Review Date: November 18, 2008
Released by: BCI
Release date: 11/18/2008
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Blame it on Willard
, but the 1970s were characterized by cryptic proper name titles. Carrie
…you name it, it was probably the title of a seventies horror movie. One of the more obscure of the bunch, the Willard
finally slithers its way onto DVD courtesy of BCI. Unlike their usual drive-in double feature relegation for Crown International flicks, BCI has pulled all the stops to give Stanley
a stand alone special edition. With the wait still on for the masterpiece snake flick where a drunken Oliver Reed telepathically communicates with a serpent, Spasms
, vintage horror of the herpetophobia variety is hard to come by. Sharpen the fangs and let’s bite into this cheapie.
Tim Ochopee (Chris Robinson
) is a Seminole Indian who will stop for no one. Not even snakes. A Vietnam veteran, he walks through the Florida everglades as if he were traversing Ho Chi Minh trail. When bitten by a rattlesnake, he quietly curses the creature, but rather than retaliate, he instead stops, squeezes out the venom from his wound, and takes the little serpent home. On the outside his reclusive cabin looks like any other, but inside it is a haven for snakes, with cages strewn all over. Rather than hold the snakes captive though, he considers them friends, and often lets them roam free. There’s even a couple that he marries(!) and helps birth their children. The father? Stanley.
doesn’t seem to be any different than the others, Tim seems to take to him best, and often takes him out for leisurely drives to the big city. While many poachers and businessmen out to make a buck off of the reptile skin fashion fad proposition his services, Tim always declines. He uses snakes and their venom for medicinal purposes, never harming them. While it may not be ethically sound to use them for legitimate clothing, in Tim’s world it’s okay to lease a few out to a local strip joint. Whenever Tim goes into the city though, he’s reminded of the racism around him, and the hatred that led to his father’s assassination. The only way to escape the greed of the big city is to flee from it, but problems ensue when big business comes to his humble little home.
When big wig Thomkins (Alex Rocco
of The Godfather
fame) decides to go against Tim’s wishes and poach snakes from his property, it’s war. With Stanley in hand, Tim exacts his version of justice, bite by bite. When the local strip club decides to push the envelope by biting the head off a snake during one of the acts, well, it’s justice time. The whole world may be crumbling in indifference around him, but Tim and his legion of snakes are determined to forge a new world. They kidnap Thomkins’ typical Crown International pool bunny daughter, Susie (Susan Carroll
), and as the theme goes, “let’s start a new world…you be the girl and I’ll be the first man.” We all know where the snake fits into Adam and Eve’s story, though.
is a stinker of a snake picture. Although the prospect of exploring the reintegration of Native Americans into society proves an interesting and underexplored focal point for the film, the message is so heavy handed it as well be pounded home by Galactus. The “Indians” are cut outs of that highway littering ad from the time, and Chris Robinson delivers every line as if he is reading between them, talking as on the nose as imaginable. The preachy folk music by Jack Vino is certainly guffaw inducing as it asks from the opening credit montage: “God if you’re listenin’ would you help us please!” Captain Planet
is subtle, by comparison.
You need not look solely to the music though, for cheap laughs, since there is plenty abound throughout the film. Alex Rocco embarrasses himself like no other pumping one pound porcelain weights and, in the film’s funniest moment, jumping freeze frame into a pool of snakes unbeknownst to him. There’s also the amazing bit of Tim kneeling down beside a makeshift graveyard of snake tombstones. And what else can you say to a snake wedding? There’s plenty of bad movie laughs throughout, although considering the film’s inexplicably beefy runtime of 109 minutes, that too wears thin.
It’s tough to laugh, though, with all the on-screen animal violence. For a film that certainly preaches against killing animals for human gain, it certainly kills a lot itself. Baby snakes are visibly squished by a shotgun base and several more are blown up or swung from wall to wall by their tales during the climax. It happens too frequently to be overlooked, and considering the sympathetic portrait the film casts of Tim and his bond with the reptiles, terribly hypocritical. At least Cannibal Holocaust
used the unjust animal slaughter to question the very nature of entertainment and reality. Here Stanley
uses it to cut corners on a rushed production without remorse or understanding of its weighty plot implications. It’ll “make your skin crawl”, as the cover promises, for all the wrong reasons.
slithers onto DVD in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen encoded progressive scan. Blemishes have been kept to a minimum, and the print itself looks very clean. Colors are adequate, showing vibrance even in the sunny exteriors, although they could be brought out further. Contrast could have been increased, since there’s often what seems like a light grey layer over the proceedings. The image itself is a tad soft as well. Overall it’s a quality track considering the age, budget and obscurity of the film, but it won’t be turning any heads either.
