Code Red Releasing graces us with yet another weird schlock-fest from the days of yore. Schlock-fests really aren't what they used to be, so we really should thank Code Red for reminding us of our better days. I would never expect a movie as muddled, messed-up, and mysterious as Stanley to be made today. Cast in the vein of the once-popular eco-horror movie, Stanley, steps all over itself to make some kind of point, yet never seems to make it, possibly due to massive strokes suffered by everyone involved in making the movie, throughout every stage of production - including pre-production and post-production. Which is why Stanley is so much fun for lovers of bad horror movies.
Stanley, naturally, is a rattlesnake, owned by Native American Tim Ochopee, (Chris Robinson) a returning Vietnam vet having trouble adjusting to life in '70s America. Tim, Stanley, and Stanley's wife settle in to life in their rancid shack in the Florida Everglades. They're even expecting little baby snake children! Trouble is, Tim keeps running into slimeballs. One sleazebag (he has the mannerisms and style of a porn producer) wants to turn snakes and other "worthless animals into something worthwhile," like belts and headbands. Luckily, he has a sexy daughter to confound Ochopee in his rage. Another freak doesn't take too kindly to Tim's baby snakes, and yet another lunatic has a really nasty idea for how he can spice up an already hideous striptease. But yeah, Tim's a nut-job too, quickly deploying Stanley to do his, deadly, vengeful dirty work.
Stanley is delightfully whacked-out on every level. Performances range from manic to grim; none of them are particularly great, but they're all entertaining. You'd be a fool to expect Stanley to be suspenseful or terrifying, but you probably wouldn't expect it to pack in so much comedy relief, either. (My favorite bit is a freeze-frame shot of the porn producer about to fall into a pool full of venomous snakes. Wait, I'm not sure if that's supposed to be funny or not?) Even heavy-handed religious symbolism crops up in the form of a woman literally - and quite incongruously - attempting to calm down snake handling Tim by offering him an apple. Do eco-friendly 'nature's revenge' movies really need to adopt that old women-are-the-root-of-all-evil stance?
I reckon schizoid pictures that preach kindness to animals by actually killing tons of them onscreen might engage in heavy levels of confused hypocrisy, like Stanley does; so if you're likely to be offended by watching snakes get shot up and bludgeoned, or be confused by an anti-Vietnam-War-respect-the-Native-American-be-kind-to-animals-type of movie, (featuring a 50-year-old stripper biting the head off of a live snake) that eventually turns into weird tone-poem about a psycho loner who likes to sit down to dinner with a bunch of corpses - and what '70s horror movie worth its salt didn't have a scene where people dine with corpses? - well, if you have a problem with that, then you've been reading the wrong review.
But you know that, though this movie is certifiable crap, you want to see it. Because you've read this far, and you're willing to forgive director William Grefé for decades old animal slaughter (which you'll see plenty of in this uncut 107-minute version). Funny, confusing, shocking and disturbing, Stanley should be on your sleazy list, weirdo.
Code Red has provided a professionally manufactured check disk - not final product - so my assessment is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Slithering along in a nice looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, Stanley likely looks better than ever. Film grain is present but is neither digital nor distracting. There is a bit of film damage here and there, too, but it is minor and transitory. Overall, the image is fairly sharp, with decent details for a 40-year-old lost movie, and fairly natural looking colors to boot. Is this a different transfer from the 2008 BCI version? Probably not, but I don't know for sure.
My sound quality assessment is likewise deemed reliable but not guaranteed. In Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio, Stanley suffers a bit. Some dialog is a little muffled, especially that of our mumbling anti-hero, and the audio is otherwise a bit on the treble-heavy side of things. The mix is otherwise balanced and damage-free.
Like a nest full of leathery eggs, Stanley has a good number of creepy extras. First is a short Introduction from Director William Grefé. Next up is a lengthy featurette, Dark Side of Eden: The Making of Stanley, which comes over from the BCI release. At 43-minutes, this doc packs plenty of funny and disturbing BTS info, regarding everything you're curious about, delivered by Grefé, Robinson, and more. Stanley Goes Hollywood: Q&A at the Beverly Theater adds 25 more minutes of mostly duplicated material from the same interviewees, including more disturbing information about the animal cruelty. As with the Q&A, the 3-minute Stanley Revisited also comes from the BCI release. In it, Grefé takes a look at the ever-changing, ever drained-'n'-developed Everglades. You also get a Photo Gallery, and not one, but two commentary tracks ported over from the BCI release. You get a Commentary Track with Director William Grefé and a Track with Screenwriter Gary Crutcher. Both are worth a listen, though especially with the first track, you'll be hearing stuff for more than the first time.
God love Code Red for digging up rightly forgotten gems of low-rent movie-making at its finest. Stanley could never be called a good film. Its muddled message, mumbling miscreant of a protagonist, lengthy run-time - and of course lack of real tension or fear - make it perfect as a grindhouse movie, but not so good for people who consider themselves rational and sane. Plus, there's all that willful snake slaughter to consider. However, kudos to Code Red for porting over voluminous extras from the out-of-print BCI release, and kudos for giving love to the unlovable. Hardcore, old school, grindhouse fanatics should drop the dollars if so inclined, but in general you can at least scratch your itch if you Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com