snake – left in a bag the back of the truck by her zoologist friend – into his face, and he is fatally bitten.

With three minutes to live, Xaros shoots out their tyres, but – while still trying to kill them – steps on a landmine, and is blown up.

This may be the most ridiculous death any of Michael’s characters has suffered.

All the killing is pointless in the end, because Nikos, the disaffected son of the millionaire Stavros, kills himself and consigns both his own body, and the treasure, to the sea.

Review in TV Guide

A big-budget but mediocre adventure yarn, “The Serpent of Death” circulated through the domestic film market in videocassette form, which is not unusual but still a pity. Watching on a small screen diminishes the movie's undeniable star--the exotic and historic Mediterranean scenery of Greece and Egypt, sumptuously rendered by cinematographer Fred Tammes.

Jake Bonner (Jeff Fahey) is a novice archaeologist with elastic ethics, who occasionally sells a museum piece on the black market to support himself. These underworld dealings come back to haunt Jake when his colleagues recover a small stone serpent from the Mediterranean Sea. The ancient writing on the object holds the key to the hidden booty of Alexander the Great, and Jake is besieged by crooks who want him to steal the serpent.

Naturally Jake gets blamed when an intruder murders one of the archaeologists and swipes the priceless artefact. Expelled from Greece, Jake races the evildoers to reach the treasures first and maybe clear his name and maybe become unbelievably rich.

Along the way he picks up Rene (Camilla More) as a glamorous companion-in-peril. There's danger, there's betrayal, there are countless strange characters the pair encounter on their odyssey, some who turn out to be friends--and some who don't.

The best way to follow The Serpent of Death’s plot is not to. Sit back and relish the breathtaking locations. From the alleys of Cairo to the Oracle of Amon, from the remote Siwa Oasis to the island of Poros; this is an armchair traveler's delight. Too bad it's not a movie-lover's as well.

The hero, no doubt inspired by Indiana Jones, comes across as arrogant and dislikeable in his early scenes and never quite wins the viewer's respect or empathy.

Rene is a bit of an airhead, but Michael Gothard makes cold-blooded assassin Xaros reminiscent of a James Bond foe.

Full review

Review by SanDiego

Terrific unknown thriller about a bright archaeologist/student set on location in Greece and Egypt. Beautiful scenery, nice performances, an airy pace by the director, and a script that was actually interesting.

I thought this was going to be another Indiana Jones wannabe, but it had much more in common with the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn film CHARADE. Jeff Fahey plays Jake (the archaeologist), and though a little old for what I would think to be a student, is quite good in the role as someone who doesn't mind dabbling with the black market to fund his next dig.

When a prized carving is stolen, Jake is blamed, expelled, and deported. To make things worse Jake's best friend is killed in his apartment, having been mistaken for Jake. Tough day, Jake.
Early on in the film Jake has hooked up with Rene (Camilla More), a perfect beauty who travels with the Greek jet set ... There is good chemistry between the two stars and excellent support from an international cast.

Full review

Watch extracts, including Michael Gothard’s scenes as Xaros on Youtube.

IMDB entry

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