From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

No Objectivity: Copperhead

Well, the time has come for me to face another battle with the Sci-Fi Channel. This time, their weapon is an army of horrible CGI copperhead snakes speeding across the open West. My weapon is the candlestick, in the library.

Copperhead - A SciFi Chanel Original Movie

We open with a man on a horse! This is a good sign; forty-five seconds into the movie without something stupid happening. Just a man on a horse. Maybe this will be a really minimalist Western that brings forth ideas of the individual versus nature!

Oh, nope, that was a fleeting dream. Our Hero comes across some overturned wagons and their hella-dead former occupants. (They’re brown people! We won’t be seeing them again, so you should just get excited about it right now.)

“La serpienta,” one croaks upon seeing Our Hero.

Our Hero, perturbed, asks “Kay passo akee?” God, Swedes have a better Spanish accent than this.

Okay, SNAKE. We are ONE MINUTE IN and he has shot a rattlesnake. It can’t be a copperhead, since it rattled, and I’m pretty sure copperheads don’t do that. Also, all the dead people look like they died of sunburn, so if the copperheads are supposed to have the awesome vampiric body-exploding powers you just know they’re going to have, the makeup people have fallen down on the job here. Dear makeup people; quit with the realism, okay? Let’s get some imagination going! Maybe their hands could have turned into little snakes or something.

Now Our Hero, who can get a name aaaany time, rides into the village. This also takes a while, mostly so that the camera can linger lovingly over all their expensive Old West town sets. Fun fact: if you sneeze, the water tower cutout falls over.

Ooh, and the town is run by an evil sheriff! This movie is wasting no time, I will give it that much. Evil Sheriff sees Our Hero ride in and looks thoughtfully at his wall of wanted posters, which all look like they were drawn by Mrs. Henderson’s second grade class.

Saloon! Apparently Our Hero is in search of Murphy, the bar owner. But Murphy’s dead. Our hero now has no more narrative. THE END. Oh, wait, according to the bartender, “lead was his poison.” Revenge plot, then!

You know, this scene reminds me that I like Westerns. I’d be happy to just hang out in these set pieces for two hours without shitty copperhead special-effects. I just want to point that out.

The bartender passes some cooking sherry over to Our Hero; since our Hero has about six hairs on each eyebrow (never over-tweeze, men of the Old West, I can’t stress this enough) he should be a little more careful with flammable liquids, but he still slams one back.

He thanks the bartender and heads for the door, but someone’s suddenly shot to death in the middle of the Shady Character Poker Tournament (of course) and now our hero is forcibly dealt in. (God, we’re one saloon girl away from the perfect Western milieu!)

Cut to: …somewhere else! Judging by the cleavage, we are in the sexy-saloon-girl portion of the bar. So, that about covers it! All done! Someone have a shootout in the middle of the street and get one of these women a-cryin’ and ride right on out of this movie! …No?

…it was worth a try.

Awww, one of the hookers is giving it away for free to Nice Young Man! I bet she’s our heroine.

Back downstairs, she saves her Hotshot customer from a bullet-riddled tardy slip. Heart of gold! Told you.

Our hero, meanwhile, has fallen asleep at the poker table. Not that I blame him, but couldn’t someone nudge this actor to wake him up? Well, apparently Jesse Badguy hasn’t noticed, and we’re pushing ahead with the game.

The hooker dresses have frilly bras underneath. Oh god, why.

As the men pass huge Sprees back and forth (nice production values, guys), the stakes go up! They show each other their cards. They curse! They show each other even MORE cards! One of them is pretending to be Mexican – you can tell because he calls his boss “hefe” and has a beard.

Jesse Badguy tells Our Hero that Our Hero is a walking dead man.

“Tough words,” says Our Hero. “You all talk, or you got enough ass in your pants to back ’em up?” Oh, it’s THAT kind of Western.

Every guy in the place pulls a gun on our hero. Jesse Badguy demands his name.

“Bill Longely.” …It IS that kind of Western!

They decide to play cards all night in a…hostage situation? I guess it’s meant to be really tense. Unfortunately it just looks like Skeletor and my 6th grade gym teacher are having a slapfight.

