Reviewed by Ned Daigle
Rating: 1.5 Beans
ell, I rented the ridiculously titled "Sssssss" thinking it would have to be one of the worst pieces of cinematic garbage ever. But I was mildly surprised that it wasn't nearly as horrible as it should have been. After all, what can be expected from a movie about a mad scientist who turns men into snakes?
Strother Martin stars as Dr. Stoner, a scientist whose specialty is snakes (is that a herpatologist?), he runs a snake farm to extract venom and also "wrangles" them for eager audiences. He needs a new assistant for the summer and hires college student David, played by a very young and vacuous Dirk Benedict (from "Battlestar Galactica" and "The A-Team" fame). Anyway, during the course of the movie Martin proceeds to slowly turn Benedict into a king cobra. Essentially, that's the thrust of the story.
Benedict arrives to the farm to aid Martin in extracting venom from black mambas etc., along with Martin's daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies). There is mention of the former assistant, named Tim McGraw (not to be confused with the country singer), but no one is really sure what happened to him. Because the job is highly risky, Martin gives Benedict a series of "venom innoculations" to protect him from the poisons, it sounds bad, but luckily the filmmakers give us a trippy venom vision, which includes erupting volcanos and closeups of human ears and hands.
Benedict is slow (very very slow) to realize that something strange is happening to him. He begins to shed layers of skin, his facial features start to change, and eventually, he turns green and grows scales. Now, Benedict's character remains oblivious to the fact that Martin is up to no good. which is very unbelievable. Benedict has something else happen and Martin just says "It's just a normal reaction to the shots" and Benedict accepts it. By the film's end, there is the ultimate transformation, and our young hero does indeed become a cobra.
Besides the performance of Benedict, there are some other problems with "Sssssss". First, Martin's evil doctor is not all that evil, he's actually kind of nice, so you almost feel bad rooting against him, and his motivations for the experiments remain a mystery. To what purpose would turning people into snakes ultimately accomplish? I can't figure it out. Although the film moves along a quick pace, it becomes evident that nothing really happens. Sure, there are a couple of diversions, like when Benedict and Menzies visit a carnival to see the "snake-boy" and are slow to realize that it is Tim, the missing assistant, or the inclusion of supporting characters like Reb Brown (the hero from "Yor: The Hunter from the Future") who stars as a bully who Martin ends up killing by putting a black mamba in his shower in retaliation for Brown killing his prize boa constricter.
But the biggest problem has to be the ending. Talk about being unfinished? After Benedict completely turns into a cobra, Martin goes into the outdoor pen and has a "talk" with the other cobra, which bites and kills him. Menzies, who has now discovered what daddy's been up to, finds the Benedict-as-cobra wrestling on the floor with a mongoose. She screams. The credits roll. Huh? Talk about no third act.
The problems with "Sssssss" are enough to keep it from being a really cool cult-classic, but there is enough interesting stuff to make it worth a look. Goofy, strange, but ultimately unsatisfying.
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