Unteka the Mega Snake
“When his brother unwittingly releases an ancient Cherokee snake on his small Tennessee town, paramedic Les Daniels is reluctant to join the investigation due to his crippling fear of snakes. However when the snake grows to giant proportions, he must conquer his fear if he is to stand any chance of defeating this ancient evil and saving the love of his life from the jaws of the Mega Snake…”
- Michael Shanks – Les Daniels
- Siri Baruc – Erin
- Ben Cardinal – Screaming Hawk
- Todd Jensen – Big Bo
- Michal Yannai – Fay
- John T. Woods – Duff Daniels
- Matthew Atherton – Feedback
- Bats: Human Harvest – Todd Jensen
- Copperhead – Todd Jensen
- Ice Spiders – Tibor Takács
- Kraken: Tenacles of the Deep – Tibor Takács, Michal Yannai
- Mosquito Man – Tibor Takács
- Raging Sharks – Todd Jensen
- Rats – Tibor Takács
- Sabretooth – Todd Jensen
- Spiders 3D – Tibor Takács
- Swarmed – Michael Shanks
Mega Snake is a 2007 direct-to-TV killer snake movie directed by Tibor Takacs and first broadcast by the Syfy channel. Produced by Nu Image Films, this features stars Michael Shanks (Stargate SG1, Smallville) as the lead Les Daniels with Siri Baruc, John T Woods, Todd Jensen, Michal Yannai and Ben Cardinal rounding off the cast.
When his brother accidentally releases an ancient Cherokee snake on his small Tennessee town, paramedic Les Daniels’ crippling fear of snakes leaves him too afraid to help out. However when the snake grows to giant proportions, he must conquer his fear iff he is to stand any chance of defeating this ancient evil and saving the love of his life from the jaws of the Mega Snake.
Based on a story by genre favourite Boaz Davidson (Spiders I & II, Octopus I & II, Crocodile I & II), Mega Snake is a serious step-up in quality compared to most b-movies because of its interesting and quirky characters, fantastic performances given by the entire cast and the highly experienced film-makers involved. Genre-talent Tibor Takacs (Mosquito Man, Rats, Spiders 3D) directs the feature with panache as he allows the floating camera to create immersive tone to the film and uses some great Evil Dead-inspired forest shooting for the ‘snake-vision.’
Emil Topuzov does some fantastic lighting work, especially for the County Fair finale. Technically the only real issue is the remarkably ADR-sounding audio and the horrendous CGI for the Mega Snake, as in worse than Boa Vs Python or Lake Placid 3 CGI. Nonetheless every single member of the cast really puts effort into realising their characters and bringing a flare of self-aware fun to the ridiculous plot. From the drunken hillbilly hunter to the high-as-a-kite carnival goers, every actor adds just the right amount of camp and surprisingly it is the ‘big name’ of the cast who actually tries the hardest with a script where the main character already has an unexpected amount of depth. There is also a high body count with reasonable variation of kills (considering the limited possibilities of a giant snake) and the gore is really well executed with the effects in the constriction scene being some of the finest that I’ve ever seen in a creature feature.
Mega Snake places a large amount of emphasis on the relationships between the characters as for pretty much the entirety of Act One, main character Les is preoccupied with trying to ward the Chief of Police ‘Big’ Bo away from his ex-girlfriend whilst also combating the amorous advances from his paramedic partner, Fay. Instead it is up to his hard-headed brother Duff to run around causing the plot to begin including discover the Unteka (the Mega Snake), stealing it and accidentally letting it loose. Duff (played superbly by John T Woods) and Les are the typical dialectically opposed brothers, one who’s following in his father’s footsteps and the other that stands for the opposite of everything that their father did.
The story kicks off with a very important event, whilst at a wedding the local snake-wrangler and his family are passing around venomous snakes as part of the religious ceremony. Youngest son and chronic Ophidiophobe Les freezes up when passed a snake, giving the predator enough time to coil and strike his father. Unfortunately for Les’s father, the congregation see this as act of divine intervention and start singing and praising the Lord whilst Les begs them to call an ambulance. This event holds real dramatic weight as twenty years later the evidence of the trauma is clearly visible. The reaction of the church-goers to his Dad’s snake bite is the reason for Les’s atheism (despite the rest of his family still being believers), his guilt of causing the death is why he became a paramedic, his cowardly reaction to the snake has led to an easily agitated bravery complex and the fact that it was a wedding ceremony has caused an aversion and hesitation towards settling down and marrying his long-term girlfriend.
Michael Shanks really proves why he is such a reliable TV actor as he makes Les Daniels, a hot-headed paramedic who drinks far too much and upsets women on an outstandingly regular basis, into one of the greatest creature feature heroes of all time. The man is flawed, amazingly flawed but he is likeable because through his errors of judgement, he is a human being that can be funny, charming and caring and despite being absolutely petrified of snakes, he repeatedly steps up to the ball both in hunting and eventually killing the snake. So whilst for three days in a row (and I’m not kidding), Les manages to get drunk and upset ex/girlfriend Erin, Les is still the character that the audience wants to see succeed regardless of the character flaws both in his love life and his plight against Unteka.
Siri Baruc does a good job as Deputy Ranger Erin (who also happens to have a degree in Zoology) and Ben Cardinal performs as can be expected for the exposition spouting Unteka owner Screaming Hawk. John T Woods brings some fun energy to his role as Les’s younger brother Duff but Todd Jensen (Copperheads) offers perhaps the most interesting performance out of the supporting cast. Jensen hams up his performance as ‘Big’ Bo to just the right degree, making him a fun and enjoyable but not particularly threatening bad guy. I would be hesitant to call Bo villainous, as like many antagonists in this sub-genre he’s more of an arsehole than actually evil, however unlike many antagonists Bo actually tries to do the right thing. Above all he is a police officer and the protection of the town’s folk and the upholding of justice are the main things that he strives for, that when his cock-sure nature, arrogance, flirtatiousness and his severe hard-on for Les’s girlfriend Erin don’t get in the way first.
The mythology behind the Unteka is largely stolen from Gremlins and hidden by a transparent shroud of Native American Cherokee mysticism. The first time we see the snake, it’s a tiny little swimming snake living in a water filled jar and as Screaming Hawk tells us at great length that his tribe spent generations fighting this evil breed of snake and that the one in the jar is the only one left. Hawk kindly fills in Duff on the three rules of owning the snake despite refusing to sell it to him: “Never take it out of the jar, never let it eat a living being and never fear the heart of the snake.” The snake eventually grows to ridiculous proportions and appears to be at least inspired by the horned viper, only with a singular horn at the end of its snout and being a reddish, brown colour. Whilst it’s never made clear whether the name refers to the breed of snake or just this final individual, Unteka exhibits traits of spitting venom, having a poisonous bite and constricting living prey whilst also maintaining the cliché giant snake tropes of discoloured ‘snake-vision,’ shedding a tough plastic skin in one long unbroken tube and making growling and yelping noises as well as hisses.
Rare amongst this genre and well worth a special mention is the surprisingly top-notch continuity. For example, after his drunken bar fight with Duff, Les awakens the next morning with the same cuts on his face and bloodied knuckles. Later on that day, when he discovers the massacre at his home, the cuts are in the same place but have faded as time has passed. Another example is in one of his first scenes Les treats the Jensen’s youngest son that has fallen out of a tree by putting bandages on his head wound, then later on in the film when the Jensen family are all eaten by the Mega Snake, the bandages are still there.
The second special mention is that this film features the ‘superhero’ Feedback, played by Matthew Atherton, the winner of the first series of Syfy’s Who Wants To Be A Superhero reality TV show. He pops up in the finale to make an extended cameo, he manages to uphold his character’s dignity but his appearance is nothing to write home about.
I love Mega Snake not just because of its technical competence, great self-awareness and fantastic casting but to me it also represents that last run of Syfy TV movies that actually had some real care and effort put into them. Just comparing Mega Snake to something rubbish like Dinocroc vs Supergator or something semi-enjoyable like Sharktopus, you can really see the depreciation in quality as these movies started to build up a big fan base and Syfy wanted to make as many as possible as cheaply as possible. By no means is Mega Snake perfect (even by creature feature standards the CGI is abhorrent) but the film is fun, enjoyable and cheesy as hell with some of the most flawed and well-realised characters ever seen in the sub-genre.