Artisan // 1999 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // November 15th, 2003
It strikes fear
In the small San Diego suburb of San Catalano (which translates as "town of brainless pond scum"), a plague of snakes is making life a lot less white flighted. Seems that twenty years before (around 1992, by the looks of it), a cardboard box carrying the most venomous viper in the history of herpetology discombobulated and the angry alpha male asp headed for the hills. There he found a harem of willing wrigglers, and before you could say "genetic mutation," a new breed of deadly diamondback was born. Now a couple of decades into evolution, and cheesed as cheddar about being awoken by Max Farrington's development via dynamite building ideas, the fanged fiends decide it's time for a little payback, constrictor style. They slither into the sleepy small town and proceed to nibble on the natives, leaving a little deadly venom for good measure. Soon, the town is up to its 'roids in rattlers. The newly recruited (and instantly hated) fire chief has to try and bring some manner of order to this whole snake insurrection, but he finds nothing but resistance on all sides. It appears that Farrington has the town by the tender tidbits and doesn't want anything halting his unbridled raping of nature via tract housing. Will the arsonist's enemy save the day, or is everyone is San Catalano about to be first in line for the Silent Predators' poison party?
Here's a name you don't expect to see on a made-in-Australia television terror pic featuring a cast of American has-beens and ex-soap stars: John Carpenter. At first, one stares in blatant disbelief that the man behind such horror legends as Halloween, Prince of Darkness, and The Thing has sunk to scripting an off-title B monster movie for some lame cable network. Then one realizes they are about to watch a goofy cornball giant killer snake film, and the level of skepticism rises. The intellect goes into overdrive: it can't be that John Carpenter. It must be another John Carpenter, a newbie to the business, famous for penning such hack horrors as Killer Termites, Attack of the 50 Foot Sandwich, and The Town That Dreaded Laundry. Or maybe it's some illiterate hillbilly who's simply hijacked the famed moniker and is working out his poorly plotted rattler fantasies all over the soon to be sullied reputation of Haddenfield's hometown hero. A quick glance at the Internet Movie Database seems to confirm the sad, bad news. The only other possible John Carpenter went by the name "Johnny" and did write some seedy cinema titles like The Sinister Urge and Night of the Ghouls...in 1959! So all of Sherlock's skidmarks point to the fact that this must be the John Carpenter, and indeed, somewhere amongst the piss-poor characterization, static dialogue, and gaping plot holes, the man who gave us Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, and Michael Meyers is slumming for a paycheck. Thankfully, he can save a small portion of his status since four...count 'em four, other writers are credited with story/script aide. This is one cinematic silver bullet the shockmeister doesn't have to bear alone.
But make no mistake about it, Silent Predators is an incredibly poor creature feature. It's as pedestrian as a crosswalk and about as believable as the fact that Jack Scalia still has a career. Hoping to hide the reality that his film is several fangs short of a viper, alliteral director Noel Nosseck (responsible for such other stellar screen gems as Tornado! and What Kind of Mother are You?) just keeps plowing ahead. He never once stops to introduce his actors properly or fill in their desperate need for back stories and subplots, and constantly confuses us as to why we should care if this small California town goes snake belly up. True, within the first 20 minutes, he does kill a few people and there is an attempt to spice up the visuals with a blurry infrared series of first person perspective shots that could lovingly be called "cobra-cam." But unless you find overactive pseudo pythons pushing their plastic incisors into the legs and arms of nameless extras bloodcurdling, there is not much serpent suspense to be had here. All we hope is that Harry Hamlin (as the hapless just-hired fire chief) showers and shaves, Jack Scalia (looking like an industrial-sized serving of overcooked scrapple) gets a hot venom injection, and that Patty McCormick (she of The Bad Seed and several botched face-lifts fame) explains what she's supposed to be doing in this film. Silent Predators wants to be the Jaws of slithering fork-tongued foes, to make us afraid to return to the backwoods again. But thanks to the botch job done from top to bottom on this copperheaded convolution, the best it can be is an uninvolving episode of Aging Celebrity Fear Factor.
The way Artisan treats this title, you'd swear that its marketing department was frightened by a water moccasin while it was sailing the seas of international commerce. True to its TV roots, Silent Predators is presented in a 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio that's heavy on the compression and light on contrasts. Maybe the presence of these over the hill fading thespians mandated a softer than usual focus, but a lot of the time this movie looks spongy and cloudy. On the sonic side, there is little of substance to be found in the Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Sure, there is an occasional channel-to-channel hissing fit, but that's about the extent of the aural action. And just like that paper-thin scale covering your average sidewinder sheds when it molts, this DVD is empty in the way of bonus material. We don't get a trailer trying to deceive the viewer into believing there will be some manner of fear and loathing here, nor is there a behind the scenes puff piece to give the contract players a chance to talk their way out of their involvement with this project. Heck, we don't even get any recipes for rattler ratatouille or, seeing it's the Outback, boa on the barbie. Penny-pinching Art simply offers up the movie on the digital format and hopes that you read a certain horror auteur's credited name and scream "must have lost classic." Unfortunately, once you witness this asp atrocity in all its mamba mediocrity, you'll think Laurie Strode's savior could use a big strong squirt of anti-venom. Silent Predators marks a dark day for snakes everywhere, including those associated with saving Kurt Russell's career.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated