Trashterpiece Theater Presents:
SAND SERPENTS (2009)
Review by Stacey Longo
Picture it: Afghanistan, 2009. A group of soldiers is making its final tour before heading home to their nine-to-five jobs. All they should have to worry about are land mines, sniper fire, and Taliban suicide bombers. But they’ve got another problem: that’s right, Taliban kidnappers. Our American heroes are tied up, blindfolded, and videotaped getting beaten up. The action starts quickly in SAND SERPENTS (2009).
The hostages discuss bribing their captors, but suddenly, an earthquake hits, giving them a chance to escape. Except is it an earthquake? Because, as one soldier notes, “Earthquakes don’t roar like that.” This bright bulb is Lieutenant Richard Stanley (Jason Gedrick), whom you will quickly recognize as the leader of this group. Other soldiers include Captain Henle (Tamara Hope, the romantic interest), Private Andrews (Elias Toufexis, but you can call him Victim #1), Kaminsky (Sebastian Knapp, the guy who just wants to get home to his family), Eno (Michelle Asante, the token black woman, aka Victim #2) and Sergeant Wilson (Chris Jarman, the tough-talking black guy, whom I would call Victim #3, but I’m not feeling hot about Kaminsky’s odds so far).
After the roaring earthquake, the Taliban village is completely deserted. The troop explores. Private Andrews thinks he sees something. Eno rolls her eyes and deems it a mirage. Stanley is able to contact help, and schedules a rescue for the next morning: all they have to do is traipse across a couple miles of desert and wait it out at the pickup point. Great! This movie should be over now, right?
Wrong. As the soldiers set out, they spot a Black Hawk helicopter. They’re elated—rescue!—until moments later, a giant scaled worm-thing shoots up from the dunes and snatches the bird out of the sky. The group starts running, followed by a quick-moving tunneling thing reminiscent of fully seventy-five percent of the action shots in TREMORS (1990). Wilson isn’t quite fast enough, completely blowing my betting pool by becoming Victim #1. (Private Andrews breathes an audible sigh of relief.)
The remaining soldiers hunker down in a stone hut and debate what to do. Some want to call in the cavalry, but Stanley points out it’ll take at least a day. They want to make a run for a Jeep they can see out the window. Eno was a track star in school, so she’s going to make the sprint to the vehicle while the others cover her. She makes it, they hotwire it, and they’re off—with a giant snake-worm with a mouth reminiscent of a RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) sarlacc following close behind. They lose their carnivorous stalker, but a little girl steps out as they’re speeding down the road, causing the Jeep to flip.
Eno is pinned under the vehicle. The serpent is coming. I won’t go into gory detail, but let’s just say I totally called this one.
The soldiers run away—down the very road the little girl’s father said was lined with mines—and follow father and daughter inside a gated refugee camp. It’s a total pit, but at least it’s sand-serpent free, thanks to the concrete floors. Of course, the Taliban like to pop in from time to time, so Henle gets to work trying to fix the camp’s broken radio.
The refugees show them their stockpiled arsenal. “We could make a stand,” Andrews suggests, showing more testicular fortitude than I’d originally given him credit for (Sorry for pegging you as the first victim, buddy!). The refugees also have a truck that runs. The radio isn’t fixable, but Henle might be able to cannibalize parts from this radio to fix the one back at the serpent-riddled village. The father and daughter refugees want to come, too. Andrews objects: what if they’re just acting nice, and are really bloodthirsty Taliban? Stanley tells him to put a cork in it, and they’re off.
The sand serpent gives chase, but they make it inside thanks to some of the weapons borrowed from the refugee camp. While Henle works on the radio, the father and Kaminsky bond over children, while Andrews reveals himself to be a little sexist and a lot racist. Bet the others are wishing he really had been Victim #1 now!
Henle manages to make contact with Command, who are reluctant to send help, until she lies and says she found sapphires in a nearby mine. This is enough to get Command to divert a Black Hawk to evacuate them, but as soon as she ends transmission, the Taliban arrive. Why the grenades and gunfire don’t wake up the giant snake nearby is a mystery and a major inconsistency in the plot, but hey, who am I to judge? Oh, that’s right: a reviewer. Stupid major plot hole—oops! Looks like I spoke too soon! The serpents eat the Taliban soldiers, and all falls silent again. All except for Kaminsky’s whining and moaning, because he’s been hit. The Afghani dad suggests going into nearby tunnels to hide. Sounds great for avoiding Taliban, but maybe not so good for avoiding sand serpents, if you ask me.
The soldiers follow the Afghani parent and child through the tunnels, but now Dad is acting a little shady. The little girl asks her father why they’re going the wrong way. Stanley can speak the language, and even though Dad explains it away, now the lieutenant’s suspicious. I don’t know why the film made such a big point of making the Afghani dad so overtly shifty in this scene, because it is never explained.
There’s tunneling, an explosion, more sand serpents enjoying a nice snack, a rescue chopper . . . but I can’t tell you any more without spoiling the ending.
SAND SERPENTS was a made-for-TV movie, and honestly, not a bad one. The special effects aren’t too shabby, the acting is mostly fine (with the notable exception of the soldier at Command, who was stilted and clearly uncomfortable even being onscreen). The action starts quickly, and continues throughout, and while the whole premise of a giant, carnivorous sand worm in Afghanistan is ridiculous, this could’ve gotten silly, but doesn’t. It’s not funny—I like my horror schlock to be humorous—but herein lies the conundrum: it was good enough to not be laughably bad, and horror/action enough to not have to add stupid one-liners to make it better. Overall, SAND SERPENTS was a pleasant surprise.
© Copyright 2017 by Stacey Longo Harris