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Friday, March 27, 2020

Stanley (1972)




Tim is a good guy that just wants to be left alone in his isolated home in the swamp. Just back from Vietnam he has a horrible opinion of the human race and tries to live his life without hurting anyone or anything. His attempts at this are complicated by the racism shown towards him as he is a Seminole Indian. His only human friends are an old stripper that it is hinted had a relationship with his father and a doctor that runs a clinic that he supplies with snakes to be milked for their venom. I say human friends because his best friend is Stanley the rattlesnake. In fact, Tim has a lot of snakes that live with him that not only don’t bite him but actually seem to be somewhat friendly. Is this because Tim is an Indian and has some spiritual attachment to them? Is it perhaps that the snakes find that they share a common enemy in human beings? The movie never really explains why but he and the snakes are kindred spirits. 

If this were the movie then it wouldn’t be that much fun so of course there is a villain of sorts. We have a disreputable fellow named Thompkins who keeps sending his men into the swamp to capture and kill snakes. Snake skin belts are all the rage in New York City and he is getting good money for them. This keeps escalating until Tim and Stanley end up tricking a couple of the men into walking into quicksand. Spoiler alert, they don’t save them! But one of the men sent in, nicknamed Psycho, finds Tim’s cabin and smashes Hazel and her babies. Hazel was Stanley’s “wife” and the babies his children. This sends old Tim spiraling downwards in a fit of anger, which is made worse when he sees his stripper friend bite the head off of one of the snakes he gave her!

Things wrap up with some revenge on all the people that wronged them. But in a weird twist Tim takes things too far when he kidnaps a witness and tries to make her stay with him in his “Eden”, aka. his shack in the swamp. Things get very weird when Stanley refuses to just take orders and decides to stop Tim’s rampage. In the end the rattlesnake is our hero… weird movie.

I love Stanley and have since the first time I watched it years ago on one of the local horror hosted late night television shows. This movie is one of the best examples of a drive-in movie that you will ever find. It has that exploitive feel of being pitched as Willard with snakes which had just come out and was a huge box office success, so of course an independent filmmaker had to take advantage of that. But this movie also taps into something that would become a staple in later years and that is it deals with a Vietnam vet coming home and not fitting in. The character of Tim hates people after being traumatized by his time in the service. While we see his people invite him to come live in the village, but he can’t or just won’t. Something about going to war damaged him in a fundamental way. It makes him a sympathetic character, even when he is killing people!

Our main characters
We also get some drive-in staples to sleaze things up a bit. There is Alex Rocco playing Thompkins as the creepiest swinging seventies guy you can imagine. From his over the top wardrobe, to things he casually says to Tim about being an Indian, to the really inappropriate stuff he says to his daughter the movie dials it up to an eleven on the “scuzzy” scale. Spinal Tap references always make me smile. There is also casual pill popping by Psycho as well as real snakes being killed on camera. Yeah that last one would never fly today but they actually shoot and smash live rattlesnakes on camera. Hell, after filming they made Stanley, the star of the movie, into a wallet! Isn’t that some shit?

Not everyone likes old drive-in movies or those that can at times push the boundary of good taste. I’ve always enjoyed this movie and have gone out of my way to get as many people as possible to watch it. From that experience I can confidently say that most of you who would take the time to read this review or care about my opinion on movies will enjoy this one. I highly recommend Stanley.


© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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