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SILENT PREDATORS (1999)

"This snake is a real killer. It has characteristics of both the tropical rattlesnake and the Western diamondback, and yet it’s neither one…."

Director: Noel Nosseck

Starring: Harry Hamlin, Shannon Sturges, Jack Scalia, David Spielberg, Beau Billingslea, Phillip Troy Linger, Patty McCormack, David Whitney

Screenplay: John Carpenter, William Gilmore, Matt Dorff

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Synopsis: A man whose car has broken down is given a lift by the driver of a truck that is carrying a crate marked "Venomous Reptile – Handle With Extreme Care". As the two drive along, the truck blows a tyre and crashes. The driver is seriously injured, while his passenger is able to pull himself from the wreck. Promising to get help, the passenger sets off, only to be stopped by a sudden cry of agony from the driver, who he finds dead. The next moment, a huge rattlesnake attacks, and soon the passenger, too, is dead…. Twenty years later, Vic Rondelli (Harry Hamlin) drives into the Californian town of San Catalano to take up the position of fire-chief. His predecessor, George Mitchell (Beau Billingslea), tells Vic that he is leaving because he dislikes the huge housing development being carried out by businessman Max Farrington (Jack Scalia), which he feels is ruining the town. George takes Vic to a community picnic given by Farrington. As Mayor Parker (David Spielberg) introduces Vic to the townspeople, a couple of teenagers sneak away into the nearby woods. As they kiss, the girl hears a strange noise, which the boy goes to investigate…. Vic is introduced to Mandy Stratford (Shannon Sturges), Farrington’s second in charge, to whom he is immediately attracted. As Farrington addresses the picnic crowd, a piercing scream is heard. Vic and the others rush into the woods, finding the teenage girl hysterical and her boyfriend dead from snakebite. At the boy’s funeral, Vic clashes with Farrington, who tells him that the boy’s death is none of his business. Shortly afterwards, a huge rattlesnake is killed by the dog of a family living on the edge of the housing development. While Mandy calls Vic about the incident, Farrington sends one of his men, Kenny (David Whitney), under the uncompleted house next door. Although Kenny sees an entire nest of rattlers, Farrington announces that no snakes were found and that everything is safe. While Vic is checking the town records for reports of snakebite, George tells him that he saw the exterminator’s van in the housing development. The exterminator confirms that he was called in by Farrington, who asked him to burn the snakes’ bodies. Vic persuades Mandy to go on a snake hunt with him. Although Mandy is nearly bitten, the two capture an enormous rattlesnake, which Vic takes to a herpetologist, Matthew Watkins (Phillip Troy Linger). After doing some research, Dr Watkins tells Vic and Mandy about the tropical rattlesnake that escaped twenty years earlier, suggesting that it has interbred with local diamondback rattlers to produce a new, aggressive, deadly strain of snake. As the three discuss why the snakes are suddenly attacking, Mandy realises to her horror that it is Farrington’s housing development that has loosed this danger upon San Catalano.

Comments: Well, I guess we have to shoulder at least some of the blame…. Silent Predators was shot in Australia, although the Lord alone knows why they bothered to drag an entire American cast and crew all the way over here to make a film like this. Or indeed, why they bothered to make it at all. Silent Predators has only one redeeming feature: it involves [drumroll!] – giant killer snakes! Yes, GIANT KILLER SNAKES!! I love ‘em! I can’t get enough of ‘em!! But you don’t have to be a snake fan to enjoy this film – you just have to have a taste for watching something that consists of scene after scene that you’ve seen in at least twenty other movies. Sincerely, it warms my heart to know that there are people out there who care enough about the traditions of the cinema to make a movie this cliched. Think I’m exaggerating? Let’s try this quick quiz (answers below):

1. A deadly snake is being transported in a wooden crate on the back of a flat-bed truck. Does the truck:

  1. Reach its destination without incident?
  2. Suffer a slight mishap, but nothing the driver can’t deal with?
  3. Crash and roll, smashing the crate and releasing the deadly snake?

2. Giant killer snakes are on the loose near a small town. Is the first person killed:

  1. A construction worker who disturbs their nest?
  2. A bushwalker who steps on one of them?
  3. A teenager who’s snuck off to neck with his girlfriend?

3. A businessman who has invested all his money in a housing development learns that his project may be infested by giant killer snakes. Does he:

  1. Stop construction immediately?
  2. Halt construction temporarily while experts assess the situation?
  3. Try to hush the situation up so as not to put his investment at risk?

4. The mayor of the town is in cahoots with the businessman, refusing to take action about the snakes so as not to threaten the financial development of the town. Is the next person whose life is threatened:

  1. A stranger who’s just passing through town?
  2. An expert out trying to catch one of the snakes?
  3. The mayor’s young son?

