Rattlers!

I simply must take a bath right this instant
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1976
Director: 
John McCauley
Starring: 
Sam Chew, Jr., Elisabeth Chauvet, Dan Priest, Ronald Gold
The Setup: 
Buncha chemically-altered rattlesnakes go on a killing rampage!
Discussion: 

Like a healing cleanse, we all need a killer animal movie every so often. This one hails from my 50 Drive-In Movie Classics boxed set, which virtually guarantees it to be cheesy and low-budget. Which it is, but it also packs in a number of other charming elements into one super stupid-but-fun movie experience.

We open with this family who has parked their trailer in the middle of this desert valley. They're either homeless, or on vacation. These two young boys ask their mom if they can go check out the skeleton one of them saw, saying they'll be back in two minutes for dinner. Well, these kids have grossly inferior time-management skills, because the next time we see them, they're climbing to the top of this peak like a mile away. They cross this ridge and climb down to see the skeleton--but what they see is a pit full of rattlesnakes! Now here is a touch that is genuinely creepy--and hold onto it, it's the only one--where they find they can't get their grip as they're trying to climb out, slip and fall into the pit! I thought that was creepy. They get attacked and we then have our credits, while you still may be reeling from the movie killing off two under-ten kids, right off the bat.

Then we join rattlesnake expert Tom in his college class, where he gets a call saying they'll give him $200 if he stops by and consults on this snake bite case. We also meet ornithologist Howard, who shares a lab with Tom, although he doesn't like working around those snakes at all. Howard is working on a drug to combat obesity by experimenting on pigeons. I'll leave you to form your own impressions about that. Then the janitor jostles the cage where the King Cobra is, accidentally releasing the beast! Umm, shouldn't the KING COBRA be maintained under higher security? I'm just asking. So the snake comes up behind Howard, but luckily Tom shows up just in time. Tom tells Howard he must remain perfectly still, and amusement can be had listening to Tom go on with "Freeze, Howard! DO as I SAY! I said FREEZE!" despite the fact that Howard is NOT moving. At all. Tom makes some kind of snake jujitsu moves that... I don't know, do something, I suppose, before finally grasping the little beastie and throwing it back in the cage. Tom then acts like the near-loss of Howard's life is like SO not a big deal and well, just another day in the lab.

Tom goes out to meet the sheriff of the other town, and with the sheriff we have the first of this movie's unexpectly rich trove of very unaffected and genuine supporting actors. They have a massive exposition-fest as Tom rattles off a bunch of snake facts, including that it's quite unusual for them to attack like they did to the boys. Then they have to go out to the desert and see if they can find the nest, but where can they look? They wander all over the open desert, while you at home are like "Well, the kids' bodies were found in this pit, right? Maybe they should look there." But that simply doesn't seem to occur to our dimwitted heroes.

We now cut to some farm kid. He calls his dog, then goes over and keeps calling to it and asking it to get up and come along, despite the fact that it is immobile, unconscious, covered in gross-looking particles, and clearly as dead as a rock. He suddenly decides to go into the barn, climbs up to the loft and--snake to the face! Now, I'm sure you realize that no one goes into barns without having a lit oil lantern that can fall and light the entire place ablaze in seconds, and such is the case here. Meanwhile, mom finds her entire house SUDDENLY filled with rattlesnakes. Things don't end well for her.

Now Tom has said that he needs a photographer to go out snake-huntin' with him so he can get great shots for Facebook, but the fact is he didn't ask for no LADY photographer. What he gets is the lovely and talented Anne Bradley, who just spent a few years in Vietnam. When Tom pulls the sheriff aside and says this is tough man's work, the sheriff says he knows, but he has these women's lib groups breathing down his neck. To include female photographers on trips to photograph outbreaks of killer snakes? Apparently. We then have a long scene in which Anne schools him with a lengthy ideological discussion about how men hold perfectly capable women in positions of powerlessness, etc., and you're like "Okay, so this is a little time capsule of when these discussions were more common," but just wait as we see the TRUE extent of Anne's committment to feminism!

They both go to the hospital, where they interview this pilot who was attacked. This guy is played by Dan Balentine, and his presence throws the movie way off because suddenly we've got a person on screen who can REALLY ACT! He gives almost two uninterrupted minutes of narrative about the attack [you never see THAT in collections of actor's monologues!] and he's just so unaffected, charming and real, it's a real shocker.

