March 29, 2023

To sum up the former: the original Evil Dead (1981) is on a visibly thin budget, but its demonic fountain of gore doesn’t look cheap. It’s camp, because the acting is delightfully, purposefully over the top. It’s exploitative, because someone else dies or gets raped, or something even worse long before you can ever get bored. And the one-line plot goes from mundane to wild within the space of a couple words: A group of friends go on a vacation in a cabin in the woods, then accidentally unleash demons. 

Evil Dead is the art of schlock in a can, and if you can only pick a single movie to try and understand the appeal of the cheapo exploitation horror movie, it’s this one. But Sam Raimi is just an origin story. To get to why a bear hopped up on cocaine has us all in a death grip, we have to switch transportation from Evil Dead and Sam Raimi’s “classic” car to a plane.

Taking a Snake-Laden Jet to Cocaine Bear Island

2006 was the year schlock made it big. The setup began in late 2005 when screenwriter Josh Friedman used his blog to tell the story of how he nearly became the script doctor for a film called Snakes on a Plane. It’s best to read it for yourself, as Friedman’s storytelling proves why he’s successful in his industry. But the upshot is he didn’t stay on the job because the studio, in their blindness, was on the verge of changing the title to something safe. Like Flight 21. Or Plane. Who would name a movie Plane?

Anyway, the blog post went viral. The studio, helped along by Samuel L. Jackson’s wise but profane insistence, asserted the film would, in fact, be titled Snakes on a Plane. And around August 2006, these airborne snakes were unleashed upon a vaguely suspecting internet. This was the era where YTMND clips were our TikTok, and was our Reddit, and we already knew Sam Jackson had turned cussing into an art form. We were ready for some big screen schlock.

The original trailer is art, in a terrible, mid-‘90s sort of way that was already dated upon release. The Batman Forever-style horror font frames sequences of snakes—yes, on a plane—just barely missing their unsuspecting prey back in Economy Class. Lovers in a clinch are at risk from snakes prepping a dive bomb maneuver. Jackson is FBI agent Neville Flynn, in the midst of, as he says, a security scenario his team had never prepared for. All that’s missing is the one-liner heard around the world: “I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!”

It’s a phrase that made it in during reshoots several months before release, during the interregnum between Friedman’s blog and the first trailer reveal, and it exists partially because of the growing frenzy for a film that was becoming more of an experience than a mere piece of cinema. Now R-rated, with Jackson’s mouth fully unleashed and the gore amplified, Snakes on a Plane became, well, a moderate hit. That made its profit on DVD and home media. So not quite a modern Rocky Horror Picture Show once the phenomena left the internet. Some theaters, nonetheless, saw fans in SoaP gear, tossing rubber snakes at each other during the screening. 

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