RATTLERS. Boxoffice International Pictures, 1976. Sam Chew, Elisabeth Chauvet, Dan Priest, Ron Gold, Al Dunlap, Dan Balentine. Director: John McCauley.

   Schlock and awe is the name of the game in Rattlers, a low budget when-animals-attack movie from the 1970s. And yes, it’s a very 1970s movie. There’s a subplot about feminism and equal rights and some absolutely beautiful shots of vintage (from today’s perspective, that is) cop cars being driven around the California desert. And then there are the snakes. Although there’s nothing particularly 70s about them. To be honest, not all of them are rattlesnakes and it’s not even clear how close the actors got to them.

   But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, despite its obviously low budget nature, the film doesn’t come off as an amateur production. I know now it’s trendy to poke fun at these types of films and, on some level, I get it. There are some unintentionally comedic moments to be found in Rattlers. But it’s not aiming to be high art either. It’s meant as escapist entertainment and was part of the zeitgeist. How many when- animals-attack films were there in the mid- to late 1970s? How many were inspired by the success of Spielberg’s Jaws (1975)?

   Sam Chew, who went on to become the narrator of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, portrays University of California herpetologist Dr. Tom Parkinson. He’s asked by a sheriff in the Mojave Desert to investigate a string of bizarre deaths. This is not the work of a serial killer, however. The culprits in this case couldn’t hold a knife to save their ophidian lives.

   Parkinson teams up with the very single and very feminist war photographer Ann Bradley (Elisabeth Chauvet) to investigate what is causing these snakes to attack humans in such a brutal manner. This leads them both to a local military facility where a megalomaniac officer is conducting illegal research on nerve agents. I think you can put two and two together.

   Laugh at Rattlers if you must, but unlike a lot of contemporary quickie low budget horror films that are little more than joyless gore fests, this one was actually attempting to be socially conscious and to say something.