DVD Review: “Stanley: Special Edition ”
Released By: BCI Eclipse
Release Date: November 18, 2008
Number of Discs: 1
Approximate Running Time: 106 Minutes
Special Features: Audio Commentaries, Still Gallery, Documentaries
Suggested Price: $19.99
A Seminole Indian veteran of the Vietnam War returns to his Florida home and finds injustice everywhere he turns. Using his special bond with snakes, especially a rattlesnake named Stanley, he turns the tables on poachers, corrupt businessmen, and anyone else he believes isn’t treating him or nature with the proper amount of respect. When Tim gets mad,Stanley gets deadly!
The Fanboy Factor:
Florida exploitation filmmaker William Grefe (Sting of Death, Death Curse of Tartu, Impulse) was never afraid to jump on a trend if it would guarantee him success at the box office. In 1971, a film about a boy and his rats, Willard, proved to be a winner with the popcorn crowd. Grefe rushed to follow it with a story he claims to have dreamed up one night that replaced the rats with snakes. He hit the right part of the curve for the early to mid-’70’s nature run-amok film phase (see Frogs review, PCR #439) and Stanley became the most successful film of his career.
Stanley is a low-budget independent production that never betrays its modest origins. Chris Robbins, a highly underrated actor, does an excellent job as the troubled Tim and portrays the character with sympathy and confusion even into his final scenes of complete mental breakdown. Leading the competent supporting cast is Alex Rocco who was on the verge of critical recognition for his portrayal of Moe Green, the ill-fated casino owner in The Godfather – which opened the same week as Stanley! The real star of the film though is Stanley the rattlesnake, one of the few exploitation animal actors to truly earn his marquee billing. As the relationship between Stanley and Tim grows, sometimes to absurd proportions, you really believe that a man can have a pet rattlesnake and not have to constantly look before he sits down!
Crown International Pictures, who seems to have been responsible for at least half the exploitation film output of the late 60’s and early 70’s, gave Stanley the type of wide theatrical distribution that was usually reserved for more mainstream films. As Grefe points out in the commentary, the only stipulation Crown gave him before financing the project was that the film had to be ready for release by April 15, the start of drive-in booking season. The successful theatre run was followed a few years later by heavy television saturation and the combination almost guaranteed the film a cult following.
Revisiting Stanley over 35 years after its 1972 release is something of an eye-opener. This film is definitely a product of it’s time and scenes of animal cruelty would never make it past PETA today.Florida film fans are given a glimpse of Miami and the Everglades before the area had been heavily developed. Unlike today, there were actually spots where you could turn a complete circle without seeing a condominium!
Those who are only familiar with Stanley through repeated viewings on late night television will be pleasantly surprised when they see the movie again on this DVD. The audio and video are excellent on this transfer and a vast improvement over the murky TV prints. The version of the film presented here is the theatrical one with some missing footage that was trimmed for television (I own one of those cut prints and had to watch it again just to appreciate what I had been missing). The extras are exhaustive and a real treat for exploitation film fans. Dark Side of Eden is a documentary about the making of Stanley that reunites many of the cast and crew including Grefe, Robinson, and writer Gary Crutcher. It does a great job of covering every aspect of the film from inception to distribution and doesn’t pull any punches in the process. There is also a lengthy Q&A panel from a Hollywood revival screening, a brief modern day look at some of the filming locations, and duel commentaries from both Grefe and Crutcher. The stories get repetitious between the documentary, the panel, and the commentaries but they each cover some unique ground (start with the documentary but don’t miss the poodle story at the end of Grefe’s audio commentary). The one conspicuous absence is an original theatrical or television trailer, although scenes from one play over a special introduction from William Grefe.
The Bottom Line:
Films the caliber of Stanley rarely get the kind of outstanding DVD treatment that BCI Eclipse offers here. For fans of the film and anyone interested in seeing it for the first time, this is the way to go. I highly recommend this DVD edition and hope this is a sign of things to come from BCI.