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Now Playing: Coldblooded Chills at Home!

July 01, 1993|T. Jefferson Parker | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County

Like a lot of other people, I recently shelled out real money to see two of summer's blockbuster movies: "Jurassic Park" and "Last Action Hero." I was looking forward to good dinosaurs, plenty of shot-up bad guys, and of course to the long lines, where local humanity parades in its summer finest and the people-watching and eavesdropping are superb.

A predictable excitement always accompanies the predictable dumbness of the big movies, and I take great comfort in anything predictable, since most of life is not.

The best part of "Jurassic Park" was the line to get in. Behind me, a punk guitarist/waiter told his friend of desiring to tour "somewhere like Des Moines, where the audience would completely hate us." A young woman rushed from the ticket booth, down the sprawling lawn of Edward's Newport Cinema, butted in line, then lay down on the sidewalk and took a nap. There were lots of women with big hair and little dresses, and lots of guys wearing tank-tops, which should be outlawed in public because having to view another man's armpits is an invasion of the right to privacy. The two dominant scents of summer seem to be Tuscany Per Donna and Right Guard Sports Stick.

The movie stunk. (Though I will confess that I'm one of the few people I know of who didn't like it.) I was hoping that Spielberg might take pop material and make a sincerely spooky movie of it, like the quintessential summer movie, "Jaws." But he went PG-13, gutted the material of anything resembling suspense and served up instead a bunch of pretty good dinosaurs chomping through a truly bad script. The basic plot of all monster movies is this: There are a few good guys and a few bad guys and a monster or two, and the fun comes from seeing who gets eaten.

Unfortunately, only two or three people get eaten, and they're not the ones who deserve it. To my mind, if the two whiny kids had been digested early on, we might have had a serious movie on our hands.

It's also true that the park's entrepreneur creator, played by Richard Attenborough, is one of the most irritating characters to ever smile his way across a screen, but do we get to see this grinning dope get his comeuppance and be torn to ribbons by his own monsters? No. He gets away! Sadly, "Jurassic Park" is a monster movie with a heart. I left the movie unthrilled, unscared, hungry for excitement.

The next night I tried "Last Action Hero." The line was not as long nor as good as the "Jurassic Park" one. This is a dumb movie too, but it's clever as all get-out. The whole thing boils down to self-referential mush after a while, but the writers really do a good job of acknowledging their own silliness. "Last Action Hero" is a thinking person's dumb movie.

Still, I left it feeling unsatisfied, as if some entitlement of summer thrill had yet to be fulfilled.

Back home, I thought for a while, then decided to create my own monster park, in which I could play the hero. I opened the door to a cage containing a five-foot Florida kingsnake smuggled west in the purse of a dear friend of mine some months ago.

This particular kingsnake ( Lampropeltis floridana ) is not what you'd consider a classic beauty. Besides being quite large, it has scars all over its body from bird attacks, a chewed-off tail and a pattern of speckled markings that are, quite frankly, a little menacing. The thing is a voracious eater too, just like the dinosaurs of old. His eyes are a little cold. I lifted him out of the cage, put him on the floor and walked away.

When I returned five minutes later, he was gone. A flutter of excitement went down my scalp, and the hairs on the back of my neck rose a little. A five-foot carnivore now loose on the premises! That's entertainment. I looked in all the obvious places--under the couch, behind the wine rack, beneath the throw rug--but the snake had disappeared. I told my brother of the escape. Then we went about our usual routines, wondering when the serpent would show.

You cannot imagine the thrill of reaching for a box of Triscuits and wondering if a snake is behind it. I can vouch for the heightened sense of awareness one gets from padding across the living room in the dark, late at night, for a drink of water, unsure if what you just stepped on is one of your dog's toys or . . . it . There are few daily moments more fraught with the possibility of surprise than reaching down to sort through a stack of newspapers, wondering if the snake has gotten under them and will leap out, hissing and mouth wide, just as you find the sports section.

When informed of the circumstances, my house guests were visibly uneasy. Their gazes anxiously roamed the house, fretful with the expression that tells you they don't really want to find what they're looking for. They remained standing. They'd try to forget what was loose, somewhere very close to them, but would constantly come back to the topic.

"How big did you say it is?"

"Over five."


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