Basilisk: The Serpent King (2006)

Basilisk reviewStarring Yancy Butler, Jeremy London, Stephen Furst, Wendy Carter, Cleavant Derricks, Griff Furst, Doug Dearth

Directed by Louie Myman

There’s an old saying about how even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while; sometimes even the Sci-Fi Channel manages to produce a genuinely entertaining creature feature once in a while too. Basilisk: The Serpent King may be dumber than Tara Reid at a MENSA convention but it’s a jovial good time that breezes along like an old fashioned Saturday matinee.

What is a Basilisk, you ask? It’s a deadly snake-like creature of ancient mythology said to possess a fatal gaze. As portrayed here, the Basilisk looks as if Reptilicus mated with some sort of bug to produce a huge scaly serpent with stubby arms and an insect-like tail. Its armor is nearly impenetrable, it can spit venom that paralyzes, and it can turn a person to stone with a flash from its eyes. It’s brought to life by the solar eclipse and can only be defeated by the Eye of Medusa, an ancient scepter boasting a mystical gem that can hold the Basilisk at bay and use its own death stare against it.

Now you’d think with such a handy one-two punch of paralysis-inducing venom followed by the petrifaction death glance that the movie would feature a whole lot of spitting and stoning, but you would be wrong. Oh, there is plenty of that. However, this Basilisk likes to diversify its death dealing. Sometimes you get the venom-stare combo; others gets bitten in half or squished or swatted to death with a flail of its mighty tail. It’s kind of a pity the movie set its mind on being so light-hearted because the Basilisk here is a pretty formidable foe and it would be interesting to see what would have happened had it been spotlighted in a feature film that played up its ferocious nature. Just imagine if the Basilisk that was featured at the end of Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets got its own Beast from 20,000 Fathoms type of movie.

Now here’s the real shocker – the CGI is excellent! I’ve lost track of the number of reviews I’ve written of Sci-Fi Channel original movies where I had no choice but to comment on how piss poor the CGI was. With the exception of a handful of unfortunate shots (mostly a few shots of the creature interacting with the actors and the way it sometimes appears to be Photoshopping people into stone), the CGI Basilisk is probably the best computer generated creature I’ve ever seen in a Sci-Fi Channel original. I’d go so far as to say the computer effects are generally on par with that seen in a lot of big screen, bigger budgeted Hollywood productions. Needless to say I was impressed. I hope this is a beginning of trend and not just a one movie anomaly on Sci-Fi’s part.

The film opens with some unfortunate Arabs falling victim to the deadly Basilisk in Cyrenaica 112 A.D. It certainly kills the hell out of them to such a degree you’d never guess how comical the rest of the movie would prove to be. The last survivor managed to use the Eye of Medusa to defeat it, but an avalanche had been triggered. All ended up buried beneath the rubble for centuries.

In what is now modern day Libya, Dr. Harry McCall (“Party of Five” star Jeremy London, here working overtime to channel his inner Brendan Fraser) leads an expedition that has uncovered the Eye of Medusa and what he believes to be some stone statues, unaware that these are the petrified remains of both ancient victims and the petrified Basilisk itself. Despite warnings from some local Arab tribesman that disturbing these remains will bring much misfortune, McCall does so anyway and has it all shipped back to Pueblo Springs, Colorado (of all places!) where it will be put on display at a big soiree in two months.

Enter a new female colleague who specializes in myths and legends from an anthropological standpoint. If ever there was a female lead character that existed for the sole purpose of giving the film a female lead and nothing more then this is it. She’s there to spout some mumbo jumbo correlating ancient mythology with modern archaeology, give London someone to bounce lines off of while in peril, and potentially be his love interest. Heck, the McCall character is already hitting on her within three minutes of knowing her. That’s some real professionalism there, bub.

Then again, the movie itself isn’t into wasting time on things like build up and character development. Ever see The Relic? Remember how it took about an hour before all hell broke loose at the museum with the monster making its presence known to everyone? Basilisk: The Serpent King only takes about 20 minutes to start with the chaos. What are the odds that they’d choose to hold the big unveiling in an atrium on the same day as a solar eclipse?

Our heroes quickly figure out that the key to defeating the Basilisk is with the Eye of Medusa. Unfortunately, two the big unveiling’s attendees were a pair of con artists, one played by “Witchblade”‘s Yancy Butler who vamps it up to almost Alexis Carrington-Colby levels at time. Exactly what her and her metrosexual partner-in-crime’s plan was to swipe the scepter we’ll never know because the moment the Basilisk came to life she decided it made for a perfect opportunity for a little smash and grab. So now there’s a rampaging monster on the loose and the only means to stop it is in the hands of a pair of thieves that are on the run themselves, completely unaware that our heroes, the military, and the monster, which seems to be naturally drawn to the scepter, is in pursuit; a pursuit that will lead things into a shopping mall where much of the remainder of the movie will take place.

Usually I find myself complaining about how dull Sci-Fi Channel creature features tend to be. That is definitely not the case here. If anything, Basilisk: The Serpent King may be a bit too goofy for its own good. For example, during the initial mall attack (A really fun sequence!), the Basilisk will go slithering past a trio of Dungeons & Dragons-playing nerds who will momentarily debate whether the creature that just slithered past them was a dragon, a basilisk, or a wyvern. The monster that had been killing indiscriminately completely ignores them and none of them even bat an eye in shock, surprise, or terror as to what they just saw. Sure, it’s a funny moment, but it’s also one that completely breaks the fourth wall and takes you out of the movie. It’s not the last time something like that will occur. This is a film where Yancy Butler will have her dress ripped off by the creature and she’ll react by turning around to scold it for ruining such an expensive dress rather than react in horror at being face-to-face with a deadly monster that could kill her in a heartbeat.

I also couldn’t help but notice that the military continued to go after the thing with machine guns even after it was established that bullets cannot penetrate its hide. And some even continue to go after it with their sidearms. You’d think they’d have to sense to know that if heavy machine guns can’t get the job done then your tiny handgun is going to do even less.

The performances of just about all of the main actors involved convey that they too are acutely aware of the kind of movie they’re appearing in, perhaps a bit too aware given how overly cutesy they sometimes get hamming it up. Look no further than the father and son combo of Stephen Furst (“Flounder” from National Lampoon’s Animal House) and Griff Furst. Father Stephen plays McCall’s hyper giddy professor superior who organizes the display. When I say giddy I mean we’re talking Santa Claus meets Frank Gorshin’s Riddler giddy. Son Griff plays McCall’s bespectacled dork underling. He follows in his dad’s footsteps, only he does so in an over-the-top Revenge of the Nerds sort of way. Performances like that add an extra layer of silliness to a film already overflowing with silly – perhaps one layer too many. But at least they aren’t clichéd stock characters devoid of any discernable personality like most Sci-Fi Channel movie characters generally are.

Basilisk: The Serpent King is a perfectly fine way to spend an hour and a half. It has no repeat value; watch once and dispose. Given the sheer number of Sci-Fi Channel original movies I’ve endured, especially in the past year, that were slow, boring, and utterly lifeless, I won’t harp too much on this one’s occasional lapses into irritating Stephen Sommers’ quality stupidity. I’ll gladly take a lively, fast paced creature feature that is unfortunately prone to a few outbursts of fourth wall shattering idiocy over the usual Sci-Fi Channel Saturday night suckfests.

Oh, one last time I thought I’d toss out there. Check out this pic of the Eye of Medusa scepter and then check out the toy scepter belonging to that of He-Man’s Masters of the Universe nemesis King Hiss. Look familiar?

3 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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