I love cheesy B movies. I always have and I always will. It’s because of this that I love the movies of The Asylum, their filmmakers are the new Roger Cormans. In this series, I will take a look at all of their so-called “mockbusters”, and compare them to their theatrical counterparts. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
It’s been a while since we’ve visited The Asylum and taken a look at one of their “tie-in films” but we’re back to take a look at Snakes on a Train, their attempt at a tongue-in-cheek version of a movie whose tongue was already so far in its cheek that only the internet liked it. The end result is far more dull than it should be. I’m going to get this out of the way: Snakes on a Train is not good. Hell, even by (possibly especially by) The Asylum’s standards it’s pretty terrible. It’s glacially-paced and never very fun or funny. Frankly, the film lacks almost any of the campy quirkiness one expects from the studio’s releases.
Mere days before Samuel L. Jackson told those motherfucking snakes to get off his motherfucking plane, a “directing team” called “The Mallachi Brothers” (in reality Peter Mervis, of When a Killer Calls and The Da Vinci Treasure, working under a bizarre pseudonym) brought mass-transit serpents to video stores everywhere. And probably got a bigger audience.
Snakes on a Train starts off (like it progresses right up to the end) slowly, with a Mexican couple crossing the border. He’s concerned and panicked at her well-being, while she is vomiting half-set Jello and – thanks to camera changes – small snakes. Yea, she’s a little under the weather. It turns out she’s been cursed and horking up parts of her essence in the form of snakes. He’s keeping all the snakes in jars and is bringing them all with her up to see his uncle, a medicine man in LA, who is the only person that can save her.
Oh, and some thuddingly on-the-nose symbolism via high school Spanish class – her name is Alma (which means “soul”) and his is Brujo (or “wizard”).
Where was I? Right, Alma (Julia Ruiz, who you’d maybe have seen in The Amazing Race but nothing else) and Brujo (A.J. Castro of The Da Vinci Treasure) are coming over the border and they meet their coyote, who sets a pattern by harassing them for no reason other than that she seems sick. Of course, one of Alma’s snakes bites the fuck out of the guy and Brujo ends up killing him before he can get them to the train. The next shot, naturally, is the pair boarding the train. And the first thing that happens there as they try to find a place to hide is that a few other stowaways start to bother them. Though before this confrontation can turn too ugly, the one sympathetic character in the luggage car, Miguel (Giovanni Bejarano, of nothing you’ve ever seen), steps in to calm the situation. Miguel, by the way, is also one of the very few sympathetic characters in the whole movie. But at least we’re on the train so the movie can start, right?
Wrong. First we have to be introduced to the entire rest of the cast in an interminably long scene where the incredibly punchable conductor and his incredibly punchable hipster moustache take everyone’s tickets and ask each one of them if they packed their own bags and if their bags have been in their possession the whole time. Every single non-stowaway character. Also, this is the least crowded train in the history of trains.
We meet the middle-aged schlub and the almost-MILF who catches his eye (I wonder if they’ll end up together? The sexual tension between these two is……… Buh?!? Huh? Oh, sorry, I drifted off.); the trio of douchey frat bros; a family with the most annoying little girl ever put in front of a camera and a dad who has a never-mentioned black-eye; a pair of young women who might be gay, the movie’s not clear, but have a secret (one’s smuggling drugs – spoiler alert); and a guy who no one trusts because he’s Middle Eastern. And just before the train pulls away, a shady guy in a cowboy hat gets on.
Both Middle Eastern Guy and Cowboy Hat Guy (the director in an uncredited role) keep creepily staring at the two girls (both of whom we’ll see again in future installments of this series), but that’s a subplot for later. Now it’s back to Brujo and Alma. Alma’s been puking more snakes into jars. Brujo’s trying to calm her down somehow by smoking some weird pipe and blowing it in her face like your college friend who kept trying to get his dog high. When the guys from earlier show up to give them some shit (actually they’re trying to buy some weed) Brujo freaks out and attacks them, blowing the same smoke in their faces, blinding them. He locks two of them in a some kind of luggage cage and then fights the leader between cars. This fight actually looks really good due to some clever lighting, sound and camera work. It’s surprisingly believable that they’re between two cars on a moving train.
