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Sssssss (released as Ssssnake in the United Kingdom and Japan) is a 1973 American horror film starring Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict and Heather Menzies. It was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski and written by Hal Dresner and Daniel C. Striepeke, the latter of whom also produced the film. The make-up effects were created by John Chambers and Nick Marcellino. It received a nomination for the Best Science Fiction Film award of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1975.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bernard L. Kowalski|
|Produced by||Daniel C. Striepeke|
|Written by||Hal Dresner |
Daniel C. Striepeke
Richard B. Shull
|Music by||Patrick Williams|
|Cinematography||Gerald Perry Finnerman|
|Edited by||Robert Watts|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$1 million (US/Canada rentals)|
Dr. Carl Stoner (Martin), a herpetologist, sells a mysterious creature in a crate to a carnival owner. He later hires college student David Blake (Benedict) as an assistant, claiming that his previous assistant had left town to attend to a sick relative. Unbeknownst to David or anyone else, Stoner is a delusional man, convinced that humanity is doomed and is attempting to prepare for what he believes to be the inevitable by working out a method of transforming humans into reptiles that can survive any ecological disaster that would wipe humanity out.
Stoner begins David on a course of injections, purportedly as a safeguard against being bitten by a snake in his lab. David's skin slowly starts to change and even peel like a snakeskin. He begins to have strange nightmares and goes into a coma when having dinner with Stoner, not waking up until a few days later. He also begins to lose weight as well, but Stoner tells him those are side effects from the venom. David begins a romance with Stoner's daughter Kristina (Menzies), although her father objects and insists that she not have any sexual relations with him.
When David wakes up the next morning, he looks in the mirror and screams in horror. Later, a distraught David is in the lab, where Stoner gives him another injection. Meanwhile, a suspicious colleague of Stoner's, Dr. Daniels, arrives to inspect the property. Stoner attempts to hide David in a corner, but David gets enough strength to walk to a window, allowing Daniels to see that his face has become green and scaly. Before Daniels can react, Stoner knocks him out and feeds him to a python, and David collapses.
Kristina visits a carnival freak show and is horrified when she sees a bizarre "snake-man," whom she recognizes as Stoner's previous assistant. Distraught, she races back home to save David, who is currently mutating into a king cobra, brought about by Stoner's injections. Stoner is bitten by a real king cobra from his lab and dies, just as David's transformation is complete. Kristina arrives home and finds her father's body with the real cobra next to him. Growing suspicious, the police arrive and shoot the cobra before heading to the lab where a mongoose is attacking David's neck, attempting to kill him. But the police do not have a clear shot, and as Kristina screams David's name, the movie ends abruptly, leaving their fates uncertain.
- Strother Martin as Dr. Carl Stoner
- Dirk Benedict as David Blake
- Heather Menzies as Kristina Stoner
- Richard B. Shull as Dr. Ken Daniels
- Tim O'Connor as Kogen
- Jack Ging as Sheriff Dale Hardison
- Kathleen King as Kitty Stewart
- Reb Brown as Steve Randall
- Ted Grossman as Deputy Morgan Bock
- Charles Seel as Old man
- Ray Ballard as Waggish Tourist
- Noble Craig as Tim McGraw, the Snake Man
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The venomous snakes in the film were not defanged during production. Five king cobras were imported from Thailand for this feature, ranging from 10–15 ft in length. They were recently caught in good health from the wild with full venom potency. The "Snake Park" milking scenes were real and meant to mimic what Bill Haast did at his Miami Serpentarium in Florida daily. About one ounce of venom was collected during each take with no harm to the snakes. A different cobra was used for each take. The filming of this part of the movie took most of a day, as the cobras spent most of their time trying to escape the fenced enclosure rather than rising up in the traditional cobra attack mode.
Sssssss remained unreleased on home video in the United States until 1997, when it was issued by MCA Universal. It also received VHS releases in Japan and Spain by CIC Video, under the titles Ssssnake and Sssilbido de Muerte, respectively.
The film made its DVD debut on September 7, 2004, via Universal, who would re-release the film three additional times in 2009, 2011 and 2014. The 2011 release was part of a four-film "Cult Horror Collection," with The Funhouse, Phantasm II and The Serpent and the Rainbow. A DVD was also released in Japan on April 7, 2010.
Sssssss received its first Blu-ray release on April 26, 2016, via Shout Factory, which included new interviews with stars Dirk Benedict and Heather Menzies as bonus features. It also received a Blu-ray release in Australia on February 1, 2017, via Shock Entertainment.
Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film "a ss-surprise. Were it not for the lurid, starkly flapping windup, this would be recommended in toto as a gripping, quietly imaginative hair-curler. It is the only movie fiction I have ever seen that sustains a scholarly, informative attitude toward the world of snakes. This aspect is fascinating and chilling, as a gentle old venom researcher, Strother Martin, putters around with cobras and pythons in a country lab." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4, writing, "Even after 40 years of improved film technology, the climactic scene in 'SSSSSSS' fails to match the drama of that moment when Frankenstein's monster sits up on the table." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "highly amusing and genuinely creepy," and praised the "spectacular makeup." Keith Alain of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that an "attractive streak of humour suggests in the early stages that Ssssnake may turn into a macabre little thriller on the lines of The Fly," and lamented that "parody is eventually jettisoned in favour of portentous horror ... The rather disparate and ludicrous plot is not made any smoother by Bernard L. Kowalski's direction, which manages to be lumberingly predictable even in its borrowings (the Freaks-ish sideshow sequences, for example)." Leonard Maltin gave the film three out of a possible four stars, praising the film's "exceptional" make-up effects.
Donald Guarisco from AllMovie gave the film a negative review. In his retrospective review he wrote, "Sssssss fails because it emulates the films that inspired it all too closely: the story moves forward at a laboriously slow pace, and its threadbare plot makes it all too easy for the viewer to pick apart its plot holes and implausible elements. To make matters worse, the characterizations and dialogue never rise above the level of a subpar comic book and the anticlimactic finale is likely to frustrate even the most patient viewer."
- "Sssssss - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
- Tom Weaver, Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: Writers, Producers, Directors, Actors, Moguls and Makeup McFarland, 1 Jan 2006 p 228
- "Big Rental Films of 1973," Variety, 9 January 1974, p. 60.
- Howard Thompson (2 August 1973). "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973) 'Sssssss' and 'Werewolf' Blend Horror". The New York Times.
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- "Sssssss Blu-ray (Australia)". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
- Thompson, Howard (2 August 1973). "' Sssssss' and 'Werewolf' Blend Horror". The New York Times: 31.
- Siskel, Gene (August 9, 1973). "How bad 'Sssssss' it?" Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
- Thomas, Kevin (July 20, 1973). "'Sssssss,' 'Boy' Fill Chill Bill". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 15.
- Alain, Keith (November 1973). "Ssssnake". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 40 (478): 232.
- Maltin, Leonard; Sader, Luke; Carson, Darwyn; Edelman, Rob. Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Press. p. 1318. ISBN 978-0-451-41810-4.
- Guarisco, Donald. "Sssssss (1973) - Bernard Kowalski". AllMovie.com. Donald Guarisco. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
- "Sssssss (1973) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 27 November 2018.