The film rattles away in English mono only, and there’s a fair bit of hiss (zing!) throughout. The mix can be flat at times, and considering Robinson often mumbles through his lines, it can be tough to pick out bits of dialogue. For the most part though, it’s all audible, and there are no drop outs to be accounted for.
With the love BCI gave this sucker, you’d think it was a classic along the lines of their Savage Streets
gets the royal treatment with a forty five minute documentary, twenty five minute question and answer session, three minute return to the film’s locations, still gallery, introduction and two audio commentaries. If they can do all that for a film as lackluster as Stanley
, then I want a feature-length documentary on Dugan’s character from Malibu Beach
and an interview with the dog trainer on how the dog was able to steal all those bras. BCI has done an excellent job recreating the drive-in appeal of the film with a nice animated drive-in menu and then an introduction with director William Grefe as if he were sitting in a car in that very drive-in.
The making-of interviews Grefe, actors Chris Robinson and Steve Alaimo, and writer/actor Gary Crutcher. In addition to their words, it effectively utilizes some silent super8 footage on set and a few production stills as well. It’s shot very professionally, and each one has a number of humorous anecdotes about the production. Grefe mentions how he got Crutcher to pen the entire script because it needed to be done in three days, and he know that since Crutcher was a pill popper, he’d be able to stay up ‘round the clock to write it. Always the best choice for a screenwriter! There’s plenty of talk about how they filmed all the troubling scenes with the snakes or in the quick sand, too. It’s an almost too rosy recollection of this drive-in cash-in.
After the documentary, the Q&A with Grefe, Robinson and Crutcher at the New Beverly Cinema is virtually redundant. The three merely fall back on all the anecdotes they recounted in the making-of (and sometimes again in the commentary) without much elaboration. Then, when the meaty questions about animal cruelty come up, they do nothing but dodge the answers. Grefe does talk about how after tying a live mouse to a string in order to get the shot of the mouse being eaten, he humanely asked for it to be “put out of its misery”. What he describes after though, is definitely a test of bad taste, as he laughs about an assistant bopping it with his fist and having the guts explode everywhere. “Stanley
Revisited” is shorter and better, as William Grefe journeys back to the everglades where he filmed the motion picture, showing how much of it has been cultivated into high rises and industrialized areas.
Lastly, the two commentaries with Grefe and Crutcher are both very chatty monologues, but again they seem to cover the same topics already covered in the making-of and the Q&A. Both come across as very kind and down to earth, although Crutcher probably wants to eat his words about how the “Indians have come a long way from selling crap on the streets” and Grefe the same with his animal comments. He just sort of laughs when Robinson takes down a few snakes onscreen, attempting to turn the injustice on the current system today which is so gung-ho animal rights that a scene like that could never be filmed. Considering the merit of Stanley
, I’d say even the grass they walked on died in vain! Both commentaries are inviting and Grefer particularly seems to be very happy there’s an audience for his film, but they’re pretty redundant after that solid making-of.
Also included is a nice little two page booklet with promotional material from the press kit and a nice little handwritten thank you from the director.
ssssucks. The beefy 109 minute runtime could shed a lot of skin, since not even all the unintentional laughs can keep the film buoyed. All the animal cruelty is the bite that bleeds, though, showing how the rushed nature of the filmmaking process often invites such careless cruelty to keep things on schedule. BCI has done a solid job with the disc, providing good audio and video transfers and hours worth of supplements. While many of the extras may feature redundant information, just the forty five minute documentary alone is more than a film like this deserves. Hopefully down the line BCI will go back and parlay the generosity shown here onto their more deserving titles like Mausoleum
or The Hearse
Movie - D
Image Quality - B
Sound - C+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 49 minutes
- Rated PG
- 1 Disc
- English mono
- Audio commentary with director William Grefe
- Audio commentary with writer Gary Crutcher
- Making-of documentary
- Locations featurette
- Q&A at the New Beverly Cinema with Grefe, Crutcher and star Chris Robinson
- Still gallery