“ Serpent of Alabama, ” the Appalachian preacher who attempted to murder his wife by snakebite

An authentic portrait of the disorderly and unstable life of the Appalachians which contrasts sharply with the fake of Ron Howard Hillbilly Elegy, Alabama Snake is a real crime saga overflowing with crazy people. As with his prior The legend of the island of cocaine, director Theo Love’s documentary (which debuts Dec. 9 on HBO) has a decidedly unique and bizarre story to tell, and it adds extra flair to it, using a flashy non-fiction approach that doesn’t always line up with gear on hand, but certainly keeps things alive.

Alabama Snake concerns an incident on October 4, 1991 in Scottsboro, Alabama, a sleepy town that was home to Glenn Summerford, his second wife Darlene and their young son Marty. A 911 call summoned an ambulance to the family’s isolated residence, where paramedics discovered Darlene suffering from a snake bite to her hand. Acknowledging that she was in severe distress, they took her first to a local hospital devoid of anti-venom and then 90 miles away to a medical facility in Birmingham. Darlene survived this affliction and, once recovered, she knew exactly who to point her finger at for her near-fatal ordeal.

According to Darlene, her snake bite was the result of Glenn, a Pentecostal preacher who kept various snakes in a shed on their property. In his seedy little church, Glenn led parishioners in fiery sermons on God and the Devil that involved speaking in tongues and handling snakes, which somehow proved that the master was possessed with the power of the divine spirit. . Darlene claimed Glenn accused her of cheating on him and, as punishment, forced her, at gunpoint, to ram her hand into one of her snake boxes and suffered a bite , both this Friday evening, then on the day of shopping and refusal of his medical treatment – Saturday evening. It was a cold-blooded assassination attempt via a reptile.

This outrageous attack quickly gained media attention, especially after Glenn was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Since he already had two felony convictions on his record, Glenn faces a mandatory 99-year sentence if convicted – and guilty he was convicted, after a two-and-a-half-day trial. That should have ended this bizarre episode. Yet guided by the folklorist, filmmaker and “closet anthropologist”, Dr. Thomas G. Burton, Alabama Snake revisits it with the aim of not only deciphering the truth about what really happened that fateful night, but also investigating the wider Appalachian culture that spawned it in the first place.

What he discovers is a thicket of poverty, drug addiction and religious fanaticism, all of which have combined to create this sordid and insane situation. Burton’s history with this medium dates back to the late 1960s, when he and a colleague began to archive Appalachian stories, beliefs and traditions in order to preserve and understand rural culture. As part of this process, they made a 1973 film titled They will take snakes about a Pentecostal religious service. At this rally, attendees twirled, waved and spoke in wacky languages, and they also handled snakes – which resulted in one person being bitten and being taken away. Scenes from Burton’s documentary expose the extremes of these mountain folk rituals and set the stage for the ensuing portrayal of Glenn and Darlene’s dysfunctional bond.

Before director Love delves into central crime, however, he traces Glenn’s journey from a harassed boy whose stepfather taught him to defend himself with his fists, to a young man whose taste for alcohol went hand in hand with his penchant for violence. Glenn’s first wife, Doris, recounts how, after Glenn nearly murdered a man in a battle for money, their house was set on fire, killing their youngest daughter. This tragedy got Glenn out of control, and when asked if she thought her abusive ex was capable of killing someone, Doris paused before confessing, “maybe.”

Glenn was by most accounts a bad son of a bitch, and he got hooked on Darlene while he was still married to Doris (he even got married on Doris’ birthday, because it was is just the kind of cruel guy he was). Their union was also explosive, but eventually Glenn had a transformative conversion to Christ, and he and Darlene began to handle snakes in front of their congregation – behavior that Alabama Snake portrayed via old VHS movies from their services. These images, along with police videos from their home, highlight the ramshackle nature of their life together and the messy sulfur-and-alcohol environment they called their own.

Glenn was by most accounts a bad son of a bitch, and he got hooked on Darlene while he was still married to Doris (he even got married on Doris’ birthday, because it was is just the kind of cruel guy he was).

Alabama Snake would be cut and dried were it not for Glenn’s competing account of his marriage to Darlene and the infamous night in question, thanks to lengthy audiotape interviews he gave Burton. In these discussions, Glenn paints a much different picture of Darlene and himself, which creates a certain ambiguity that director Love treats for all his value, especially since he also puts Darlene in front of the camera, which looks a lot worse for wear, to provide it with its version. of events. The film does its best to make the truth seem slippery, although in the end, it’s hard to believe the courts didn’t properly deliver this verdict.

To amplify the drama of Glenn and Darlene’s relationship and murderous skirmish, Alabama Snake complements its talking heads interviews and pre-existing VHS clips with disturbing dramatic recreations that turn the debates into a true horror film. From evocative close-ups of wind chimes, hanging coke bottles, and flowing dresses, to impressive shots of dark figures and crawling snakes, Love goes to sea with the amplified Hollywood devices, which help generate a level of intrigue of what comes next. At the same time, however, such a brilliance is at odds with the dirty and messy reality of these circumstances. By shaping his subject matter as a studio-quality thriller, he loses sight of the more mundane menace and madness of the action.

Better to take Alabama SnakeThe overcooked aesthetic of this film is an ironic nod to the legitimate insanity of this Backwoods legend – a notion that becomes easier to accept as the film progresses on its wild path to a seemingly modeled after climax. Robert Eggers ‘finale’ The witch.

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