March 2010



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.

South Park: “Rainforest, Schmainforest”

South Park:

On a tour of the rainforest in Costa Rica, the kids encounter a coral snake that promptly bites, kills and swallows their local guide, pooping out the bones and clothes seconds later. Is there any need for me to comment on this? Sure, coral snakes are dedicated snake eaters and, while venomous, are less prone to bite people than other snakes, and hardly any snake on the planet can swallow a person whole, but really, that’s completely missing the whole point, isn’t it?

This episode is available online in the United States; here’s the relevant clip.


“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).

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