194. Rattlers (1976)
Director: John McCauley
Writers: Jerry Golding, John McCauley
From: Cult Cinema; Drive-In
A herpetologist investigating unusual rattlesnake attacks starts to uncover a military conspiracy.
We open with two shitty kids going to play in a canyon. They fall into a snake pit, get all kinds of bit, and die. Frankly, great start, really great start. Until the credits are done, I’m convinced this movie has its heart in the right place.
Then we get to the main character, Tom. His names important because it’s what distinguishes him from Dick and Harry, you know, the trio of uninteresting, indistinguishable men. Tom is a herpetologist and a college professor—think Indiana Jones, but without the charisma, charm, or excitement. He’s asked by the local sheriff to come down and inspect the bodies in case there’s anything unusual. He looks, says, “Them’s snakebites,” and collects his check.
Only more people start dying from snake attacks. A kid is attacked in a barn and his mom is overwhelmed by snakes in her house. A plumber gets bit and the snakes attack the woman in the house by crawling through the pipes. I think there are others, but I can’t remember or care. The deaths aren’t given any weight whatsoever in the movie so each scene of a new character just becomes a dull countdown to their inevitable death by snake.
Tom returns at the sheriff’s request and is paired with a photographer, Ann. Tom is very upset that Ann’s a woman since there’s no way she can handle the work ahead—some light hiking and overnight camping. She’s just back from two years in the Vietnam press pool, by the way, but, yeah, sure, this will be too much for her delicate feminine sensibilities.
This isn’t me being PC, the movie makes a special point, several times, to complain about “women’s lib” and Ann not being willing to know her place. All this despite her being more than capable of doing the work. And the movie actively takes a stand against her. She calls Tom out for there not being enough women in various fields and says he has the power to change that. He brushes her off, but this is literally right after he’s fought with the sheriff over having her assigned as his partner—he’s actively preventing a woman from doing work she’s capable of, but she’s the crazy one.
Anyway, they eventually realize there’s a military base nearby all the attacks and go there. They learn from doctor in the lab who specializes in biological materials that a soldier died from particularly aggressive snakebites a few months prior. Then a helicopter pilot tells Tom about depositing a container of something in an abandoned mine.
Tom and Ann investigate the mine, find a massive nest of snakes, and go have a romantic weekend in Vegas. No, that’s literally how the story progresses. They’re looking for the source of all these snake attacks, find it, then bounce to Vegas without telling anyone about the nest.
They return to their tent where they’re attacked by snakes but saved at the last minute by the military. Two soldiers have been killed by snakebite and the doctor isn’t willing to keep quiet anymore. Twist! They were working on chemical weapons at the base and disposed of a leaking canister of something that makes animals hyper-violent. The base Colonel was the mastermind, kills the doctor, and runs to the abandoned mine for one last standoff for reasons. The whys of any of this will constantly elude you. He shoots at some cops, cops shoot back, he trips while holding a grenade and falls into a snake pit where he blows up, sealing the mine once again. Tom and Ann drive off together to settle back down near the college. THE END.
The movie is just so much nothing. No tension, no mystery, no humor. It’s just stagnant from the word “go.” Even the riffing from the Cinematic Titanic version I watched couldn’t energize this sodden lump. The movie has plenty to make fun of and vast stretches of silence, but it seemed like even the riffers were drawn into the fetid languor of the whole thing and half-dozed through their jokes. And I say this as a fan of Cinematic Titanic. I was lucky enough to see them riff a total of six movies live. Rattlers sapped any energy they had.
So, obviously I’m not recommending it. The movie is, at least, in the public domain so you can find a copy at archive.org. I can’t add a new copy because Mill Creek wiped themselves on both copies I have. Not a great loss, though. Like I said, there’s not much here to watch.