Snake handling has never been for me.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know that there are a lot of people who incorporate handling poisonous serpents into their religious rituals. And I can even kind of see the appeal of it. If the idea is that your faith is so strong that you don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to you if you die, why not prove it by holding something that could potentially kill you? If you believe that God is going to protect you, why would you fear handling a creature that can inject toxin straight into your bloodstream?
In fact, I’ll even go further and I’ll even acknowledge that there’s probably quite a rush that comes from successfully grabbing a snake and dancing around without getting bit. I mean, it only makes sense. Before you pick up the snake, you would undoubtedly be terrified. But once you grabbed it and started to move around with it, the relief of not being bitten would have to be overwhelming. In fact, it would probably be so overwhelming that it could potentially put you in a bit of a trance. When I was eighteen, I was in a pretty serious car accident. The car flipped over with me in it. It was terrifying when it happened but after I realized that I had somehow survived the experience without only a few cuts and bruises, I was so exhilarated that I felt like I could fly. I felt as if I had proof that I was special. If I wasn’t special, how else could you explain me totaling my car without breaking my neck?
So, don’t get me wrong. I get it. That said, snake handling is not something that I could ever see myself doing. Seriously, snake are scary! I’ve seen my share of them and they always freak me out. I once nearly stepped on a rattlesnake in New Mexico. In Arkansas, I saw a water moccasin slithering down a creek. I swear that I once saw a boa constrictor in Oklahoma, though my sisters swear that I was just dreaming and that there aren’t any boa constrictors in Oklahoma. Maybe they’re right but still, the point stands. I could flip my car and survive a hundred times, I’m still never going to go anywhere near a snake.
Alabama Snake is a creepy true crime documentary about Glenn Summerfield, a Pentecostal minister who did handle snakes. In fact, he had an entire farm of them. In 1991, he was arrested for trying to murder his wife, Darlene, with those snakes. Darlene claimed that Glenn was an angry and mentally unbalanced drunk who forced her to stick her hand into a box of rattlesnakes, not once but twice. The defense claimed that Darlene was trying to kill Glenn with the snakes but that she accidentally got bitten instead.
Featuring commentary from local historian and folklorist Thomas Burton, Alabama Snake takes a look at the crime, the trial, and the culture of fundamentalist serpent handling. It’s a Southern Gothic horror story and it makes for creepy and atmospheric viewing. Though the documentary doesn’t always go as far beneath the surface as one might hope that it would, it tells an interesting story and Thomas Burton provides lively commentary. Fans of strange true crime will enjoy it and those of us who need another excuse to be wary of snakes will find one.