An old man living in an outpost of rural America makes a living breeding snakes on a remote ranch. The local schoolteacher arranges for her pupils catch food for his pets, much to the annoyance of the town preacher, who vows to make trouble. More problems arise when the old man’s best friend decides to get married…
The presence of Les Tremayne heading up a cast of any ﬁlm is unlikely to send anyone into raptures. He was a British bom actor who achieved his greatest success on the radio, although his ﬁlm career did include small appearances in ‘War of the Worlds’ (1953) and Hitchcock’s ‘North By Northwest’ (1959). However, he’s more likely to be remembered by film audiences for a string of more outlandish pictures, such as ‘The Angry Red Planet’ (1959), ‘The Monster of Piedras Blancas’ (1959), and the U.S. version of ‘King Kong Vs Godzilla’ (1963). Taking a few steps down the ladder, there was also a substantial role in Robert Hutton’s ‘The Slime People’ (1963) and the lead in Larry Buchanan’s appalling ‘Creature of Destruction’ (1967), quite possibly the worst ﬁlm ever made.
Apart from Tremayne, the rest of the cast in this no-budget reptile-fest were mostly unknown, but some did amass more credits in subsequent years and special recognition must go to Janet Wood, whose scenes with the snakes certainly show commitment, if nothing else. lt‘s not that the snakes were dangerous, they don’t even look alive for the most part, but her characters motivation for making deals with the snake farmer is that his reptiles get her sexually aroused!
Behind the camera is Arthur A Names, familiar to connoisseurs of bad ﬁlm as the screenwriter of Ted V Mikel’s lamentable ‘Girl In Gold Boots’ (1968). This was his only time behind the camera as a director, although he went on to work in the Sound Department on respectable productions such as ‘Alligator’ (1980) and ‘The Hitcher’ (1986).
So this is all dreadful, right? Well, no. The story is underdeveloped, and it’s shot on an absolute shoe string but all is not lost. Why? Tremayne. He truly inhabits the skin of this eccentric outsider, and gives a performance that is never less than totally convincing. Isolation has warped his character into a man utterly obsessed with routine, who is prepared to oppose the slightest change in his life with deadly force. ln this he’s aided by the minimalist script, in that it allows a succession of triggers for his murderous behaviour. First, the generic hillbilly brother and sister who run the general store hassle him for money. Then the school teacher bows to pressure from the local preacher to end their business arrangement. But the last straw is when his oldest friend and local Sheriff brings home an exotic dancer as his wife. We know that’s what she does for a living as she wears his white go-go boots around the house. More importantly, her presence put pays to their regular Wednesday night gramophone sessions listening to marches by John Philip Sousa!
lt’s a strange film at times. On the one hand, the ‘routine’ aspect of Tremayne’s obsessive behaviour is hammered home with no subtlety whatsoever. Everything, and I mean everything, happens on a Wednesday night, other days of the week presumably being unavailable during production.
But, then again, we see Tremayne following exactly the same actions after each killing; pushing cars off the same section of cliff and then returning home by the same walking route. It’s a nice touch as it establishes the formation of a new pattern of obsessional behaviour.
Although it’s obviously being sold as a horror film, (‘Biggest Bite Since Jaws!’ ran the slightly inaccurate tagline) it was likely to be a big disappointment to gore hounds. There are no SFX, no real blood and guts, and very little reptile action. As a character study or a thriller, it’s not entirely successful either, simply because resources were obviously so painfully limited. lt’s a shame, because this could have been a late showcase for Tremayne, whose displays enough ability to show that he was capable of so much more than he was able to achieve in his film career.
Not a satisfying experience, but with a central performance of some interest.