Movie Reviews 242 – Sssssss (1973)

SssssssWhat we’ve got here is a failure to think logically about a solution to the world’s problems”. Imagine that in a southern drawl as only Strother Martin can utter in his classic Cool Hand Luke prison captain role.

Nutty ophiologist Dr. Carl Stoner (Martin) believes that the world’s inevitable ecological downfall is at hand with all the smog and pollution and that his clandestine research at his remote reptile lab will be the answer. Sadly, for newly hired hand David Blake (Dirk Benedict of original Battlestar Galactica fame), a student just looking to make a bit of coin, this means that he will be the next attempt to be a human-snake combining the intelligence of man with reptilian resilience to weather and climate extremes. I guess poor crazy Stoner (how apropos a name) never gave much thought of the loss of hands, arms, and legs as utile accoutrements that may actually be helpful for survival.

Blake naively believes Stoner’s explanation for giving him the injections as a way to build up immunity to venom and other perils he may encounter working alongside the doctor. Meanwhile  Stoner’s daughter and fellow researcher Kristina (Heather Menzies) is slowly falling for Blake. The transformation is slow at first with only sensitivity to temperatures and such, but just as the changes become drastic and Blake finds himself a prisoner, just as Kristina also stumbles upon the truth when she encounters the results of one of her father’s past failures being exhibited as a sideshow freak in a travelling carnival.

I loved this movie when I first saw it on the now defunct Scream satellite channel. It oozes chintzy 70’s horror but at the same time delivers some freaky transformation effects. There are a few side plots that include nosey cops and bullying school jock, but all you really care about when watching a movie like this are the reptiles, and there are plenty of them here, including a few real freaks of nature. I rate this a close second to my all time favorite herpetology movie: The Reptile, a Hammer studios film that is much darker, gothic and really scared the bejesus out of me when I saw it as a preschooler.

On a side note, Planet of the Apes enthusiasts and fans (such as myself) will be familiar with a number of the crew credits. Makeup and prosthetics master John Chambers, celebrated for creating the original classic PotA apes, provided some of the snake effects, while his fx partner in crime Dan Striepeke co-wrote the script here. There is a “blink and you’ll miss him” moment where Felix Silla who played the role of Gorilla Child in the scene where Taylor is being chased through an ape funeral in a simian house of worship is now one of the circus freaks in the travelling carnival. Finally, Richard Zanuck was a producer for both movies.

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