Directors – The Mallachi Brothers [Peter Mervis], Screenplay – Eric Forsberg, Producers – David Michael Latt & Sherri Strain, Photography – Mark Atkins, Music – Mel Lewis, Visual Effects – Sharper FX (Supervisor – Alan Smithee), Mechanical Effects – Michael Rio, Makeup – Natalie Senina, Production Design – Derek Osedach. Production Company – The Asylum
Alby Castro (Brujo), Ryanne Ruiz (Alma), Giovanni Bejarano (Miguel), Amelia Jackson-Gray (Crystal), Philo Beddoe (Hoover), Al Galvez (Julio), Isaac Wade (Martin), Shannon Gayle (Summer), Stephen A.F. Day (Conductor), Carolyn Martin (Klara), Jason Gray (Chico), Lola Forsberg (Lani), Madeleine Falk (Nancy), Jay Costello (Juan), Reza Riazi (Barat Koolz), Sean Durrie (Dickie), Nick Slatkin (Raz), Derek Osedach (Mitch), Cameron Bass-Jackson (Cooper)
A man smuggles across the Mexican border into Texas with his girlfriend Alma. They sneak aboard a train heading to California along with several other Mexican illegal immigrants. The man wants to go to L.A. so that he can get his uncle who is a sorcerer to cure Alma. Because Alma left with him rather than the man it was intended she marry, her family has placed a curse on her that causes her to vomit up snakes. The man is collecting all the snakes in jars so that they can be restored to Alma. However, when others on the train attempt to steal the man’s belongings, some of the jars are broken. The snakes get free and move through the train, attacking the passengers. Because of the curse, the snakes are growing in number and size and soon take over the entire train.
The Asylum is a production company that has gained prominence on dvd shelves in the 00s. The Asylum’s entire product range is based around the concept of the ‘mockbuster’ – a low-budget film with a title that ‘coincidentally’ sounds similar to and arrives on dvd rental shelves about the same time as another big hit. The Asylum began making their mockbusters around 2005 when Steven Spielberg made his big-budget War of the Worlds (2005) where they took advantage of the fact that the H.G. Wells novel was in public domain to make their own cheap copy War of the Worlds (2005) with C. Thomas Howell (who subsequently found a new career appearing in these Asylum mockbusters). Other efforts quickly followed:- Exorcism: The Possession of Gail Bowers (2005) copying The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005); The Da Vinci Treasure (2006) copying The Da Vinci Code (2006); Halloween Night (2006) copying the remake of Halloween (2007); Hillside Cannibals (2006) copying the remake of The Hills Have Eyes (2006); Pirates of Treasure Island (2006) copying the Pirates of the Caribbean films; 666: The Child (2006) copying the remake of The Omen (2006); When a Killer Calls (2006) copying the remake of When a Stranger Calls (2006); The Hitchhiker (2007) copying the remake of The Hitcher (2007); I Am Omega (2007) copying I Am Legend (2007); Invasion of the Pod People (2007) copying The Invasion (2007); Supercroc (2007) copying Primeval (2007) and 2007’s fad for killer crocodile movies; Transmorphers (2007) copying Transformers (2007); Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008) copying Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008); The Day the Earth Stopped (2008) copying the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008); Death Racers (2008) copying Death Race (2008); their own version of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) at the same time as Walden Media’s Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008); 100 Million B.C. (2008) copying 10,000 BC (2008); Sunday School Musical (2008) copying the High School Musical films; their own version of Sherlock Holmes (2009) at the same time as Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009); The Terminators (2009) copying Terminator Salvation (2009); 2102: Supernova (2009) after the big-budget 2012 (2009); Almighty Thor (2011) copying the Marvel Comics film Thor (2011); Battle of Los Angeles (2011) copying Battle Los Angeles (2011); Age of the Hobbits (2012) after the Peter Jackson film trilogy began.
Snakes on a Train was one of The Asylum’s more brazen copies. It was, of course, made in an attempt to copy the success of the tongue-in-cheek Snakes on a Plane (2006) and attracted a reasonable degree of attention at the time for its attempts to do so. The dvd cover, for instance, comes with the amusingly cheeky by-line “This ain’t no plain ride.”
Snakes on a Train is written by Eric Forsberg, a promising writer-director who had made two of The Asylum’s better non-mockbuster efforts with Alien Abduction (2005) and Night of the Dead “Leben Tod” (2006), both of which were gore-drenched but came with ingenious left field endings. Behind the name The Mallachi Brothers is director Peter Mervis who has made several other films for The Asylum with Dead Man Walking (2005), The Da Vinci Treasure and When a Killer Calls.
Snakes on a Plane had a preposterously hard-to-believe excuse to gets its creatures onto the title vehicle – they were shipped aboard and released at a prearranged point for use as an assassination tool. Snakes on a Train comes with a raison d’etre that multiplies this level of preposterousness by a factor of ten – because she has left an arranged marriage, a woman (Ryanne Ruiz) has been infected with a curse that causes her to vomit up snakes; these are released aboard the train where they swiftly grow to giant-size. The film is played seriously and the performances are generally competent but Snakes on a Train never manages to lift clear of such an absurd premise. It could perhaps have been made work either by dint of playing the idea out with some ingenuity or by injecting an element of tongue-in-cheek humour – needless to say, The Mallachi Brothers/Peter Mervis does not.
Snakes on a Train tries hard but it is clearly made on a B-budget. A fight between Alby Castro and Jason S. Gray on the connectors between train cars shows nothing of the landscape speeding past beyond, for instance. We never see any exteriors outside the windows of the cars – in a creatively low-budget move, the windows have been painted opaque so that they filmmakers can avoid having to provide any back-projected scenery.
We do get real snakes, unlike Snakes on a Plane, which represented them with digital effects, and this at least provides a degree of realism. Unfortunately, it means that the snakes do not act with the outrageousness that they can when played by animatronics and CGI – although there is one amusing scene where an animatronic snake is seen to be bodily devouring a young girl. Certainly, the film is very gory at times, notably a scene where a snake burrows under the skin of a man’s wrist and another where Alby Castro must cut open a man’s chest and wrench out his snake-filled heart.
The point that Snakes on a Train‘s conceptual preposterousness and low-budget finally overwhelms the production altogether is the ending, which involves a snake growing to giant size and then swallowing the entire train in its jaws. The WTF bizarreness of the scene, including images of a giant digital snake slinking alongside the speeding train and then trying to swallow it, not to mention the survivors managing to race out the end as the train is being devoured without ever being knocked over by the derailment, is made laughable by some of the cheapest and most unconvincing digital effects to ever grace the modern era of CGI effects technology. Appropriately, the visual effects supervisor has chosen to hide behind the generic Hollywood pseudonym of Alan Smithee.