Herpers (DVD Review)11 Apr, 2010 By: John Latchem
Prebook 4/13/10; Street 5/11/10
Derived from the word “herpetology” (the study of reptiles and amphibians), the term “herpers” refers to people who are more than just fans of these unique species. Dav Kaufman’s Herpers profiles some of the people who may be driving that obsession, including Kaufman himself.
Reptiles, we are told, representing the largest growing segment of pet ownership, which comes as no surprise to the filmmakers, who present art and movie clips to demonstrate that man’s fascination with serpents dates back millennia.
Kaufman and his friends are considered field herpers — they travel the country to explore natural habitats hoping just to catch a glimpse of wild snakes, salamanders and other creepy crawlies that suit their fancy. It’s not that different from bird-watching, actually, and field herpers routinely keep journals and compare their findings. A love of nature is inherent in the activity. (However, I wish the film did a better job letting us know where they were. I had to consult the Internet to learn the Snake Road used in the film is in Southern Illinois.)
Next, Kaufman interviews some celebrity herpers. In one fun segment, people ask questions about reptiles to former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Another takes a look at the hobbies of a photographer who changed his name to Henry Lizardlover. He has hundreds of lizards running around his home and treats them like puppies when he’s not posing them in cute scenes to make postcards. He also says the lizards work great as chick magnets.
About halfway through, the film turns into a string of profiles of different breeders, complete with fun little animation (a la Jurassic Park) that instructs us about genetics. Many of these breeders specialize in mixing and matching different snakes to create different patterns and colors among the offspring. Among them is former NFL linebacker Chad Brown, who used his NFL money to create Pro Exotics Reptiles and Supplies, a dream he had since college.
Herpers is clearly a labor of love for Kaufman, and his passion for the subject infuses the film with enough interest that even casual viewers will be entertained. And some just might want to head into the woods to do a little herping themselves.