Snakehead Terror (2004)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Bruce Boxleitner, Carol Alt, Chelan Simmons, William B. Davis
Directed by Paul Ziller
Snakehead Terror is a Sci-Fi Channel original movie that was originally made back in 2004, has been in heavy rotation on the network ever since, but is only just now getting a long overdue DVD release. The immediate question becomes, what took me so long to get around to reviewing it?
One good reason might be because that's how little an impression Snakehead Terror left on me after watching that first time back in '04. About the most memorable aspect I recall from back then was being surprised by how gory it was for a made-for-television movie; copious amounts of spilled blood and guts have become quite commonplace in Sci-Fi Channel original monster movies in the years since. Here we have one of those critter movies that plays out like every critter movie that ever preceded it and despite being fairly well made I once again found myself less than enthralled simply because the film really is just too damn predictable for its own good.
How formulaic is the plot? Something in the water is eating people and animals. A dedicated local town sheriff with a teenage child in peril. Somebody's been dumping chemicals into the lake water. Scientist type brought in to help investigate. Stupid teens decide to go party in an unsafe remote location. A small town mayor refuses to close the lake because he's more concerned with making sure the town's annual festival goes off without a hitch.
As you can see, without going into any other plot details, I've already described the premise to countless post-Jaws killer animal movies. Snakehead Terror owes an awful lot to Jaws - too much, and is more paint-by-numbers than need be. It's also far too laid back to truly deliver on the terror aspect of its title. It really has that made-for-TV feel to it despite be bloodier than most.
The aquatic critters are Snakehead fish, vicious little predatory fish that were making national headlines shortly before some enterprising producers decided to make this ripped-from-the-headlines movie with the DVD art that dares to bill it as "BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS" as if anything depicted in this movie ever actually occurred. Snakeheads are ugly, toothy, mean little suckers more likely to destroy the ecosystem of a body of water by devouring every other creature in it than sinking their fangs into people. But just add some chemicals to the water mutating them to a bigger size with a bigger appetite to match and you got yourself a ready made b-movie plot. Add in the twist that Snakeheads can survive out of water for a short period of time, even wiggle around onshore like a snake, and you've really got potential b-movie gold. These Snakeheads are indeed abnormally large (one darn near whale-like), able to survive outside of water for unbelievable amounts of time (They are mutant Snakeheads, remember?), and have a surprisingly easy time making meals out of a whole bunch of local townfolk even on land. That last case is a bit hard to swallow given how darn slow they move. People in this movie have a hard time grasping the concept of running for dear life.
"Babylon 5"'s Bruce Boxleitner is the single parent sheriff quickly convinced that all is not right at his small town lake community. Final Destination 3's Chelan Simmons is the daughter that gets to watch her boyfriend get eaten after a lake outing ends in carnage. William B. Davis AKA "Cigarette Smoking Man" from "The X-Files" is once again playing a shady character who knows more than he's initially willing to tell. And I'm sorry but I just don't buy supermodel Carol Alt as a Fish & Game officer specializing in any form of "ology". But she's a single babe and Sheriff Boxleitner needs a woman, so it's all good for him.
The rest of the movie is everything you'd expect. Another that starts out with lots of promise and quickly runs out of steam; a ho hum feeling set in for me once the story got firmly stuck in the cliche quagmire. There's nothing particularly wrong with the acting or the direction or even the script aside from it all feeling like a movie I've seen too many times before both better and worse. The Snakehead effects mix CGI and puppetry with mixed results; sometimes looking believable and sometimes looking quite fake. The money certainly seemed to get sunk into the gore effects, whether it be limbs getting lopped off or Snakehead fishies blowing up real good. Still not quite enough to elevate the film past its tiring predictability. There's a way to do a movie like this and still feel fresh despite being one overdone plot point after another but Snakehead Terror doesn't quite pull it off.
The one scene this film totally needed that could have saved it is the big scene where the land-crawling Snakeheads stage an all-out assault on the small town, ala Gremlins and Eight Legged Freaks. The film certainly appeared to be setting that up but it's quite obvious the budget wasn't going to allow for anything on that scale and, thus, we never get that big pay-off. I'm amazed they could afford the super-sized digital Snakehead briefly seen in the finale.
If you're in the mood for a rainy day monster movie, Snakehead Terror will probably do the trick but really is the sort of movie better to stumble up on cable than to go out of your way to see. Personally, I'd recommend sticking with Frankenfish, a better version of the same movie made in the very same year.
2 out of 5
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