New Line Cinema started to film an inoffensive little thriller last year some time. The working title was the slightly ridiculous-sounding Snakes on a Plane, one obviously made up by a studio executive in the absence of anything else to write on the clapperboard.
Midway through production some time later, with the film now polished and called Pacific Air Flight 121, a cultural movement arose online. Their interest piqued by the delicious possibilities of a movie about a plane full of snakes, Internet-based movie geeks generated a fully-fledged phenomenon. Suddenly Snakes was the movie everyone was talking about.
New Line, as the story goes, were no fools. After fan buzz about the potential for gore, frights and laughs reached fever pitch, they called B-horror director David (Final Destination 2) R Ellis and star Jackson back in to make it meaner, bloodier, scarier and most importantly, rebadge the film Snakes on a Plane.
It seems to have worked. Though mostly looking rather fake, snakes burst from small spaces accompanied by blasts of scary music to latch themselves onto necks, penises, nipples, eyeballs and much more. Combined with the line added later for which the film is now famous (Jackson’s ‘I want these motherfucking snakes off this motherfucking plane!’), the ‘new’ cut is very much in the genre you’d expect as a schlock or cult horror fan.
If you don’t know what it’s about and can’t guess from the title, you seriously need to expose yourself to movie marketing a bit more. Dirt biker Sean (Phillips) witnesses a mob hit and is saved from an attack intended to silence him by FBI agent Neville Flynn (Jackson).
Asked to fly to LA to testify against the mobster, Sean joins Flynn, who commandeers the entire first class deck of a 747. But the bad guy’s network is onto them, sneaking a crate full of venomous and pheromone-crazed snakes on board, timed to go off when it’s too late to turn back.
The hungry hordes quickly fill up the cargo area, then find their way to the cabin floor under hundreds of unsuspecting feet. When two would-be lovers in a toilet cubicle meet a fate that’ll make you wince, all hell breaks loose as the crazed assassins attack.
The script and effects team pull no punches. Fangs and venom fly and the plane is soon a slaughterhouse. The surviving passengers barricade themselves in a galley trying to work out how to combat the slithering mass beyond, and we’re treated to some classic schlock-horror tension and scares until the equally outrageous conclusion.
There’s a lot of CGI and we see very few real snakes, so the movie doesn’t feel grounded in any sort of reality, but maybe that’s what they wanted (the studio, not the snakes). But with plenty of leap-out-of-your-seat moments, it’s a classic fun horror film. There’s no subtext, no social comment, and not a hint of taking itself seriously.