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Snakesploitation Movies
Giant snakes, gratuitous nudity. Ain’t life grand?

Snakes on a Train

Snakes on a Train

A low-budget direct-to-DVD mockbuster released to cash in on the hype surrounding Snakes on a Plane, this movie actually came out three days before Snakes on a Plane was released. It’s quite possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen more than one Ed Wood movie, so that’s saying something). Not only is it tedious and boring, its dialogue painful and its characters disposable, the nudity takes a full hour to make an appearance, which in this genre is inexcusable.

Here’s the premise: a cursed woman hides aboard a train in an attempt to get to Los Angeles to have the curse lifted; the curse makes her literally vomit deadly snakes. And if that already puts strain on your willingness to suspend disbelief, wait for it. No deadly snakes actually make an appearance in this movie. Up until the last 10 minutes or so, when Burmese Pythons and Boa Constrictors make an appearance shortly before the final bad-CGI giant snake swallows the whole train — spoilers, because I don’t actually want you to see the film — the snakes we’re expected to believe are deadly are played by Common Garter Snakes (including some juveniles) and Ball Pythons. Which, of course, being garter snakes and pythons, don’t do very much on-screen. Not only that, in some scenes, an actual plastic snake toy is included among the garter snakes!

It’s beyond ridiculous. It’s hardly worth mentioning that snakes don’t eat bread, or that putting a garter snake in your mouth isn’t a very idea (their musk is pretty rank). Because the basic problem of the movie is that it takes until the very end for everyone to figure out how to deal with snakes on a train: 1. Stop the train. 2. Get off the train. Problem solved!

Python

Python

The more of them I watch, the better a handle I get on the snakesploitation movie genre — the sort that advertises the snake in the movie as “__ feet of pure terror.” Python epitomizes the genre as well as any other I’ve seen (here the terror is 60 feet long on the DVD case, 129 feet in the movie itself). It contains the usual tropes you find in modern examples of snakesploitation: gratuitous nudity, gore, bad CGI, and ludicrous snake biology that is explained away by mad hand-waving (experiments or genetic engineering that make a fairly innocuous and unaggressive animal into the relentless killing machine required by the movie’s, um, “plot”).

My mandate is to go after the biology, but the more I watch this kind of movie, the more I consider it a lost cause. Because, again, these movies give themselves an out: it’s precisely because this snake breaks all the rules of snake biology that it poses a threat to our heroes and their shitty little town. And the reason the rules are broken is to solve plot problems. Need something to happen? No problem! Have the snake do this! So, in this case, we have a snake that

  1. spits stomach acid on its victims rather than eating them, because, as the director points out, it’s way cooler and gorier than an unidentifiable lump of snake poo a week or two later;
  2. can decapitate anti-vaccine-crusading-but-surprisingly-not-naked-in-this-movie Playmates with a flick of its tail;
  3. despite the fact that snakes use their tongues to smell (in stereo!) and many snakes, including many pythons, have heat pits, cannot see someone standing right in front of them unless they move;
  4. can hear;
  5. despite the fact that snakes have clear scales over their eyes, has sensitive eyes that would have been affected by shampoo if it wasn’t a no-tears product; and
  6. is impervious to explosions, gunfire and blunt force trauma.

Meanwhile, two real pythons make an appearance in the movie: a young Burmese Python is taken camping by one of the early victims — somebody please explain to our soon-to-be-dead girl that, yes, you can leave a snake alone for a weekend — and a baby Ball Python, carried about by Robert Englund’s creepy doctor like worry beads.

Vipers

“This isn’t terrorism; these are snakes!” — Tara Reid, Captain Obvious.

Another truly bad entry in the snakesploitation movie sweepstakes, Viper is a movie that combines poor computer-generated effects with lame acting and frankly ludicrous biology, one whose brief nudity is insufficient to save it. As usual, snakes have to be genetically enhanced to pose any threat; even incredibly deadly snakes, after all, shy away from a direct confrontation if they can.

