Sssssss (1973) – By Cary Conley

As a child I remember seeing this film several times on early cable reruns.  I remember being captivated by the whole film, especially the part where a man turns into a huge King Cobra.  I’ve looked for a copy of it off and on for years, never really making it a priority, but every once in a while combing the Internet just the same.

So it was that I ran across an announcement that it had finally been released on DVD and I finally got around to watching it, keeping into account that my childhood memories were sure to be different than the actual experience of seeing this film again after about 25 years.

With a PG rating, I would imagine that this was perfect fodder for both network and early cable television.  In fact, it plays very much like a made-for-TV movie or Movie of the Week (remember those?).

Dr. Stoner (Strother Martin) is a preeminent herpetologist who studies snakes and, along with his pretty daughter Kristina (character actress Heather Menzies), runs a venom-milking business to fund much of his research.  After his college graduate assistant disappears, he hires a new assistant, David Blake (Dirk Benedict of Battlestar Galactica and A-Team fame).  Dr. Stoner must give David several injections of "cobra venom" over the course of a few weeks, ostensibly to protect him from a possible bite, but in reality, the injections are an experimental serum meant to turn David into a snake.  Of course, Dr. Stoner’s original assistant didn’t disappear, rather he was a failed experiment that was sold to a carnival freak show as a "half-man, half-snake".  I’m not really giving anything away as this is all told in a very straightforward way in the movie’s narrative.   The real tension–if you can call it that–comes from whether or not Kristina and David, who have fallen in love, will figure out what’s going on in time to stop David’s transformation.

Really, the film is a kids movie, and it hooked me as a 10-year-old kid.  There are some side plots, including various scenes at the carnival freak show (along with some not-so-subtle commentary on the exploitation of carnival freaks), a subplot involving the local football star who is a bully and wants Kristina, and of course, plenty of excuses to bring the snakes out for show, which is really the selling point of this film.

Dr. Stoner uses his snakes to kill anyone who tries to get in the way of his experiments, including throwing a black mamba into the football star’s shower and feeding his arch-nemesis to a huge python.  The snakes are real but the special effects are just…well, real bad.  Cheesy and hokey, but again, perfect for a 10-year-old watching the Saturday afternoon horror show on TV.

I had fun reliving my childhood, but was glad I got this on Netflix instead of dropping any cash for it as it was a good diversion but ultimately not worth owning.  If you like B-grade cheesy horror films, I would recommend this as an interesting diversion.  Good, clean fun and nothing offensive here, except maybe the effects.