Swarm of the Snakehead

Swarm of the Snakehead (2006)

  • Straight to Video
  • Director: Frank Lama, Joel Denning
  • Written by: Seth Hurwitz
  • Running Time: 95 minutes
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Cast: Gunnar Hansen, Jamie Linck O'Brien, Lisa Burdette, Timothy Stultz, Johnny Alonso, Gerry Paradiso, Joel Denning, Sharon Graves, Rigg Kennedy, Frank Lama, Kimberly Mallory, Steve Carson, Leanna Chamish, Lizzy Denning, Maggie Denning, Bruce Geisert, Erica Highberg, Barry A. Hurwitz, Kelli Kolodny, Brandon Mason, George Stover, Kelli Kolodny

For those of you not in the know, the snakehead fish is a freshwater-dwelling meat-eater native to Southeast Asia, discovered unexpectedly proliferating in a Maryland pond in 2002. Terrifying little buggers, snakeheads can survive on dry land for up to three days, have a nasty habit of wiping out natural inhabitants and, reportedly, in some instances, have even acquired a taste for human flesh. Even the Bush administration has gotten involved, placing trade and import bans on 28 species of snakehead fishes. There is a lingering debate on whether or not a snakehead fish has ever killed anyone. As of right now there are few cases that support the hypothesis but at the end of the day the legend prevails.

Hoping to cash in on the minor snakehead frenzy that arose in 2002, the Sci-Fi channel rushed into production two films in 2003, “Snakehead Terror” and “Frankenfish”. Mean-spirited and lacking in oomph, neither entry was memorable beyond their cool-sounding titles and flashy small screen trailers. Interestingly, also in 03 a group of filmmakers from the Maryland area decided to create their own homegrown tale of terror featuring these nasty little rascals. Unlike the two previous entries, this film, shot on 16mm and featuring a plentiful array of b-movie actors, is a mix of satirical comedy and sci-fi creature feature and it provides plenty of thrills, chills and, yes, even a copious amount of laughs in its 95 minute runtime. Family friendly to a certain degree, “Swarm of the Snakehead” is a film that could easily connect to a larger audience if given half the chance. This isn’t to say that the genre hounds, the kind that have a compulsion to seek out Gunnar Hansen movies in the wee hours of the morning (how I discovered this title), will be disappointed because they won’t. Its meagre budget aside, this film has more than enough creepy situations, ugly monsters and ferocious kills to keep that crowd thoroughly satisfied.

Hoping to work through an ugly divorce, William Emerson (Joel Denning) returns to the fishing village where he grew up -- the fictional town of Barrow Springs, Maryland. Accompanying him are his three daughters, who have reluctantly agreed to stay with their dad over the summer. The oldest daughter, Ashley (Jamie Linck O’Brien), the least thrilled at spending the summer in some small out of the way fishing town, quickly finds her interest peaked when she encounters the Mayor’s handsome son, Jake (Timothy Stultz), fixing his bike along the side of a road. Her two sisters, Samantha (Lizzy Denning), always with a video camera, and little Megan, (Maggie Denning), always with her trusty fish Petey, are equally unimpressed but are willing to give the place a chance, if only to appease their father. Coincidentally, the town’s annual fishing tournament is drawing near, an event the local Mayor Janice Appleyard (Lisa Burdette) deems vital to Barrow Springs’ future economy. In an interesting turn, something else is happening in the small town, something that Appleyard doesn’t necessarily want getting out. A rash of missing pets in recent weeks has caused the locals to nickname the would-be culprit – a menacing snakehead fish, ‘The Beast of Barrow Springs’.

When a couple of teenagers turn up missing, it becomes apparent to the local authorities that something much more dangerous is at work here. The Mayor, who is herself involved in a nefarious financial arrangement with some out of town investors as well as dealing with a office corruption scandal, elects to stonewall the investigation, and keep the information from the public in order to allow the fishing tourney to go forward. With their food supply dwindling, it doesn’t take long for a pair of snakeheads, along with hundreds of their progeny, to move into the town and begin dining on the locals. It’s up to Emerson, his daughters, a local shop keeper, Abigail Parker (Sharon Graves) -- who just happens to be an ex-flame of Williams, and a dogged reporter, Sandy Redhook (Kimberly Mallory), to stop these creatures before they can destroy the town. A beauty queen contestant, Mimi Mansfield (Erica Highberg), and a popular television fishing personality, Darrel ‘Did I just say Christmas album?’ Delhey (Frank Lama), also tag along in hopes of making a quick buck by either killing or capturing one of the little devils, however, in my opinion, they could have (or maybe, should have) been excised from the film completely in order to free up development of some of the film’s other more important characters. Granted, Frank Lama’s character, a parody of Bruce Campbell’s “Evil Dead” Ash turn, provided the occasional laugh; it still was not enough to make him even remotely vital to the story.

