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‘Alabama Snake’ review: True crime doc about religion, sex, booze, and snakes

An unexpected tale.

Alabama Snake is a bizarre story even among the odd circles that make up true crime documentaries. The HBO documentary is about a strange case of attempted murder. In October 1991, Pentecostal minister named Glenn Summerford attempted to murder his wife with a rattlesnake. The movie investigates the case and the questions that arose around it.

Director Theo Love frames his documentary like a mystery novel. This includes breaking Alabama Snake into chapters and having retired college professor Thomas G. Burton narrate the tale. This is a decision that makes the already strange story more interesting. At times, it is like listening to an urban legend or a campfire tale. It is an unique way to tell the story that fits the setting perfectly.

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Early in Alabama Snake someone comments, the story has religion, sex, and booze. They also joke that these are the ingredients needed for a good story. All three are in abundance here. The crime took place in the sleepy town of Scottsboro, Alabama where church is an important part of life. Love does a great job of giving the documentary atmosphere. There is an unexpected Southern gothic feel akin to a Tennessee Williams story.

What seems like a straightforward tale has more twists than a coiled snake. Alabama Snake is not just a about a husband who attempted to murder his wife. It is a conflicting tale in which Love does not try to give answers. Instead, the documentary provides both sides of the case and let’s the viewers decide. Along the way, it examines people’s belief systems and a community as a whole.

Alabama Snake weaves in and out of dramatizations. These are done in an odd way that almost add a comedic tone to the film. A great example is when the EMTs are first called to the scene. When the victim’s hand is first shown, it is done with a jump scare. The snake bite is exaggerated to cover almost the entire arm. It looks scary, but seems out of place.

HBO’s recent true crime documentaries have covered interesting topics. None have been more out of the ordinary than Alabama Snake. It starts off as a tale of attempted murder. As the story progresses, it becomes a story of redemption, lies, and half-truths. By the end, the film becomes a mystery that examines an entire culture.

Alabama Snake premieres on HBO December 9.

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