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Snake Hunt: These Rattles Ain't for Babies
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by Chris Parry

"A poorly made documentary with an intriguing topic. Again."
2 stars

It never ceases to annoy me that documentary filmmakers are so great at finding intriguing people to put on camera, but can't spend a little time making sure the production values of their film match the importance of their subject. I Like Killing Flies was a great example from Sundance this year of a perfectly good topic, hamstrung by a filmmaker who thinks it's okay to have a hand holding a lapel mike coming out from the bottom of his frame when you can't get the boom working. Jed Strahm, the maker of Snake Hunt, doesn't go into such amateur hour territory by any stretch, but he really doesn't stretch the medium either. Settling for handheld video footage, natural lighting and iffy sound, Strahm does at least manage to get some interesting footgae on screen. In this case, that means showing how the good people of Waurika, Oklahoma take part in the 'world's largest and friendliest snake hunt'. Yes Simpsons fans, Whacking Day is upon us.

Waurika Oklahoma is no different to any other middle America town struggling to find something that sets itself apart from the rest of the world. For some towns it's the albino squirrels or Danish Fur Trapper Museum, or the Elvis Is Alive Musem (a must-see on the interstate cutting through Missouri, take it from me). For Waurika it's all about snakes. Rattlesnakes, to be more precise. They loves them some rattlers, mm-hmm.

And thus they have a rattlesnake festival, including demonstrations on how to skin a rattlesnake (while it's alive - from the inside out, even), how to behead a rattlesnake, how to bag a rattlesnake and how to swe the mnouth of a live rattlesnake shut so that it can be draped over tourists for $5 photo sessions.

Yes, this isn't the film that PETA wants you buying on DVD.

It is fairly shocking in parts, not just seeing the lengths people will go to in order to be seen as experts in something, thus validating their lives, but also just how wide the difference is between southern USA folk and northern USA folk. Man, these guys are a whole different breed.

Try walking into a tourist area in New York City and giving a demonstration of how to skin a live snake from the inside out (you have to pull its body out through it's own mouth - eek), and see how quickly the cops arrest you for cruelty to animals. Try setting up a table in downtown Seattle and begin sewing a snake's mouth shut and see how soon a crowd of people start to yell at you for being a disgusting pig.

But in the south, "they's rattlers," why would you want to do anything but kill 'em, or use 'em as a means of a bizarre macho rite of alpha male passage?

There is some intriguing footage in Snake Hunt, especially when it arrives at a scene involving a snake expert who chops the heads off rattlers and does demonstrations of how they refuse to die. To see a rattler head on a table, still striking out at those around him, even hours after the rest of its body has been cut away is entirely spooky stuff. To see the body stripped of skin, then dropped in a bucket of water, still sliding around with no brain left attached to the thing asks all sorts of questions about whether our brains aren't the only part of our body with the capability of memory.

How does a snake head with no attached heart and no means of blood flow stay alive? How does that body know to continue writhing around, looking for an exit, when there's no head attached? What the hell is it about snakes that we don't know, things that could perhaps give new active life to paraplegics and quadraplegics?

Feh, this ain't the doco to ask such questions. It's snake and redneck footage and little more. Interesting snake and redneck footage, sure, but nothing that will demand a 500 screen theatrical release.

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originally posted: 03/24/04 11:03:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/12/04 bob jones awesome 5 stars
3/24/04 fitz not for film snobs 5 stars
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