Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sssssss (1973)

Possibly the only film whose title is the same consonant repeated seven times, Bernard L Kowalski’s SSSSSSS comes across as a 1970s version of THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE, substituting snake venom for alligator serum, Strother Martin for George MacCready, and Heather Menzies for Beverly Garland. Good old Strother plays Dr Stoner, who is trying to create snake people for…well, no good reason really. There’s some mad scientist babbling about the next stage of evolution right at the end of the film but until then he’s just your average snake handler come loony boffin doing something daft because he’s obviously got nothing better to occupy his time. His first experiment, Tim, is a bit of a failure and gets carted off to the local freak show. At least, we assume it’s his first experiment, although for much of the movie Strother does spend rather too much time chatting to, and drinking scotch with, a python named Harry, who actually overdoes it at one point and has to be given Alka Seltzer to help his presumably upset snakey tummy. Harry doesn’t expand in the way one might expect a reptile with a simple digestive tract given large quantities of carbon-dioxide containing fizzy water to do but that’s because he has to be killed by evil soccer jock Reb Brown a little bit later on. Not unduly perturbed by this, Dr Stoner decides that the most appropriate method of revenge is to have Reb bitten by a Black Mamba. After all seeing as he’s the only one in the district, and quite possibly the state, to own such a creature suspicion could hardly fall on him, could it? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because Tim is now a resident at the kind of carnival sideshow that also includes an almost-naked lady cavorting on stage for the benefit of the movie’s trailer (and quite possibly poster art), Dr Stoner has to settle for Dirk Benedict as his new assistant, where he quickly settles into the routine of milking mambas, seducing Stoner’s daughter Heather Menzies, and receiving inoculations to ‘build up his immunity to cobra venom’. Cue lots of shots of shirtless Dirk for those members of the audience for whom the aforementioned dancing girl, and a curiously optically obscured naked Heather, (at least on my print) just will not do.
            Dirk starts to turn green and develop scales while Heather discovers the secret behind the carnival sideshow’s latest attraction. It all ends very bizarrely indeed, with Dirk turning into a King Cobra, begging the question: Why turn people into these things as the next stage in evolution if they already exist…oh, never mind. Dr Stoner goes and has a chat with the King Cobra he already has which promptly bites him, presumably out of jealously. Dirk Cobra gets attacked by a mongoose that has remained in its cage throughout the entire film but finally at the 95 minute mark has worked out how to pick the lock. Heather turns up with the comedy police (at least I hope they were meant to be comedy police) so everything can be shot and Heather can scream and scream.
            As a monster movie SSSSSSS isn’t bad at all. The plot is barmy, but no less so than its 1950s counterparts, and the makeup by John Chambers is pretty good. The snake handling sequences are also very well put together. Bernard Kowalski was also responsible for sweaty deep South low budget AIP pic ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES, but that’s a different kettle of wriggly things altogether.File this one under 'S' for Something Snakey & Silly.


  1. Apparently the UK video version was cut by 27 secs by the BBFC to heavily edit a scene where a snake fights a mongoose.

    Additionally, one of the video versions (the IMDb doesn't specify the source of it, or even if it is specifically a DVD and not tape one) has alternate footage of Heather Menzies' nude bathing scene.

  2. Well as said in an earlier post, I watched this like in 1980 on Philippine TV...I found it to be an entertaining afternoon movie back then. Watched it again in 2008, well the movie has really aged but the movie has that 1970s drive in feel. This is an AIP production of course.

  3. It feels like an AIP production but in fact it was produced for Universal by Richard Zanuck and David Brown just before they hit the big time with JAWS!