(A moment for production values. Jesse Badguy calls, “Henry?”

“Yes sir?” answers Henry, from six hundred yards away. Seriously, sound guys, you couldn’t spare one boom for the man?)

Meanwhile, one poor bad-guy stooge is sent to the barn on a pointless errand so he can be the first to die at the hands of the invading copperhead army. Lucky guy.

Fun fact: the copperheads carry rattlesnake rattles with them, and make a sound like a mountain lion just before they strike. The more you know!

Jesse Badguy decides it’s time for the shootout, and demands that he and Longley walk onto the street to finish it. That’s fine, Mr. Badguy, but you’ve shot one dude inside already, so I don’t see the big deal with shooting another one. Picky bad guys drive me nuts.

Oh my god, a herd of orphans in the wild! They’re ordered to watch.

Mr. Badguy goes through the Standard Monologue, which he peppers with “Savvy?” and then, “Comprende?” (‘Connais-tu?’ and ‘Lort!’ were cut from the final script.)

Our gold-hearted hooker reacts like she had no idea what a gun even did, squealing and covering her mouth.

Apparently someone’s ass will hit the ground in this fight. This movie has dropped “ass” about ten times so far. It’s seriously that kind of Western.

Dialogue break!

“You haven’t seen the last of each other.”
“I wouldn’t bet your life.”
“Only if it’s a good day to die.”

It doesn’t even matter who said what, you know? At this point they’re just pulling lines from other Westerns and shuffling them around.

(Note: We’re at the 35-minute mark. Where are the snakes? They haven’t made it the ten feet from the barn to the saloon? Crawl, you little bastards, crawl!)

Naturally, Jesse Badguy is outgunned by the righteous pistol-wielding of Longley (I told you it was that kind of Western!) Longley drives Jesse Badguy out of town on horseback – and finds the corpse of the Expendable Bad Guy.

Oh, whoops, the copperheads got a horse! Except this horse is not dead. Like, it just lifted its head in the middle of the scene about how dead it was. It’s like a huge second-grade game of pretend.

The ironsmith is Australian. How many of them were really in the Old West? Oh well, at least he’s a good guy. He volunteers his services, including his very special weapon. (That kind of Western!)

WAIT. YOU GUYS, WE HAVE A GATLING.

Not only that, in preparation to fight the snakes, they throw the herd of orphans and the majority of the maidens in the bank safe and shoot a single bullet hole for oxygen. This is important later.

The two remaining ladies (Goldhearted and Expendabilia) hammer wood over some windows by slamming nails through the wood and into the panes. Bunch of geniuses in this town.

The next thing you know, it’s nightfall, and the remaining bad guys and the good guys have banded together to fight the copperheads.

Good guys, to review: Longley; Goldhearted; Expendabilia; Hotshot Customer; Nice Young Man; Bartender; Some Random Bible-Quoting Dude; Aussie Ironsmith.

Bad guys, to review: Expendable Guy, Expendable Guy, Sheriff, some poor man’s Josh Holloway named Roscoe.

Weapons used against snakes, to review: a moat; a Gatling; pistols; rifles; a flamethrower.

Right! So, let’s kill some copperheads!

And they arrive on time, a swarm of snakes with tiny little Aztec Rex heads meant to torment me. Inexplicably, the ground shakes, even though without footfalls or impact or anything it would be a little difficult to manage that.

I have to say, I am really disappointed that the snakes aren’t bigger. From the evocative promo image, I thought for sure this thing would be at least the size of the cobra in Little Buddha, you know?

First casualty – the man turns around, sees snakes on the roof, and drops off the roof backwards. He doesn’t trip, just, leans back and falls.

Note to viewers: apparently, copperhead snakes are like little land piranhas.

They run for cover back inside the saloon and exchange exclamations about how the snakes are both plentiful and unexpected. Someone is kind enough to give the horse-shooer a little shout-out:

“He gave his life for us!”
“Let’s hope it wasn’t in vain.”

…actually, I’m going to buck the trend and hope it was in vain, and the snakes devour every last one of these guys.

Oh god, the SNAKES. It’s like a CGI fractals demonstration.