Well, you get the idea. Silent Predators, to borrow a term from Dr Freex, has a really high MSTability factor. I guarantee that, by about one minute in, when we discover that the owners of a deadly tropical rattlesnake have chosen to ship it across country in a wooden crate on the back of a rickety mover’s truck ("Comet Moving", to be exact), anyone watching will be yelling their (invariably correct) predictions of what will happen next at the TV screen. In fact, viewers who can’t anticipate exactly what’s going to happen in this film at least five minutes before it does should be drummed out of the Bad Film Watchers’ Union. And while anyone can enjoy this film, Silent Predators is doubly entertaining for people who possess a modicum of knowledge about snakes. Which brings us to the thing that I enjoyed about it most: its [cough] "special effects". Hands up who’s seen The Killer Shrews? The "shrews" in question were dogs wearing masks, right? Well, Silent Predators goes one better than that: most of its giant killer rattlesnakes are actually pythons – and they don’t even try to disguise the fact!! At first, I was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. Our initial glimpse of a ring-in is in silhouette, where you only know it’s a python if you know enough about snakes to tell from the shape of its head. After that, a woman is attacked in her garage. As she lowers her foot from her car, you get a bit too good a look at what’s actually curled up under it. Well, that’s sloppy, I thought, having a giggle. Little did I know that before the end of the film I would see things that would give a whole new depth and breadth to the term "sloppy"! The next attack, for instance, comes complete with close-ups and long, slow pans down the pseudo-rattler’s body! By the time the mayor’s son is supposedly in mortal danger from the placid python before him, my jaw was bruised from its numerous collisions with the floor. I swear, Indiana Jones wouldn’t be scared of these guys! But cast member after cast member is asked to go into hysterics at the sight of these embarrassingly unthreatening reptiles, making them, rather unfairly, look really stupid. And as if all this python substitution isn’t enough, the film-makers put one more spin on it in the character of Henry, a king snake owned by pet shop proprietor, Vera (played by former Bad Seed Patty McCormack). Henry proves that there are Good Snakes as well as Bad Snakes when he saves his owner from a rattler in her car. And – it isn’t a python! No!! Instead – it’s made of rubber!! The characterisations in Silent Predators are about on par with the storyline. The best performance comes in one of the minor roles. Phillip Troy Linger projects enough quiet authority as Dr Matthew Watkins to make me wonder briefly whether they’d hired a real herpetologist for the part (although he gets an embarrassing moment when he solemnly intones, "This is no Western diamondback" as the camera pans over something that clearly is). The rest of the cast is stuck in roles of laughable stereotype. I confess, though, there was a short section at the beginning of the film that made me think that Harry Hamlin and Jack Scalia were going to break out of their moulds. As he blunders through his investigation of the teenage boy’s death, our Designated Hero – not to put too fine a point upon the matter – behaves like a right arsehole. Hearing the dead boy’s girlfriend describe the snake that killed him, Vic Rondelli calmly tells Mandy Stratford that "women tend to exaggerate these things". When Mandy rightly asks him what he means by that, he blithely adds that she must know "how women are about snakes and spiders and mice". Mandy does force an apology from Vic for these remarks (and in an infuriating moment, immediately afterwards apologises to Vic for taking offence in the first place! Presumably this is to demonstrate that Mandy, despite being a businesswoman, isn’t one of those gosh-darn feminists, thus overlooking the fact that she might have been objecting to Vic’s remarks because they were rude, stupid and inaccurate, not just sexist), but Vic is slow to take a hint. He is next seen at the dead boy’s funeral, badgering the bereaved girlfriend into giving him a more "accurate" description of the snake! Supposedly evil businessman Max Farrington intervenes, displaying infinitely more tact and sensitivity than our alleged hero ever does. But the hopes of character complexity raised by these scenes are dashed shortly afterwards. Before long, Farrington is busy hushing up the existence of the snakes to protect his investment, and Vic is doggedly staging a one man war against the stonewall of Farrington, the mayor and the sheriff; and the rest of the film plays out exactly as expected. As Mandy Stratford, Shannon Sturges tries hard, but she’s trapped by a lousy script and a storyline that forces her to behave like a "movie heroine". (Problem: A man and a woman back away from a giant killer snake. Calculate the mathematical probability that it will be the woman who trips over.) David Whitney raises a few inadvertent sniggers as Farrington’s chief goon, who spends his time messing around with snakes and dynamite, and who is called "Kenny". No prizes for guessing what happens to him! Everyone else plays a cardboard cut-out. The end credits of Silent Predators prove more interesting than most of what has gone before: we see credits for "rattlesnakes", "special effects" and "animatronics", but no mention of "pythons"! Apart from the inaccuracy of the film’s title (seriously, these are the noisiest bloody snakes I’ve ever heard!), the only vaguely surprising thing about Silent Predators is that they kill off all the snakes at the end, not bothering with the usual kicker ending. I guess not even the people who made it could kid themselves that this film would rate a sequel!

Footnote #1: Despite what the IMDB says, I prefer to think that Silent Predators’ screenplay was co-written by "a" John Carpenter rather than "the" John Carpenter. If anyone has any information on this point, I’d appreciate the input.

Footnote #2: Patty McCormack’s Vera is portrayed as a rabid environmentalist, whose concern for nature supercedes everything else. This being the case, I’d be grateful for an explanation of why her pet shop has for sale at least two different species of rosella! Hey, nice one, Vera! Way to encourage illegal bird trafficking!

Answers to quiz: You had to look? Yeesh!

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB