A reptilian riff on the 1971 shocker Willard, which concerned a demented boy who commands an army of rats, Stanley concerns a demented adult who commands an army of snakes. Although the movie goes slack at regular intervals, resulting in an overlong running time, Stanley offers just enough in the way of creepy-crawly moments and outright gruesomeness to sustain casual interest. The picture also benefits from a weirdly compelling performance by leading man Chris Robinson, later a fixture on American soap operas. While his acting isn’t especially charismatic or skillful, he’s just competent enough to sell the illusion of being more comfortable around snakes than people, and that’s the most important thing the makers of Stanley needed to put their grim little story over. While some of the creature scenes underwhelm, like the bit during which a bad guy dives into a pool filled with snakes that look harmless, Stanley doesn’t want for money shots of rattlers clamping their jaws onto victims’ bodies.
Set in rural Florida, the picture follows the exploits of Tim Ochopee (Robinson), a Vietnam vet who makes his living capturing rattlers and selling their venom to a local doctor. Tim treats the snakes like friends, especially his beloved Stanley, for whom Tim provides a mate. (The pitter-patter of little scales soon follows.) The villain of the piece is Thomkins (Alex Rocco), a local businessman whom, Tim suspects, had Tim’s father killed. Thomkins is a piece of work, groping his teenage daughter and threatening to turn every snake he encounters into a belt. Also in the mix is Sidney (Ray Baumel), the proprietor of a local strip club, and his wife, aging exotic dancer Gloria (Marcie Knight). They use snakes that Stanley provides in Gloria’s act. As the story progresses, Tim’s world falls apart. Sidney tells Gloria to start killing snakes during her act, and Thomkins orders a hit on Tim and his pets. Tim fights back against his various enemies, using his friends’ fangs as weapons. Despite lackadaisical pacing, the plot builds nicely, and the final moments are morbidly satisfying. One more thing: Good luck forgetting the scene where Tim serves a formal dinner to his scaly pals, because the entrée is mice under glass.