Secondary Hooker pulls a newt and says she didn’t know snakes could climb like that, which is why she didn’t bother to board up Murphy’s room.

Note: every revelation from here on out is punctuated by the electric guitar of Westernness.

Jesse Badguy didn’t kill Murphy, Roscoe did.

“That old fool was my friend. So do me a favor and say hi when you see him in hell.”

The electric guitar of Westernness goes NUTS.

The copperheads invade the first floor of the saloon! Actors gleefully shoot blanks at any area of the floor they damn well feel like, knowing the CGI guys will just deal with in post!

Dialogue break!

Hotshot: “Where is everybody?”
Bartender: “Dead, remember?”

Bunch. Of geniuses.

Our hooker friend Expendabilia is dead. She has managed to grow an oozy baseball on the side of her neck in the meantime, though, so that’s cool.

Goldhearty declares that if she lives, she’ll get out of this life. They all chime in with their dreams. If this was Copperhead: The Musical, they’d be singing in four parts. I’m guessing it would be called, “Out There.” (For those of you at home, the sheriff wants to capture Longley, Longley wants to go to California, and Doc Biblequote doesn’t say much, since we all know he’s going to be dead before the next commercial break.)

Hotshot and Bartender fiddle with the dynamite. Snake!

“Don’t look, you got one crawling up your backside.”
“I could use a little help — not with that! With your damn hand!”
“All right, don’t get your knickers in a twist.”

…it’s just that kind of a Western.

My favorite part of this movie is the montage where we cut back and forth from the bank safe to the saloon to the hotel, and everyone mimics terror at the invisible CGI snake, and then with no transition cut someone is grabbing/stomping on a rubber snake. It looks like fun!

At long last, everyone crowds into the hotel, Hotshot blows the saloon to bits with the dynamite, and Roscoe meets them outside for a shootout. He declares he’s going to kill every last one of them!

Huge snake! It eats Roscoe the pretty boy. Are copperheads known for their biteless swallowing of prey? Is this a rattling mountain-lion boahead?

Great; now they’re all stuck in the jail. The Sheriff suggests they throw the hooker into the street strapped with dynamite and then blow her to pieces when the copperhead comes to eat her. I’m laughing so hard I miss the actual plan they use, but I guarantee you it’s not as good as that plan.

(Fun fact: the copperhead travels underground. Somewhere, the creators of Tremors are writing up a lawsuit.)

They use Hotshot as bait; he does a Matrix bullet-dive just in time for the Gatling gun to shoot the copperhead full of fireplace pokers, which have zero effect on the copperhead.

You know what has an effect on long snakes? Longley, of course, out to kill the snake that might hypothetically have killed his friend Murphy if Murphy had lived long enough for the copperhead invasion. Roundabout revenge is his, sucker!

And the evil Sheriff runs into the street clutching a Wanted poster, just in time to be crushed by the huge falling snake. At last, this movie’s figuring out that it’s time to be over.

The remaining people (including Doc Biblequote, to my great disappointment, since I thought for sure he was a goner) park on the porch of the hotel just as…oh, come on, some other random jerks in bowler hats, now? And me fresh out of copperheads. Wait, they expedite the plot by freeing the herd of orphans and the extra hookers! Now everyone’s happy!

There an “Out There” reprise (on horseback – so Western-y!), and everyone heads for the horizon, sadly poorer:

Hosthot: “We forgot the damn money!”
Goldhearty: “Not the time, sugar.”
Hotshot: “It never is.”

Mmm, Western word salad.

Murphy’s daughter, the Irish schoolmarm, finds her father’s watch on the peg outside the bank! Does it freak her the hell out? Apparently not! She beams happily at the far off silhouette. Maybe it’s because she knows the movie is over; I mean, I’m also beaming happily, and that’s definitely the reason.

Genevieve Valentine is a writer in New York; her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Byzarium, and Quarter After Eight, and she is an occasional columnist at Defenestration. Her appetite for bad movies is insatiable, a tragedy she tracks on her blog. She is currently working on a formula to evaluate the awfulness of any given film, a scale that will be measured in Julians.

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