Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sssssss (1973)

The storied producing team of David Brown and Richard Zanuck (Jaws) got off to an inauspicious start with their first release, the underwhelming mad-scientist flick Sssssss. The storyline, which takes quite a while to get moving, depicts the efforts of Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) to perfect a serum that turns people into snakes, because he considers snakes a superior life form to human beings. Stoner recruits an eager lab assistant, David (Dirk Benedict), and administers a series of mysterious injections under the ruse of “inoculating” David against bites from venomous serpents. Meanwhile, Stoner’s daughter, Kristina (Heather Menzies), falls for David and spurns the advances of mean-spirited jock Steve (Reb Brown); her involvement with David gets complicated when he starts growing scales, and let’s just say that Steve and snakes don’t get along. The cheaply made Sssssss isn’t out-and-out awful, because the storyline makes sense and there are commendable elements, including some intense music from composer Patrick Williams. However, the deadly serious storytelling keeps raising expectations that the movie is about to go someplace really creepy, but instead viewers get drab dialogue scenes and vignettes of Benedict smothered in ridiculous half-man/half-snake prosthetics. The producers wisely included lots of footage of real cobras and pythons and such, guaranteeing a reaction from the vast swath of the viewing public afflicted with some measure of ophidiophobia. Yet aside from seeing future Battlestar Galactica star Benedict before his roguish charm was fully cultivated, the main novelty is watching Martin play outside his wheelhouse. A world-class character actor usually cast as unsophisticated Southern creeps, Martin gets to play an academic in Sssssss, so it’s fun to see him depict admirable and even amiable qualities before he goes bonkers and starts siccing black mambas on people who get in his way. If you give this one a look, make sure to slog through to the ending, which includes one of the most poorly executed special-effects sequences you’ll ever see in a theatrical feature, plus one of the oddest downbeat endings in the annals of ’70s cinema.

Sssssss: LAME

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