Surprising: this movie aired on Turner Classic Movies. Not surprising: the time slot was 3:45 a.m. I think you can guess how enthralled I was by a movie named Rattlers. This was one of many “nature’s revenge” horror movies from the 1970’s. It is as obscure as they come, and there are absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Yet I found myself not hating this movie. The acting couldn’t have been worse if they held the scripts in their hands on-camera and read the lines without any inflection. The special effects were mediocre. The ending was abrupt and lackluster. So why did I get a kick out of this one?
The plot is actually somewhat believable: rattlesnakes in the middle of the desert are acting strange after the military tested nerve gas in a cave that was inhabited by them. I’m sure such a thing has happened in real life at some point. But how they go about this abnormal behavior is having the snakes travel en masse, with a human-like intelligence, seeking out and killing anyone who stands in their path. There’s quite a bit of killing, but these scenes which were meant to induce chills instead cause laughter. There are close-ups of real snakes, which is commendable, but aside from some obvious fake screaming and writhing, the deaths are all ridiculous.
We follow an eminent herpetologist (which I learned is the name for a scientist who studies snakes and not herpes) played by Sam Chew Jr. who has the lucidity of a wooden board. He is called in by the sheriff (Ronald Gold) of a town in the middle of nowhere whose population is negative-three to investigate why his good citizens are being slaughtered unprovoked in their sleep by hordes of pissed off “rattlers”. Along the way, he teams up with a female photojournalist (Elizabeth Chauvet) who accompanies him on the journey. The reason why I stress female is because there is a scene devoted to talking about how women cannot handle such an assignment and then a defending dialogue suggesting women can do anything. It was hard to tell if the topic was brought up to be chauvinistic or female empowering. The writing and acting are not clear enough.
Of course, there is a military conspiracy uncovered along the way. They are clearly hiding something…but what? It comes to a less than thrilling finale in which this boring but scientific film turns into the gunfight at the O.K Corral.
1970’s low-budget schlock or good old campy fun? I’m going with the latter. Make no mistake: this baby is getting a 3 out of 10 stars from me, but it was fun. You’ll laugh at the acting, the deaths, the dialogue—everything. This is a good bad movie if there ever was one.