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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sssssss (1973) Horror Mad Scientist

Sssssss (1973) - Boy how things have changed in the 40 years since this film was made. In a day when practical effects are fading from film and animals are more likely to be animated than live on set I look back at Sssssss which is proud of the fact that it uses real highly venomous snakes and takes the time to thank the actors for putting their lives at risk. A mad scientist, Dr Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) thinks the world is going to shit and the only way that mankind is going to survive is to be more cold blooded. Of course Stoner has a strange plan for making sure we survive. He is a snake expert and through his experiments is trying to give snakes human intelligence. We know right from the beginning that Stoner is not on the up and up. The opening scenes show him and a carnival side show manager are loading a crate interestingly human size onto  the carny's truck. The sound coming from the darkened crate are human-ish but not quite. The opening definitely pulls you right in wondering what this guy is up too.
  Stoner is a snake researcher working out of his house with his daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies-Urich) as an assistant. He also employs a local student also David Blake (Dirk Benedict) who looks to get some school credit for his work. The research is very seldom discussed in the film more Kristina is around to show how the Stoner is down and out not being able to get research grants. He is a bit of a lush as well as a disagreeable fellow when it comes to kissing establishment ass. Its sort of strange really because the actor really makes him a likable character.  Blake is the new guy to replace the last assistant Tim (Noble Craig) who mysteriously disappeared to take care of a sick family member. He is young and naive and happily takes the injections from the doctor as immunization to the many dangerous snakes in the lab. The last main character is Harry the alcoholic pet boa constrictor who plays his role with honesty totally selling it.
  So what is really happening in this film?  I am not really giving anything away by talking about the plot because the film does not try to hide anything. We as the audience completely understand what the intentions of every character from the moment they are introduced. There is no subtlety, or nuance to any of the characters. Stoner is a scientist trying to turn his male assistant into a snake with human intelligence, the only question the film leaves is will he be successful? Will Blake figure out what is happening before it is too late? Will the excessively blinded by love daughter pay attention to things enough to realize her new love interest is changing and will she confront her father or remain loyal? Seeing how these questions get answered is the reason to watch this film. You can tell early on how it is going to go but there are some fun things along the way.
  • We get to see Stoner hypnotize and then milk a king cobra for its venom.
  • We get to watch the development of the relationship between Kristina and Blake including the most rediculous blocking of naked bodies when they go skinny dipping by putting something in front of the lense, so obvious and silly.
  • We get to see the tough guy Steve Randall (Reb Brown, who later played Captain America) throw around Dirk Benedict before the tables are turned with Blake doing his patented snake strike fighting move.
  • We see the transformation of man into snake, as well as the failed attempt on poor Tim.
  • We get to hear some one say the line. "Freaks, that what you are a bunch of snake freaks."
  • See a man have to put his hand into a cage with a viper to get a key only to miss the large snake in the rafters.
  • We also get to see Blake fight for his life against a mongoose.
  Its an interesting thing, the police get involved but more because they hear things than actually having interest about a home snake lab in the county. When things get crazy they come in at the end to clean up the pieces but really are never an antagonistic factor. Stoner is the main player and in the end he may realize his dream of a snake with human intelligence.
  Is this movie worth a view? Well that is a hard call. On one hand it is a uniquely 70s film and I do so love much of the mumbo jumbo that came out in those years. On the other hand it is a very predictable movie with every turn telegraphed. Really only the ending scenes are a mystery in this one. Some of the acting is good particularly Strother Martin, but Benedict and Menzies-Urich are not so much. Cameos by the Carny Kogen (Tim O'Conner) and Prof. Daniels (Richard Shull) are excellent while most are cartoonish and not so good. So I think although I really didn't mind watching the film that it falls into the category of "Ed liked it but you probably won't." So I am not recommending this one.
Rating (4.2) 5.0 and up are recommended , some more recommended than others.

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