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Snakes in Movies
A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
Spoiler Alert !

Some of these pictures and descriptions may give away plot details that you might not want to know before watching the film.
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Leave it to sex-and-scatologically-obsessed Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, to come up with some great funny new ways to deal with rattlesnakes in his Western parody instead of using the usual cliches like shooting the snake or somebody getting bitten by a rattlesnake.

In Arizona in 1882, Seth MacFarland is Albert and Charlize Theron is Anna. One night they're sitting on a bluff overlooking their small town talking when they hear a rattlesnake rattling on the ground close to their boots. They freak out as if the snake is a live grenade, which is what everybody does in movies, but then Albert simply says they should just sit perfectly still and wait for it to go away. That was a big surprise. They do exactly what they should do, and turn it into a comic moment.

I thought there might be a rattlesnake in the movie, but from the title I expected that it would be involved in one of those million ways to die. (It does happen later.) But here, Anna and Albert both freeze, sitting still rigidly, glancing down at the snake occasionally but they quickly forget about it and continue chatting away with their mouths shut tight until they both laugh and move around which causes the snake to rattle. That scares them again and Albert apologizes respectfully to the snake. That's it. We never see that snake again. The suspense of the moment where we expect something terrible to happen because we know that a rattlesnake is a vicious killer, is simply used to deliver dialogue that probably wouldn't have been as funny without the tension, and the result (whether intended or not) is that a rattlesnake is shown to be not so vicious after all. We already knew by this point in the movie that Albert is a "coward" who doesn't act the way a man is supposed to act on the western frontier. He prefers a peaceful resolution to a potentially violent situation, and this scene just confirms that and proves that it's the better way to act. But don't worry, Macfarland isn't losing his edge, later in the movie Neil Patrick Harris craps in somebody's hat.

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Another herp joke in the movie is at the County Fair when we see booths in the background offering the "Exotic Wonders" of birds and reptiles.

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Later in the movie, Albert is hallucinating from a drug given to him by some Indians he befriended who help him find his path, and we see him in a hallucination-dream sequence. He sees giant sheep guarding an enormous door with a metal door handle that looks like a rattlesnake. (I want one of those!) The handle-snake comes alive and strikes at him when he tries to grab it to open the door.

I just assumed that this handle and the animated sequence was designed and made completely on a computer, but not so. It was based on a real sculpture, which you can see below. A friend saw the pictures on this page and told Jennifer Cook, the artist and herp enthusiast who was commissioned to do the door handle for the film, so she sent me a picture of the early version of the sculpture before it was finished for the movie. She doesn't own it or have it for sale, but she might have something similar soon, and she makes other snake items.

3 Idiots
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Finally we see the rattlesnake-involved way to die in the west, but not the one we expect - here only the snake's venom is used as a weapon.

This is going to get a bit spoilery.

During the climactic gun fight between Albert and Clinch, a notorious gunfighter, Albert shoots Clinch in the arm before he can shoot. Then Clinch shoots the gun out of Albert's hand. Albert begs Clinch to let him say some last words before he dies and also to let him sing a Muslim preparing-for-death chant. He's stalling, because he poisoned the bullet and is waiting for the venom to get into Clinch's blood. When Clinch falls to the ground, Albert tells him what he did, in a long-winded explanation that is so long someone has to interrupt him because Clinch died before the explanation was over.

During Albert's long story, we see flashbacks of the same group of Indians we saw earlier who helped Albert with psychedelic drugs. Here we see them milking the venom from a western diamond-backed rattlesnake and putting it into a hollow-tipped bullet. Albert tells Clinch that there are a million ways to die in the west, including snakes, but you don't have to get bitten. It only takes a little bit of rattlesnake venom in your blood and you're screwed. It's sort of funny in the movie, but it's basically the same load of bull about rattlesnake or any snake venom that we see in most movies - a little bit of rattlesnake venom probably won't kill anybody. It'll make them feel miserable, and they might lose fingers, an arm, or a leg, depending on where they were bitten, but chances are very good they'll live. And if they do die, it will not happen instantly. I get the feeling that Seth MacFarlane is aware of that and is using it as another joke on us, the gullible audience for the Western movies he's parodying, who have learned from the movies to see all rattlesnakes as instant-death machines.