Amongst the errors are such diverse elements as the following:

  1. Horned Vipers (Cerastes cerastes) do not look like that: for one thing, they’re a lot smaller than that (they’re about two feet long); for another, they’re a lot paler in colour; for still another, their horns aren’t right.
  2. The snake in Jessica Steen’s slideshow isn’t a horned viper; it looks like a young cottonmouth or some South American lancehead-or-other.
  3. As I said in my look at Boa vs. Python, snakes don’t bite and chew like that; they swallow things whole or not at all. They certainly don’t rip big meaty chunks out of their prey like an allosaur. The chomping and feeding — and spurting blood — is utterly stupid.
  4. The movie makes a certain deal out of heat and cold and the fact that snakes are ectotherms; it’s worth mentioning, though, that Horned Vipers, which are found in the desert climates in North Africa and the Middle East, would have a real problem with the Pacific Northwest climate: too cold and, for snakes that derive their drinking water from dew that collects on their own scales, way too wet.
  5. Snakes are escape artists, but they’d be hard pressed to get inside a tent, much less a building that was properly sealed. Honestly, you could secure a room by stuffing bedsheets along the doors.
  6. Snakes don’t growl. Nor do they disconnect phone lines, in my experience.
  7. Antivenom is administered intravenously, not via a syringe. And it usually takes more than one vial. Lots more.
  8. At one point they’re called pit vipers; they’re actually true vipers — no heat pits.
  9. According to my resident marine biologist, fish heads don’t float — especially not that high on the water.

On the other hand, they did get the garter snake, which appears at the beginning, right — it looks like, or is at least consistent with, a female Puget Sound Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis pickeringii).

Boa vs. Python

Boa vs. Python

The Sci-Fi channel has a lot to answer for. Much could be said about the risible awfulness of this piece of cable-TV dreck — much, in fact, has been said. It seems a bit unnecessary to nitpick the errors in biology in a movie where a giant python orally pleasures a woman with his tongue (!!!), where the logical response to a giant python loose in a major city’s water supply is to release an equally large boa — and where the giant boa and giant python are almost never seen in the same frame until the last few minutes!

Nevertheless, nitpicking is our business, and I have taken copious notes. Onward!

  1. The giant snakes sound like slavering beasts: they growl, snarl and carry on like the Looney Tunes Tasmanian devil. A young boa constrictor chirps. You do know snakes are deaf, right?
  2. Giant snakes are apparently impervious to gunfire, flame throwers, and ordnance capable of levelling small villages in Bulgaria (which is where this atrocity was filmed). That crossbow will totally work, though.
  3. The FBI agent finds a giant individual scale. Snakes don’t have individual scales like fish; they’re an unbroken part of the skin.
  4. Snakes don’t have prehensile tails and don’t use them as weapons, the way, say, iguanas and monitor lizards do.
  5. Betty is a “scarlet queen boa,” which of course does not exist.
  6. “Most snakes are territorial, especially the big constrictors.” No; very few snakes are territorial.
  7. No snake has a heart rate approaching 300 bpm.
  8. Snakes swallow their food whole; they don’t bite, chew or otherwise rip it apart.
  9. They handled the whole inter-species mating and immediate egg-laying thing reasonably enough, but snake eggshells are leathery, not brittle.
  10. Glowing eyes?
  11. Um, guys, pythons can swim. You won’t get away that way.

In a word, yuck. Thank God for the wholly gratuitous nudity 10 minutes in.

Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Plane

Admit it: you’ve been waiting for this one. Much has already been written about the snakes behind Snakes on a Plane, and the questionable snake behaviour and biology has been debunked elsewhere; I wrote something shortly after I saw the film myself. The key points:

  1. The real, live snakes were harmless and handled by stunt doubles or extras; the venomous snakes were either computer generated or shot in isolation.
  2. The real snakes were common pet-store varieties; I spotted Corn Snakes (Elaphe guttata) and several kinds of Common Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula) and Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), for example.
  3. The aggressive snake behaviour was attributed to pheromones sprayed on leis, which is creative nonsense. Pheromones will make snakes horny at best, and no one pheromone would have the same effect across so many different species.
  4. The movie correctly points out that snakes aren’t normally that aggressive, hence the pheromone plot device.
  5. The computer-generated snakes were larger than nature — and faster. No matter how pissed, most snakes don’t move that fast. Except maybe mambas (Dendroaspis) and coachwhips (Masticophis), and I didn’t see any of those.
  6. Antivenom is easier to find than that.
  7. Snakes are illegal to keep in Hawaii.
  8. Pythons never eat fully grown adult males. Well, hardly ever. Yappy little dogs? Total python food. (At least I can hope.)
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