When I read the synopsis for Stanley, I was immediately intrigued. Seminole Indian Tim, who also happens to be a ‘Nam vet, has isolated himself from society with only the accompaniment of his pet snakes. When local white men begin hunting the snakes to fashion their skin into belts, Tim teaches them a lesson with the help of his best-friend, Stanley...and Stanley is a rattlesnake. This being the early Seventies, I was anticipating naturalist themes and plenty of social commentary. Stanley certainly delivers on those aspects, as well as a tubular soundtrack and surprisingly good cinematography.
Stanley, a light-hearted comedy! Just kidding.
The most striking feature of Stanley is the lead’s incredible snake handling skills. While plenty of films have disturbed me, I still don’t think I’ve never been more uncomfortable watching something. Seeing Tim cuddle with the rattlesnakes as if they were kittens is stomach-churning. The filmmakers wisely utilize the human’s seemingly innate fear of snakes, as well as religious significance, as a theme throughout. It confronts common mistakes about snakes being slimy or cold, or even evil—human beings are shown as being much more capable of committing evil acts.
Is that a rattler or are you just happy to see me?
I don’t intend to make this review sound so serious, but hey, it was the seventies…And so that also means some quirky scenes to keep you entertained, right? Well Stanley has its fair share of oddities; in fact, I was never bored at any point during the film. Plenty of strange dialogue and kooky characters keep things interesting, even though there is not nearly enough snake killing if you ask me. A random, coke-snorting hippy shows up with awesome circus pants and those round, blue Lennon sunglasses. The best is the bizarre relationship to film’s main baddie and his teenage daughter. She is apparently somewhat of a *cough*tramp*cough*, but since it’s the seventies, you may read that as “liberated woman.” Her daddy, just so we know is really bad, strokes her legs and compliments her looks….okay…Incest aside, the bad guy is pretty goofy. He checks himself out in the mirror, as he lifts the smallest weights I’ve ever seen, and generally sort of meanders around his pool in almost every scene.
The secret to being the best bad guy ever.
Oh and the pool…
One of the best moments is when Tim fills the douche’s pool up with snakes. Of course, because he is so busy checking himself out in the mirror and is apparently quite groggy before his morning swim, he does not notice before he dives into the pool. But!!! There is a glorious freeze frame on his face upon the moment of realization that he is about to fall into a venomous trap:
Ahem…Moving on, there are plenty of other great moments to make Stanley worth a watch. The hippy music montages (done better than they were in Last House—sorry Wes!) and retro cinematography make me long to have lived in the seventies. One shot in particular of Tim throwing snakes on top of people in bed (which is one of the worst deaths I can possibly imagine) is quite good. The low angle on Tim’s dark silhouette is terrific, as we see snakes falling toward the camera in slow motion. However, this is a grindhousey film after all, and so the shot is milked a bit too much, as they must have taken 15 shots and cross-dissolved them one after the other. Speaking of milking shots, the entire movie feels like it’s a bit stretched out, but I think that speaks more to the time period than it does to the actual film.
We’re so impatient with movies now, it was nice to take a break and watch Stanley, which is not boring, but certainly moves along at its own pace. If you’re in the mood for it, I highly recommend checking this one out, especially if you’re a fan of snakes!