STANLEY (1972)
Director: William Grefe

From Florida's own William Grefe (the low budgeted, independent director of such epics as DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, STING OF DEATH and MAKO JAWS OF DEATH) comes this revenge tale that follows the formula of the previous year's WILLARD, giving us one of the director's most entertaining efforts. A hit when released to drive-ins in 1972 (it sometimes played on a double bill with MGM’s NIGHT OF THE LEPUS), BCI's STANLEY disc displays the company's appreciation of the Crown International film library with this full-blown special edition which not only has a ton of great extras, but finally grants the film the definitive home video transfer it deserves.

Longtime Soap star Chris Robinson (THE CYCLE SAVAGES) plays Tim Ochopee, a Seminole Indian and recent Vietnam vet who has had enough of the "white man" and decides to live in a primitive cabin along the Everglades with a horde of pet snakes (he sells the venom to a local hospital for medical purposes). His favorite of these is a rattlesnake named Stanley, which he mates with a female one called Hazel, sporting a wreath of flowers around her neck. Sleazy snake-clothing manufacturer Thomkins (Alex Rocco) and his pair of snake-slaying goons (Steve Alaimo, Mark Harris and Paul Avery as the pill-popping “Psycho”) naturally come into harm’s way as Tim uses his scaly, slithering critters to enact brutal revenge. Stanley and his pals also attacks a nauseating middle-aged couple (Marcia Knight and Rey Baumel) who create a tasteless yet sensational night club act where a snake's head is bitten off, and later, Tim kidnaps Thomkins’ lovely daughter (Susan Carroll) prior to the whacked-out, fiery climax.

Robinson is pretty good as a guy who sleeps and talks with snakes, becoming increasingly insane and disillusioned, and the actor obviously had no fear of handling the slithering reptiles, constantly in contact with them, and almost always wearing the one known as Stanley (played by a handful of different rattlers) around his neck. The film works because Robinson plays it completely straight, and even though there’s some bits of black humor (Stanley bites one of Tim’s foes in the ass), the proceedings are handled seriously and the snake attack scenes are sometimes unsettling. A number of snakes (and at least one tiny mouse) are abused or just outright destroyed, so the ASPCA would be all over this one if filmed today. Though the script doesn’t allow for much more than a typical revenge plot, it's the quirky characters and various scenarios involving the snakes (which the film even manages to give some empathy to) that make STANLEY satisfying drive-in fodder, and director Grefe makes the most of the Floridian landscapes with some truly scenic cinematography.

STANLEY was previously available on DVD as part of Rhino’s Horrible Horrors Collection Volume 2, but the full frame transfer looked to be the same one that VCI issued on VHS in the 1980s, with tons of video noise and murkiness, and it was also a heavily censored TV version. BCI now does STANLEY justice by presenting the fully uncut theatrical version, running about 107 minutes long. It’s presented letterboxed in its original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The film looks better than ever, with excellent color, crisp detail and a blemish-free transfer with clear mono audio, so there's really nothing to complain about here.

The excellently-produced disc has been furnished with a number of great extras. First off, there are two separate audio commentaries, one with producer/director Grefe and one with screenwriter Gary Crutcher (who also appears in the film as a doctor). Grefe reminisces about how he dreamed up the snake story (after studying the box office tallies for WILLARD), after which he took his idea to Crown International’s Red Jacobs, who almost through him out of his office before he stated he could shoot the film for $125,000. From there, the easy-going Grefe never runs out of interesting things to say, and even without the prompting of a moderator, is able to remember just about everything about the production, its cast, crew, locations, handling the snakes, etc. Crutcher also gives a very enthusiastic and solid commentary, as he seemed to be on the set for most of the shooting and also remembers quite a lot. A long-time friend of Grefe, Crutcher describes the experience as a very happy one, and covers everything from things that were shot but never seen in the final film, to his treatment for an un-filmed sequel to be called “Stanley in Miami.” Grefe and Crutcher are joined by actors Chris Robinson and Steve Alaimo for the featurette “Dark Side of Eden – The Making of Stanley” (43:10). The video retrospective features quite a few great stories and is accompanied by some of the director’s behind-the-scenes footage, never before seen. “Stanley Revisited” (3:10) has Grefe revisiting the old Ivan Tors Studios (now called Greenwich Studios) in Miami where much of STANLEY was shot, as well as some of the surrounding outdoor locations which served as the Everglades in many scenes. “Stanley Goes Hollywood” has Robinson, Grefe and Crutcher doing an a Q&A after a screening of STANLEY at the New Beverly Cinema, and although some of the same information is also covered in the featurette, it’s great to see the three gentlemen discussing the film in front of a modern, enthusiastic audience. A still gallery is also included, and Grefe does an on-screen introduction, animated in such a way that makes it appear as if he’s watching the film from his car at a drive-in theater. The disc’s packaging also includes a booklet with some material reproduced from the original pressbook. (George R. Reis)