"Swarm of the Snakehead” takes awhile to find its footing, as some of the early scenes are hard to follow, namely the notion that the whole film is a simple flashback exercise from a little girl to her less than captivated classmates, featuring flashbacks within a flashback. Yes, it gets confusing. Eventually, however, things work themselves into a cohesive idea, while proudly asserting its satirical edginess, all thanks to writer Seth Hurwitz’s talent behind the pen. Savvy viewers will most assuredly recognize that here the whole concept of a small coastal town under attack from an aquatic invader, and a Mayor hoping to keep the local fishing tourney on track, is nothing more than a send-up of Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster “Jaws”, but, interestingly, the filmmakers opt to take the send up one step further by having b-movie icon Gunnar Hansen, in a small cameo, lampooning Robert Shaw’s memorable speech from that film. Gunnar’s fate, decided only seconds later, will surely leave the viewers snickering in their popcorn.

CGI and models are used to bring the snakehead creatures to life and for the most part, they are effective. Early scenes primarily feature the actors pretending to fight with inert models, something of which brings to mind Bela Lugosi’s unintentionally hilarious tussle with the immobile octopus in “Bride of the Monster”. The scraps derived here, however, seem calculated to inspire laughs. Lisa Burdette, playing her character with a certain subzero intensity, evokes the biggest laughs during her bathroom scuffle with one of the snakeheads. Even though the snakehead is nothing more than a prop, watching her performance, you’d swear the thing was really a threat. Passable to good computer generated effects are utilized during the final half hour as the town is besieged by hundreds of the creatures. One specific CGI sequence near film’s end involving a tiny fish propelling itself through the air to protect its owner had me literally laughing out loud.

Jamie Linck O'Brien (2008’s “From Within”), a former 2006 Miss Teen Maryland, is given top billing here but really has very little to do, minus a couple of make-cute scenes with fellow child actor, Timothy Stultz (2002’s “Max Magician and the Legend of the Rings”). Interestingly, it’s the two grown-up female leads in the cast, Sharon Graves and Lisa Burdette, who steal the show. These two women are absolutely magnificent. Playing Abigail Parker, Sharon Graves (2008’s “The Church”), comes across as vulnerable early on in her scenes with Emerson, and later, as a tough as nails hellcat karate kicking her way through locked doors. You’d swear that she’s channelling Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the film’s last half. Contrasting the tough-girl bluster against the introductory scene in the shop where she -- still carrying the scars of a heartbroken teenage girl -- softly mutters the singular line, “We deliver… too” is so sweet in its delivery that it’s near tear inducing.

Far and away the sum of my praise is reserved for Lisa Burdette (2007’s “The Bourne Ultimatum”), who, as Mayor Janice Appleyard, absolutely runs away with the film. A beauty in every sense of the word, Burdette compliments her looks with heaping helpings of talent. She deftly crafts a character so despicable that you’ll be hard pressed to forget her long after the film has ended. Greedy, vindictive and mean-spirited, Appleyard is the type of vile character that places more emphasis on her mangy pooch than on her own son. She’ll irk you like few others. Burdette, like Graves, is also called upon to get physical in a handful of scenes, namely the hilarious blood-soaked scrap to the death in a bathroom stall that I mentioned. Even though she’s tussling with a prop, she never flinches. Director Joel Denning as William Emerson, has a few good scenes with Graves but for the most part, his performance is wooden and because of that he fails to connect with the audience in any real way. He feels less like a character and more like a device to connect the various plot points. Rigg Kennedy (1982’s “Slipping Into Darkness”) playing a prickly mad scientist type seems to be having a ball here. His presence will surely leave viewers wondering where they’ve seen him before. Here’s a hint: "The Michael Jackson Trial".

Although not for everyone, “Swarm of the Snakehead” is a must for people who like their creature features with heaping helpings of comedy. All I can say is, head on over to swarmofthesnakehead.com and pick yourself up a copy. To see the trailer go here.