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Vanishing Point (1997)
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
This is a made-for-TV remake of the movie Vanishing Point released in 1971 in which a man named Kowalski bets that he can drive a Dodge Challenger from Colorado to San Francisco in less than 15 hours. It also has a rattlesnake scene you can read about here.

Remakes aren't always a bad idea, but this one replaces most of what was interesting about the original - it's lack of obvious meaning - with Christianity, family values, and anti-government libertarianism. Fortunately, there is still enough car chase action in it to keep you watching. In the original, Kowalski encounters a woman in the desert riding a motocycle completely naked. The female motorcycle rider in the remake is wearing clothing, just as the remake covers up a lot of the original movie's plot with its own interpretations. It's also little more than an extended Dodge commercial, with lots of shots of chrome Dodge emblems, a black Challenger to chase the white one, and phony patriotic comments about the Challenger a being the apotheosis of American muscle car technology - a reminder of when America was number one.

Unlike the enigmatic driver in the original, Kowalski here has a first name and a wife. He took the delivery job so his wife could deliver her baby in a hospital, but before he returns home she has complications that send her to a hospital, leaving Kowalski to drive 1200 miles as fast as possible. His motivation is given specific meaning. Instead of being guided by a DJ with a police scanner, he arms himself with night-vision, smoke bombs, his own police scanner, and a Saint Christopher medal. The radio DJ here is a libertarian anti-government conspiracy theorist who champions Kowalski as a hero of individualism fighting government opression while the F.B.I. turns him into a domestic terrorist. And the screenplay turns him into Jesus. He starts his journey on Palm Sunday, and dies in a fiery crash on Easter Sunday from which he is miraculously resurrected. The Christian themes throughout this are so blatant that we don't even flinch when his dead wife appears as an angel on the road ahead of him. You can read far more interesting comments than mine about this movie and the original on IMDB. I'm just here for the snake scene, and there are even a couple of scenes with my favorite kind of lizard - a horned lizard.

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The Snake Scene

The rattlesnake scene is similar to the scene in the original, but it sends us to a native American medicine man instead of the group of questionable Jesus freaks in the desert we saw in the original.

Just as it happened in the original, Kowalski drives off the highway into the desert where he gets a flat tire. He sees a rattlesnake and just then an old desert rat named Mose tells him not to move, and picks up the snake with snake tongs and puts it in a basket. The desert rat even uses the same words as the one in the original when Kowalski asks him what he does with the snakes he catches, telling him that he trades the snakes on the Res for coffee, sugar, cigarettes, salt, flour, beans, lots of beans. Kowalski drives Mose to the Indian reservation and Mose directs him to take the basket of snakes up to an Indian medicine man who dumps the basket into a large cage with some other snakes. He tells Kowalski that "The snake spirit has power, in war, in medicine, in the vision quest. The one who makes all things, wants you to become a man." He tells Kowalski that his journey has purified him and his white car symbolizes the white clay the Indian's people once used to prepare themselves for a vision quest. Then we see the two men naked in a smoke-filled sweat lodge. We see a flashback to Kowalski's baptism. His wife insisted that if they get married, Kowalski had to join the Catholic church. I'll say more about this scene below when I describe the second horned lizard scene.

The snake Kowalski sees that Mose catches is a Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, a snake that is not found in Utah. The snakes that the Indian man dumps into his cage are more Western Diamondbacks, a speckled rattlesnake, and what might be an Arizona Black Rattlesnake, none of which would be found in the area that Mose hunts.

Horned Lizards
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The very first thing we see in the movie is a close-up of the front of the head of a horned lizard. It turns and runs offscreen to the right. Then we see the large blade of a bulldozer on a dirt road in an area partially covered with snow. As the scene progresses, we see that the bulldozer is one of two that is used as a roadblock by a large police force. This is the same roadblock in Utah that will finally stop Kowalski, destroying his car in a huge fiery explosion. But it's important to remember that the horned lizard ran off the road.

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About an hour later, we see Kowalski and the Indian medicine man (described above in the snake scene) after they leave the sweat lodge fully dressed standing on a high mountain with a horned lizard on the ground between them. The Indian man calls it a horny toad, so I'll do the same. The Indian reaches down to the horny toad, picks it up by the tail, and turns it on its belly. The horny toad rights itself, and the Indian turns it over again. Then he tells Kowalski that a horny toad can tell you which way to go, and this horny toad says to go north.

Now I'm going to spoil the ending.

Remember the first horned lizard that ran off the road just before the roadblock?  I think it was telling Kowalski to run off the road just before the bulldozer.

At the end, on Easter Sunday, after learning that his wife died in childbirth, it looks like Kowalski commits suicide by driving the white Charger directly into the bulldozers dying in a fiery explosion. But then a voice-over tells us that Kowalski's body was never found and that people say they saw him get out of the car and run away to the side of the road, like the horned lizard, with the help of his friends. At the very end, we see the backs of a girl child and a man holding a cane who could be Kowalski, standing in a place that looks exactly like the Indian reservation we saw earlier. This is to make us to belive that the stories are true and that Kowalski is still alive and living in Utah with his daughter. How he survived jumping out of a car driving 180 miles per hour, then snuck into the hospital and took his daughter, raising her without a mother, are never explained. We're supposed to accept them as miracles.

The species of horned lizards we see are not possible to identify other than to see that they are not short-horned lizards. The only other species found in northern Utah besides the short-horned lizard is the Northern Desert Horned Lizard, so I'm pretty sure that's what it is. It's always possible they used a different species of horned lizard, but I don't think so. Whatever species it is, it's very unlikely a horned lizard would be out on a road on a snowy day in early spring. The ants they hunt for food would not be active in the cold, so a horned lizard would not be active either.