Stanley (1972)
By: Devon B. on September 11, 2013 | Comments
Code Red | All Regions, NTSC | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 107 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Stanley (1972)  Cover Art
Credits
Director: William Grefé
Starring: Chris Robinson, Alex Rocco, Susan Carroll, Mark Harris, Steve Alaimo
Screenplay: Gary Crutcher
Country: USA
Every year I have the good fortune to be dragged to The Royal Melbourne Show for eight days in a row. One year there was a snake man whose presentation consisted of him getting out a few dozen venomous snakes and then walking barefoot amongst them. His main point was that snakes aren't as dangerous as they've been made out to be, but he had a few browns that clearly weren't as used to being handled as the others and kept striking at him. He didn't get tagged, but after the browns' aggression it was a bit nerve-wracking watching this guy running around with his slithery friends as I was convinced others might have a go at him and catch him unaware, but luckily they didn't. The cinematic equivalent of this snake man's performance is Stanley, a film where the star spends an awful lot of time in close contact with rattlers.

The film starts with an intro from director and producer William Grefé, which includes a snippet of the film's trailer. The movie itself starts with Tim, not Stanley, having a stroll through the Florida Everglades. Tim's very in touch with nature, but that doesn't prevent him from getting bit by a rattlesnake (still not Stanley) that he happens across. This doesn't put Tim off snakes because he takes the snake home with him, and then we meet his pet rattler named, wait for it, Stanley. Tim is a bit of a loner, marginalised and struggling to return to civilian life after being in the American War of Aggression (as it's apparently known in Vietnam). Tim's father was killed while he was away, and Stanley seems to be the only one keeping Tim sane, in the sense that cuddling up with rattlesnakes is sane. As Tim's life unravels and more is learnt about the circumstances surrounding his father's death, his best friend starts biting people.

Stanley is an odd, odd film and there is no fuckin' way it would get made today with its crazy elements and even crazier characters. The movie's low budget, but there are some surprisingly good performances, and a few others that are really rough that help remind the viewer Stanley didn't cost much to make. The film's writer, Gary Crutcher, has a small part as a doctor, and he was so bad I was convinced he must be a genuine doctor playing a part in the film in exchange for letting the crew use his lab. Which I guess means Crutcher successfully convinced me that he legitimately was a doctor, so maybe he's a great actor after all. The mind boggles. The mind also boggles at the way snakes are shown in Stanley, because outside of animated movies like The Jungle Book and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi I've never seen snakes so anthropomorphised.

I was really, really confused by Stanley at first, not just because of how the snakes' personalities are handled, but also with how the snakes themselves are literally handed. It really seemed like the star of the film, Chris Robinson, was a snake handler and these were snakes he was very comfortable working with. He nonchalantly picks snakes up all the time, waves his hands past them, drapes them 'round his neck and in general doesn't seem to be keeping an eye on them while he's in their proximity. Then snakes started getting killed on screen, and I couldn't work out why whoever worked with the snakes to the point that they were so docile would allow the snakes to be slaughtered for cinema. This is all explained in the special features, but I can't even imagine what conclusions I would've drawn if I'd seen the film in the era before DVD.

It's claimed in the special features that Stanley was ripped off by the Shaw Brothers, who didn't want to pay for the movie's distribution rights and made The Killer Snakes instead. I'd never heard of Stanley before buying this DVD, but The Killer Snakes was notorious on the tape trading circuit years ago. Go figure.

Stanley promotes a love of nature by killing serpents, making it a film of mixed messages. It's a muddled, bewildering film, but that just adds to its fascination. People who hate snakes should stay away, but so should people who love them.
The Disc
The Code Red release is evidently a port of an older BCI disc, so fans that have that version won't need to pick this one up unless they really love Code Red's improved cover art. Thanks to its 70s film stock Stanley looks a bit dark, but the print is pretty clean. There's the occasional artefact and a few specks and flecks, but nothing too distracting. The film is not eye candy, but this is a well done transfer of a low budget, obscure movie. The audio does have a bit of hiss at times, but I'd say that's source related – and I'm not talking about snakes in the background. Sounds can be a bit muffled, but really all the issues with the sound seem to be related to source material.

The DVD comes with quite a few extras, but unfortunately they're not 16x9 enhanced. The making of runs over 40 minutes and features interviews with Grefé, Crutcher, Robinson and a few others. This clearly explains how Robinson was able to handle the snakes, and that's a big part of why the film couldn't be made today because suturing the snakes' mouths and defanging them probably wouldn't be allowed anymore in the States. Putting that aside, Stanley still had a very interesting production and this doco will answer most questions about the movie's making. There's also a fun Q&A session with Grefé, Crutcher and Robinson, and while info does repeat some new information is revealed. Animal cruelty is briefly addressed, and so is the most memorable moment of Grefé's dreadfully dull Death Curse of Tartu. The DVD also has a short featurette that sees Grefé revisiting Stanley's filming locations and a photo gallery. Rounding things out are two commentaries, one with Grefé and one with Crutcher. Realistically there probably only needed to be one commentary, preferably with both men talking together, but it would be silly to get upset over getting more extras than necessary for a film worthy of them. Information repeats again, but there's plenty of unique information in either commentary track. There are a few gaps, but both guys are talkative and engaging. Most of the main points are outlined in any of the individual extras, so mildly curious viewers could probably just pick one commentary, the making of or the Q&A for their scoop. Unlike a lot of stars who appeared in low budget hit films, Grefé made sure that one of the snakes who played Stanley was always close to money. The only thing that's missing from this disc is Stanley's trailer, which is weird given portions of it pop up elsewhere in the extras.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Remove the harsh treatment of the snakes and I would love Stanley, but I hesitate to hold that against the film because I'm sure there are all sorts of things I would disapprove of that happen while the movies I like are being made, like the bat mishap on The Expendables 2. A lotta smack gets talked about Code Red, but keeping this amazing release in print is commendable, and the DVD is still available at a reasonable price direct from their store.
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