REVIEWED BY: Matt Black Posted on 14/01/2010
Killer animal movies; whether good or bad, it’s a sub-genre which has always managed to hit a weak spot within me. From The Birds to Night of the Lepus, Piranha to Cujo, I’m unashamed to admit my love for “nature taking revenge” plotlines. I guess they appeal to my Vegan ethics and my not so secret wish that most of humankind could be wiped from the face of the planet, in favour of an untainted animal kind being able to wander free.
The height of the “killer animal” genre was the 1970’s; Bernard L. Kowalski’s Sssssss pre-dating the Jaws pinnacle of 1975 (and its subsequent spate of cash-ins) by two years. Sssssss is however a different breed (no pun intended) to most films made in this spectrum at the time, which commonly focus upon a rampaging animal on the loose. Instead what we have here is a hybrid mixture with the traditional mad doctor genre ala Dr. Moreau, echoing the human monster movies from the 1950's such as The Alligator People or Cult of the Cobra.
Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin of Cool Hand Luke) has dedicated his life to the research of snakes - his Herpetologist’s belief being that his slithery reptile subjects will be the only creatures to survive a self-predicted ecological holocaust. Aided by his daughter, Kristina (Heather Menzies later seen in Piranha), they are joined by David Blake (Dirk Benedict), a university student looking to gain experience as a research assistant.
Of course, Dr. Stoner is not all that he initially seems; his providing David a great opportunity takes a somewhat darker turn after he has injected him with an “immunisation serum” against snake bites. David quickly finds himself unwell, sleeping for days upon end, but only when his skin begins to shed does he begin to realise Dr. Stoner’s true intentions and fanatical obsessions.
There’s very little in the way of being a plot spoiler in revealing what happens next, frankly if you don’t guess exactly where things are heading within watching the first ten minutes of Dr. Stoner’s snake handling exploits (or read the blurb on the DVD cover) then you simply don’t have pulse.
To put it bluntly, this is a film for those of us who want to see giant pythons and venomous cobras killing those who get in the not so good doctor’s way, while he carries out fiendish experiments upon his unwitting assistant. Ever wanted to see a jock bitten in the shower by a Black Mamba? How about Face from The A-Team (or Starbuck from Battlestar Galatica if you prefer) being turned into a half-human, half-king cobra abomination? Well here’s your chance. Throw in a love interest between a victimised Benedict and the blissfully unaware Menzies, a somewhat predictable "just desserts" ending and things are just about complete.
Trashy, dumb and yet a lot of fun, with make-up effects from John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) and a certain amount of style and charm, Sssssss has everything you could ask from a film that carried over a rather more innocent B-movie ethos from the 1950's and 60's into the 1970's.
DIRECTOR(S): Bernard L. Kowalski | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 1973 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Umbrella Entertainment | RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16:9 | REGION: | DISCS: 1
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