Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rattlers (1976)

          A middling entry in the seemingly endless parade of nature-gone-wild movies that followed in the wake of Jaws (1975), this low-budget horror show is serviceable but unimpressive. Oh, and in case you didn't receive the subtle messaging in the title, it's about snakes. Rattlers is fairly tame in terms of gore, and it has more than a few groan-inducing examples of nonsensical character behavior and/or shaky plot twists. Nonetheless, it's far from the worst example of its derivative genre, because some of the snake-attack scenes are genuinely creepy, and the storyline contains such comfortingly familiar elements as a secret military conspiracy. Viewers seeking actual quality should of course look elsewhere, but creature-feature devotees are accustomed to operating with diminished expectations. After the de rigeur opening scene of a mysteriously unprovoked snake attack, reptile specialist Dr. Tom Parkinson (Sam Chew) gets hired by a small-town police department to research the incident. He's teamed with photographer Ann Bradley (Elisabeth Chauvet). Tom analyzes unusual snake behavior even as further attacks occur, eventually determining that a military base is the nexus of the problem. Thanks to a conveniently loose-lipped junior officer, Tom learns that the base's commander ordered the illegal disposal of an experimental nerve-gas agent near a nest of rattlesnakes, hence the abnormally vicious animal behavior.
          The plotting of Rattlers is stiffly mechanical, the dialogue ranges from mediocre to substandard, and the characterizations are inconsistent. For every quasi-credible scene (e.g., Ann explaining that she became a feminist after watching her mother suffer through underpaid factory work), there's something quite silly (e.g., Tom whisking Ann away for a sexy evening in Vegas during the height of the rattler rampage). That said, the movie more or less delivers when the time comes for proper suspense scenes—for example, the bit of a utility worker trapped in the crawlspace beneath a house while rattlers emerge from surrounding pipes is gruesomely exciting. And while the makers of Rattlers go light on the sleaze, considering the usual grimy textures of mid-'70s B-movies, director/cowriter John McCauley indulges himself with a lurid scene of a young woman whose bubble bath gets interrupted by snakes emerging from the faucet of her bathtub. All in all, Rattlers taps into a pervasive phobia, and since average people are more likely to stumble across rattlesnakes in their lifetimes than they are to encounter some of the other predators in Jaws-era creature features (great white sharks, grizzly bears, killer whales, and so on), there's something almost grounded about the picture's premise.

Rattlers: FUNKY

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