It’s around this point that snakes are finally getting out and we finally get something cheesy/funny. The snakes, which had all been very, very small are now (when they need to be scary) suddenly pythons and boas. These things are like reptile Apache Chiefs. When the annoying little girl from earlier sees one in the bathroom we learn a interesting thing about her dad. He sleeps with a toothpick in his mouth! Wha?!? Maybe it’s that kind of dangerous living that led to his unexplained black eye. Of course her parents don’t believe her, but joke’s on them. She totally gets eaten by a snake later on (spoiler).
At some point in there the two guys got out of the cage and stole what they thought was drugs from Alma while Brujo was out looking for food. When they open the box, shockingly, it contains snakes. The snakes start digging their way into the guys’ arms and the film uses the same footage for both guys within seconds. I think one of them must die, but I don’t remember it happening, though we only see one after this scene. He’s running around the train looking like a junkie, ranting about snakes (in Spanish) and freaking out the passengers. Because of him, they’re going to stop the train to get rid of him. Brujo refuses to let this happen. He tells Miguel to watch Alma and goes off to sabotage the train.
While this is happening, Cowboy Hat Guy pulls the girls aside and informs them that he’s a cop and he knows what they’re doing. He takes the one who actually has the drugs into an empty car, at which point Snakes on a Train gets the award for “Rapiest Nude Scene in an Asylum Mockbuster.” Before it can get too graphic, Middle Eastern Guy shows up to put a gun in Cowboy Hat Guy’s face. Turns out he’s a former cop and just a general scumbag. Middle Eastern Guy takes him back to the luggage car and gets in a pretty sweet rape burn before the two kill each other.
Back to the snakes, they’re now all boas and pythons (and cartoonish anacondas when it’s time to eat someone). Brujo’s running around like an idiot trying to pick up all the snakes after killing the driver. Alma’s grown fangs and her skin is turning black and she’s decided to “put the snakes back in” by swallowing them. Note – the snakes the actress is putting in her mouth clearly do not want to be there, as they desperately try to get the fuck out as soon as they go in.
Suddenly, the director realizes he’s only got five minutes left and the pace goes crazy. Alma’s in blackface eating snakes and asking what death will be like and Miguel is fighting an anaconda behind her. He kills it and she goes apeshit and turns into a giant fucking snake. Brujo dies. Giant Snake Alma dives out the window and passes the train. She starts to swallow it from the front (like it’s driving into her mouth). This leads super-genius Miguel to shout “She’s wrapping herself around the train!” Everyone runs to the back car and takes forever hemming and hawing about jumping for safety. Once they do, a giant tornado comes out of nowhere and sucks up Giant Snake Alma before disappearing into something Miguel has around his neck. I think that’s where it goes, since he makes what he clearly thinks is a Serious Face and says he’s going to LA.
That’s the end. It just kind of slowly creeps up to 5 minutes of WTF and then credits.
I cannot recommend Snakes on a Train at all. There really is none of the awesome ridiculousness that you want to see when you watch an Asylum film. If the whole thing had been more like the end, then it would’ve been great. But sadly it wasn’t. If you see this pop up on Netflix, do yourself a favor and skip right past it.
Things to watch out for
Best insult ever – “Hey freak, your mother’s cunt smells like carpet cleaner.” What the hell does that even mean?!?
When they’re trying to decide if they should jump from the train or get swallowed by Giant Snake Alma, it’s amazing how bad the close-ups and long-shots don’t match. Either the last car is already in her mouth and the tracks are on solid ground or they’ve got time to dither and they’re looking out over a cliff.
The end credits claim that “no snakes were hurt during the production of this screenplay. Only a small child was but it’s cool.” Very good news.
My favorite story about The Asylum (and part of why I decided to do this series) has to do with the making of this movie. When looking for distributors and investors at Cannes, a group of Japanese investors saw the poster for Snakes on a Train, which showed a giant snake eating a train. They went nuts. ‘Oh wow! Is there really a giant snake eating a train in the movie?’ It was still filming at the time, so the only thing to say was clearly, ‘Of course it does, hang on a second. (dials phone) Yo, make a giant snake eat the train. (hangs up) It totally has a giant snake eating a train.’
How does it compare?
Even with as much of a disappointment as Snakes on a Plane was, it’s still a thousand times better than this. At least stuff happens there. Despite that being a movie that sets out to be a cult hit (which never works), I’m sure it still has its fans. The most fervant Asylum fans would be hard-pressed to defend this one.