Okay, so our gaze suddenly shifts to this woman who has been having trouble with her plumbing. Of course we know her snake touble is really RATTLER trouble [household plumbing is rattlesnakes' natural enemy], but she doesn't know yet. The plumber tells her he'll have to get under the house [Dun-dun!], which he does, and is soon dead. Next to him, a rattler slides up a pipe, and we know where he's going. You see, the woman has decided that she simply MUST take a bath, she simply HAS to take a bath RIGHT at that very moment, while the plumber is under the house, and she even goes to the trouble of heating several pans of water on the STOVE and transferring them to the tub. You know, the water WILL be on later, if you could just hold off an hour or two. You don't smell THAT bad, honey. Anyway, she takes her luxurious bubble bath, and before you know it, the thing under the faucet pops off and it's snake in the tub time.

Well, Tom has surmised that the snakes' path leads them straight to Fort Bradley army base, so he goes to ask the colonel about it, and is given the old "Eh, people die" response. Tom's going off in a helicopter but has to leave Anne behind with this Army dude who looks her up and down and says "Any time you want to leave me alone with a sexy young lady like Miss. Bradley is fine with me!" Well, how is tough feminist Anne Bradley going to respond to this provocation? With a demure smile and a blush! Some feminist! But by now she has pretty much completely dropped her strongly-held convictions of earlier, and is happy to make Tom's life easier in any way she can.

We now have the next of our charming supporting characters with this HOT helicopter pilot with a full-of-himself attitude, mirrored trooper sunglasses, and a loud, declarative manner of speaking that proudly informs one that he NOT a member of MENSA. He soon gets around to informing Tom that they buried some kind of toxic waste out there. Ahh, there we are, it's the old killer mutant animal standby, ye olde toxic waste. Tom goes back to the colonel, who remains tight-lipped about the matter, then calls in our hot but dumb pilot, who declares, in his idiot cartoon voice: "It won't happen again! I promise!"

Meanwhile Anne ventures out into the desert to take some pictures, and well, one can't help but notice that she's taking a lot of pictures of stuff that looks kind... of... well, stupid. You know, I think we have enough pictures of rocks and twigs, thank you very much. Then she hears a rattle--oh yeah, there are marauding hordes of rattlesnakes out here!--and gets back in the jeep. Then she's driving back when she hears the noise again! And she sees a glimpse of a snake in the mirror! But--it's not really there! Is our Anne slowly losing her mind? I have to say it looks that way. And since this development goes no further, we'll have to assume that this is the case.

Now is around where I started falling asleep. Which is fine, as the movie gets more scattered around this point anyway. First we have some more army guy victims who are stopped when a rattler bites right through the tires of their Jeep! Then Anne and Tom are trapped in a cave by a minor cave-in, but escape. Soon it's revealed that the chemical was the army's attempt to--well, what is the military ALWAYS doing in movies?--develop a SECRET WEAPON! Then out of nowhere this army dude stands up to the colonel! Then the colonel goes crazy and is out by the big cave [where the chemical is apparently buried] and shooting anyone who comes near! Then he suddenly explodes! Yeah, I didn't know he had any explosives out there, but apparently... Anyway, the cave entrance closes, him in it, and the situation is resolved! Only it's one of those where you say "Well, is anything really RESOLVED? Because the chemical is still there are there are surely other ways for it to seep out..." But let's not quibble. The movie is politely ending at a clean 90 minutes, and let's just bid a cordial goodbye.

It was fun enough. It had lots of fun attacks and ridiculous touches like the woman who HAS to take a bath THIS VERY MINUTE, and Anne slowly losing her grip. Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you about the part where love suddenly BLOSSOMS between Tom and Anne, at which point her feminist days are long gone and she's seen catering hand and foot to her man around the campfire. The movie also features more than its share of supporting actors who come in here and there to deliver unexpectedly genuine performances, and it wraps itself up right on time. So if you're ever yearning for an animal attack movie with lots of rich 70s flavor, and you've seen all the better ones, this one is there to meet your need.

Should you watch it: 

If you like animal attack movies.