Sssssss (1973)

Growing up in the 70’s, Sssssss (1973)(with 7 s’s) was one of my favorite films. It has it all —a mad doctor, venomous snakes (and a lot of them), superb makeup by John Chambers, and a confrontation between a King Cobra and a mongoose. I saw Sssssss at a drive-in, which was the perfect venue for viewing this film. It’s B-movie all the way, with Bernie Kowalski (Attack of the Giant Leeches and Night of the Blood Beast) effectively directing the fun. However, unlike other snake films of the 70’s, such as Stanley (1972), a terrible film about a loner who kills with a rattlesnake, and Fer-de-Lance (1974), which pre-dated Snakes on a Plane by placing venomous serpents on a submarine, Sssssss like the underrated Venom (1981), which featured a black mamba, uses real venomous snakes (not harmless constrictors). The King Cobra and the vipers shown in the film are all real. (The black mamba might be an exception and looks a bit like a racer or a rat snake, which look a bit like a mamba).

Sssssss was also inspired by the life-long work of herpetologist Bill Haast (image below) from the Miami Serpentarium (now defunct).  Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) plays Haast to the hilt, clad in white lab coat, with snake hook, and hands on milking of the giant King Cobra (the world’s longest venomous snake).  Haast even used a caulking gun to force feed his snakes, as also depicted in Sssssss.  

Bill Haast at the Miami Serpentarium, 1972

Dr. Carl Stoner greets the King.

Sssssss stars young Dirk Benedict, as David Blake,  who plays Stoner’s assistant and guinea pig, and Heather Menzies (Piranha), as Stoner’s daughter and love interest for David.  Through progressive injections of cobra venom, Stoner hopes to transform David into the pinnacle of evolution: a sentient King Cobra.  We also learn of a previous assistant in a creepy side-show sequence reminiscent of Todd Browning’s Freaks.

What sets Sssssss apart from run-of-the mill drive-in fodder is John Chamber’s remarkable makeup.  Chambers of course is best known for his work on Planet of the Apes.  In Sssssss, the prosthetic appliances and optical effects never appear shoddy.  It makes the whole film work.  Today, the film would no doubt be rendered with CG. The concept of a man turning into a cobra is ridiculous, but Chamber’s makeup is so compelling (and stylish) we accept the premise.  Something is lost with CG.  

The final stages of evolution.  A cobra-human hybrid.

This close-up of the evolved cobra “David” reminds me of the “Star-Child” from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

And of course there is the ending and the final freeze frame. How can we ever forget that?

I picked up Sssssss on a 4 bill movie marathon DVD with Fun House, Phantasm II and The Serpent and the Rainbow.  $4.99 at Best Buy. What a deal.

PS—

I spoke with Dirk Benedict at the Motor City Comic Con May 2011.  He noted the final make-up appliance by John Chambers took approximately 12 hours.

http://www.venomousreptiles.org/libraries/Bill%20Haast

2 Responses to “Sssssss (1973)”

  1. If you like Sssssss, you might also like “Isle Of The Snake People” 1971, with Boris Karloff.

  2. […] Monster Minions review […]

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