Monday, October 28, 2013

Television Review: SILENT PREDATORS (1999, Noel Nosseck)

Stars:  2.5 of 5.
Running Time:  91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:   Directed by Noel Nosseck (TORNADO!, FRENCH SILK).  Written by five people (count 'em!):  John Carpenter, Matt Dorff (CAMPUS MAN), William S. Gilmore (his sole writing credit; he produced THE PLAYER and A FEW GOOD MEN, among others),  Patricia Arrigoni, (no other credits) and Fred Brown (no other credits).  Starring Harry Hamlin (L.A. LAW, CLASH OF THE TITANS), Patty McCormack (the evil little girl from THE BAD SEED!), Shannon Sturges (S.W.A.T., TORNADO!), David Spielberg (Carpenter's CHRISTINE), Beau Billingslea (STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS), Philip Troy Linger (BAYWATCH NIGHTS, THE HUNGER GAMES), and Jack Scalia (DALLAS, REMINGTON STEELE, ALL MY CHILDREN).
Tag-line:  "The hunt is on.  You're the prey."
Best one-liner:  "Hey guys, you haven't seen any snakes, have you?"

We continue the "Poor Man's John Carpenter" series with SILENT PREDATORS, a late 90s made-for-TV movie about killer snakes that was nearly thirty years in the making.

Back in the early-to-mid 1970s, when John Carpenter was a freelance screenwriter, he wrote and co-wrote a number of scripts that would become made-for-television movies, often decades after he'd written them.  These works (ranging from horror to beach movies to westerns) ultimately became ZUMA BEACH (1978), SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME (1978, which he also directed), BETTER LATE THAN NEVER (1979), EL DIABLO (1990, directed by Carpy crony and bandmate Tommy Lee Wallace), BLOOD RIVER (1991), and yes– SILENT PREDATORS (1999).

Originally entitled FANGS, the script that became SILENT PREDATORS was bounced around, added to, edited, updated, and turned inside out until what we see on screen in 1999 bears very little resemblance to Carpenter's original vision.


As such, we can't judge this in any way as a "John Carpenter Movie" but instead must look at it as a "Crappy Curio from Carpy's Cabinet."  Ultimately, what we have here is a bland, "killer creature" movie that uses the blueprint of JAWS as a starting point toward accomplishing bigger, and better things smaller, and worse things.

Carpy's shame immortalized.  There are FIVE credited writers on this project.

Then there's the matter of the title.  Carpy's original, "FANGS" feels very much a product of the 70s, so they decided to update it to "SILENT PREDATORS," which is a perfectly 90s title.  The only problem is that the eponymous "silent predators" are anything but–  half the goddamned movie is the incessant sound of rattlers rattling or the din of hissing snakes!

The film begins in 1979 as a man transporting a "venomous reptile" picks up a hitchhiker and only a few minutes later wrecks, unleashes the beast, and driver and passenger fall victim to the killer snake.  Twenty years hence, the snake has intermingled and interbred with the indigenous rattlers and 35,000 super-snakes are on the loose!  Before we get ahead of ourselves, I would like to ponder the following:

if scientists needed to transport the world's deadliest snake (or whatever), why did they choose the low-rent "Comet Moving Company," and more importantly, why secure the dangerous wooden crate to a flatbed truck with maybe two ropes and a zip tie?  Obviously, these are rhetorical questions, but the amazing blockheadedness of the storytelling very much puts this on par with something like SLUGS: THE MOVIE, and while it's not quite so charming, there's still a lot of fun to be had here.

So twenty years later, this small, idyllic California town has a new fireman on the job (just like Roy Schneider's new job as sheriff of Amity in JAWS):

And, yup, said fireman is Harry Hamlin.  Again, I can't remember if Harry Hamlin is the poor man's Lorenzo Lamas, or if Lorenzo Lamas is the poor man's Harry Hamlin.  It doesn't really matter though, because when you first meet him, you're distracted by the music that can only be described as "comically and embarrassingly derivative ZZ Top... Lite."

Anyway, there are evil, profit-hungry land developers on the outskirts of town:

who awaken an army of 35,000 snakes through their willy-nilly use of dynamite:

Pictured: 35,000 snakes.

The head land developer is this guy (soap opera veteran Jack Scalia)

who is perfectly cast as the pompous suit who answers calls on a big cordless phone and puts the lives of little leaguers at risk.   As in JAWS, he and the mayor try to cover up the danger ("If word gets out we have a snake problem...!") with disastrous results.

We get a nice supporting turn from Patty McCormack, who's best known as the evil little girl from THE BAD SEED back in the 1950s.

Here she plays a sort of warm-hearted, pet-loving hippie and part-time snake enthusiast.  If we're going to beat the JAWS analogy into the ground, I suppose she's the fill-in Richard Dreyfuss until the snake scientist shows up?

Let's get back to Harry Hamlin before I forget.

He takes the material seriously to the extent that Harry Hamlin is capable of taking things seriously– it's perhaps a "BAYWATCH-level" of thespianism.  At one point, he delivers the classic line, "You ever been to a herpetologist?" with some matter-of-fact smarm that would insinuate it means "herpes doctor" instead of "reptile scientist."

It's worth noting that the subsequent visit to the herpetologist takes place at a building entitled: "SCIENCE."

They do science in this building.

Carpenter's original version supposedly contained a scene where a concerned mother checks on her baby's bassinet only to discover that what she thought was her baby's rattle IS REALLY A KILLER RATTLESNAKE!   While I am very sad that this scene does not appear in the movie, at least we get this wonderful scene, whereupon a woman is trapped atop her stationary exercise bike by a number of killer snakes.  This is possibly the only time in film history that this extremely specific scenario comes to fruition.

She can't quite seem to reach that phone.

And this reminds me– I have to give them a hearty round of applause for using 90% real snakes.  This may have been the last hurrah for low-to-mid budget made-for-television reptile horror movies that (mostly) eschew CGI.

Regardless, this whole thing ends the way it ought to:  with Harry Hamlin and co-star Shannon Sturges passionately embracing in front of a blown-out mineshaft filled with 35,000 burning snakes:

I suppose I can arbitrarily give this about two and a half stars.

-Sean Gill


Roger said...

This was absolutely wonderful to read.


Sean Gill said...


Very glad you enjoyed!

Jack Thursby said...

Good write up Sean. As far as Made-for-TV Jaws rip-offs go this isn't terrible but it's no great shakes either.

Good question about Hamlin and Lamas. For me, Lamas is a poor man's Hamlin.

Sean Gill said...

Thank you, Jack– and as far as Lamas vs Hamlin, it probably depends on whether you leaned L.A. LAW or FALCON CREST. Then, Lamas has got the SNAKE EATER trilogy and BODY ROCK and Hamlin's got CLASH OF THE TITANS and a bunch of TV movies. But it looks like Hamlin's winning the most recent battle for legitimacy with a string of appearances on MAD MEN.

J.D. Lafrance said...

I have to say, furthering the Lamas/Hamlin debate, that the former was quite enjoyable in that Debbie Gibson SyFy yarn, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, barking out orders in a wonderfully stereotypical role as a gruff naval commander/officer, which could have been a thankless role, but is actually quite amusing thanks to Lamas' "acting."

Sean Gill said...


I may just have to check that one out- it's hard to say no to Lorenzo Lamas and bad CGI monsters.