‘Our tribe now calls you the lover of snakes, the Snake Man.’ ‘You think I care?’
Even the DVD box is proud to use Leonard Maltin’s quote that Stanley is ‘Willard with snakes’, if not his generous two-star rating. William Grefé – the Florida filmmaker who gave you Death Curse of Tartu and Sting of Death – turned out this lackadaisiacal snakesploitation picture, which is at the bottom of a crowd of similar quickies which includes Frogs, Rattlers, Kiss of the Tarantula and Jennifer. Like Willard, it has a turning-worm plot: a putupon central character spends the first act being abused, betrayed, exploited and kicked around by a bunch of hateful folks – then the second act (ie: the money material excerpted in the trailer) getting his own back with his pets, before a finale in which he learns after his enemies are safely dead that he probably should have learned to forgive and forget since he is confronted with his own corruption and is suitably killed (as he burns to death in his shack, the antihero whines ‘maybe in Hell I’ll find out what I am’).
Replacing Bruce Davison’s Willard Stiles is Tim Ochopee (Chris Robinson), a Seminole Indian Vietnam veteran who lives out in the swamps with his pet rattlers Stanley and Hazel (‘people just don’t understand friendly rattlesnakes’). The baddies are headed by Thompson (Alex Rocco), a crass local entrepreneur who had Tim’s Dad shot in the backstory and now tries to persuade him to hunt his beloved snakes for belts (‘some fag fashion designer in Paris … publically said animal skins is “in” this year’) until he gets a swimming pool full of water moccasins. On Thompson’s crew are injun-hater Crail Denning (Steve Alaimo) and pill-popping ‘Psycho’ Simpson (Paul Avery) but there’s a subplot about sleazy strip club proprietor (are there any non-sleazy strip club proprietors in the movies?’) Sidney Calvin (Rey Baumel) who persuades his over-the-hill danseuse wife (Marcia Knight) to do a strip-geek act which climaxes with her biting the head off one of Tim’s beloved pets (she works out that, including matinees, she’ll be ‘biting the heads off nine snakes a week’). Once all these people are killed off, Tim takes Thompson’s pouting blonde daughter Susie (Susan Carroll) out to his shack to be the Eve in his Eden – but she gives him a hard time for using snakes to kill the way the Man used him in ‘Nam (‘two years of whites telling reds to kill the yellow’) and eventually the floundering-around sets fire to the cabin.
The fundamental problem is that, in its attempt to get some of that Billy Jack ‘avenging Indian veteran’ drive-in action, the film sabotages its own premise: Willard was a wimp momma’s boy who could only fight back through the rats, but Tim is a combat-hardened outdoor guy who ought to be able to take care of himself without relying on reptiles to do his dirty work. It’s marginally less tiresome that earlier Grefé films, which tend to feature a great deal of traipsing through the undergrowth, but still a bit of a plod. It doesn’t manage to imbue its snake characters with anything like personality and can’t even work up much excitement in reptile-attack scenes. Screenwriter Gary Crutcher follows the outline, and throws in the odd, strained bit of poetic or cynical dialogue (Sidney talking about the Garden of Eden and referring to ‘Adam’s homosexual friend, the Forbidden Fruit’) that still doesn’t give the characters any depth. It has a funny, pompous, folk-protest, pro-animal theme song about the human race being ‘an infectious disease’.