by David Cornelius
Oh, Asylum. You almost had me with “Snakes on a Train.” You honestly did. For a while, the film went beyond its cheap-ass rip-off roots and cooked up some genuinely inventive stuff. And then, well, you let the whole thing collapse in the final half hour, erasing all the solid effort that had gone before, handing in a finale that relied on the old Asylum ways of cheap, weak, and stupid. So close!But first, the obligatory Asylum primer: After years of making do as another schlock house in the world of direct-to-video horror, the good people at The Asylum Home Entertainment has spent the past year transforming themselves into the House of Cheapo Knock-Offs. The formula, quite simply, is to take an upcoming potential blockbuster and steal its title, popping out a complete rip-off movie in just a few months, always just before the big name feature premieres in theaters. Aside from last years “War of the Worlds,” all of their releases have ranged from really bad to really, really, really bad.
"Because 'Snakes on a Blimp' would've cost too much."
“Snakes on a Train” (couldn’t they have been just a wee more imaginative with the title?) had the potential to be an exception to the rule. Scripter Eric Forsberg (“Alien Abduction”) and directors the Mallachi Brothers seem determined to make the most out of their limitations; a tight screenplay and some smart direction actually manages to puff up their limited budget. Most impressive are the Mallachis’ ability to get beyond a set that is, essentially, two train cars and a black backdrop. A keen sense of pacing keeps things moving enough, while an eye for camera placement allows the set to open up. Watch how the directors use skewed angles and framing that’s almost comic book-ish in its presentation - most notably one shot that features an upside-down extreme close-up of one of our heroes during a vital scene. Camerawork like this lets the Mallachis to control the claustrophobia on their own terms, instead of letting the budget dictate it for them. (Even the fight sequences get us past the cheapness of the project, with the directors opening things up in all the right ways.)
Of course, everyone involved knows what their fans want, and so we get plenty of gore and thrills and a little silly comedy - a good time all around for the fan of B horror. (Check out the audio reference to “Airplane!” in one early shot.) The plot (something to do with an ancient Mayan curse that’s left a woman regurgitating snakes left and right, and now she’s been smuggled aboard a passenger train across the American southwest) is just enough to get things moving, a framework for the thrills. A few bonus ingredients include a kid in danger and a couple of nice folks falling in love, and it all comes together quite nicely.
But then, right around the sixty minute mark, everything slowly begins to fall apart. There’s a subplot, involving two sexy young lasses on their way to Hollywood and the drugs one of them is carrying with her, that takes over too much of the running time. We get sidetracked into some mess about corrupt cops or some such, and pretty soon one of the ladies is forced to get nekkid in front of the bad cop - a scene that’s so slow and icky that it removes any sense of fun the film previously held. It’s here to fulfill the movie’s T&A requirement, sure, but it’s such an unlikable scene that we have a hard time looking past it.
Once we do get past it, however, things only get worse. Everything suddenly loses steam, and the climactic battles with the hordes of snakes never matches the excitement of the earlier, creepier scenes. And then, well, it all goes to hell, as somebody thought it’d be a good idea to have a little Mayan magic create a giant, train-sized snake, one created by lousy CGI. It’s a bad idea all around, far more stupid than fun, and it all leaves us yawning. The Mallachis do their best to keep things moving at a steady clip, but not even they can rescue a terrible left-turn in their movie.All of this is a great shame, as the rest of the film serves as a terrific guide for aspiring indie filmmakers for how to shoot action and thrills on the smallest of budgets. The Mallachi Brothers truly impress with (what I believe to be) their first feature. Too bad they got stuck with a screenplay that can’t hold itself above water for its entire run, and a studio stuck in one heck of a lame rut.
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originally posted: 08/14/06 19:50:20