by: Dr. Boogie
Ever heard of a little film called "SSSSSSS"? That's seven S's, each more sibilant than the last. It's a movie about a mad scientist obsessed with snakes, though for the first third of the movie you could be forgiven for thinking that it was just a long filmstrip about exotic snakes. Eventually, though, it gets around to delivering on the trailer that promised us a man-snake hybrid.
The movie opens with a card explaining that all the snakes shown were real. Except the snakeman, but we'll get to that in a moment. This is pretty much the only scary moment of the whole film. The rest is just jump cuts of snakes lunging at the camera and actors jumping backwards like they've been bitten, or calmly waving their arms while a python clings to them.
If there's one thing we know here at I-Mockery, it's that even crappy movies can have a silver lining. In this case, the silver lining is severely tarnished, and the cloud is a slow, boring cloud about snakes and bad makeup. Enjoy:
#5: David's "Immunization"!
Meet Dr. Stoner and David. David has come to Dr. Stoner's snake ranch to help out with the snakes and score some college credit on the side. He asks Dr. Stoner what he can do to help, and the good doctor responds, "I just hope you're not afraid of needles."
You see, in order to work in the lab, David needs to get a series of injections to immunize him from all the different snake venoms. Now right away, that's a big red flag. Who the hell is going to trust a herpetologist to give them an immunization? As anyone who has seen our coverage of Anaconda 3 can tell you, herpetologists don't know shit (Editor's note: Dr. Boogie's remarks do not represent the opinions of I-Mockery. If you are a herpetologist and are offended by his remarks, we apologize. Please don't transform us into snake men). But no, David has no objections to getting a series of undocumented injections from a man with no medical training.
And so begins the slow transformation process. At first, it's just a series of intense hallucinatory dream sequences (again, no sign that David thinks this is a problem), but pretty soon, his behavior starts to change subtly, like when he bite-fights the local hothead:
Even in the seventies, this had to have looked pretty ridiculous.
#4: The "Snake Man"!
In between injections, David woos Dr. Stoner's daughter, Kristina, and convinces her to go on a date with him to the carnival. The rides are okay, but what really gets David going is the chance to ogle some freaks in the freakshow, in particular the "snake man". The barker offers a crisp thousand dollar bill to anyone who can prove the snake man is fake. David is eager to check it out, probably because he realizes that an actual thousand dollar bill would be worth way more than a thousand bucks. One wonders how such a rare piece of currency found its way into the hands of a filthy carny. Regardless, David can't see anything fake about the snake man, but I'll let you be the judge:
Bright green skin, rounded fish-like scales, pointy snake-like beak, looks like a pretty convincing snake man to me. On the other hand, his limbs regressing into flippers kind of makes him look more like a seal man. They should give him a bicycle horn to play with his mouth, maybe toss him a fish every now and then when he's been good. I'll bet that would boost attendance.
At this point, the audience understands that the snake man is Tim, the heretofore missing research student who had been helping Dr. Stoner prior to his disappearance. Tim was apparently just as dumb as David, as he too had been receiving the "immunization" injections, only they left him as a dumb-looking green thing with flippers. Oh well, as long as Dr. Stoner can keep getting students to come up to his isolated lab and submit to questionable medical procedures, I'm sure he'll eventually work it out.
#3: Reb Brown!
More than anything else, what I'll most remember about this movie is that it was the film debut of B-movie actor Reb Brown. Fans of Doc Mock's Movie Mausoleum will undoubtedly recognize him from his roles in such cinematic blockbusters as Robowar and Strike Commando. If you've never seen him act before, the thing to know about Reb Brown is that he brings it. He may not be the world's greatest actor, but what he lacks in range, he more than makes up for in energy. Energy and intensity. Reb's acting is like an exploding star bombarding you with cosmic radiation while simultaneously screaming at you until you go deaf. In fact, his screaming is what he's best known for, and it's how I recognized him in the movie:
Reb plays Steve Randall, a jock at the local college and a completely unhinged psychopath. If Steve were a real person, he'd be serving a life sentence before reaching his 18th birthday. Here, though, he's content with beating up his friends and menacing the protagonists. At one point, David calls him a neanderthal, and Steve offers up this bon mot:
Sometimes I wonder how Reb has made it this long without blowing out his vocal chords.
Steve is such a lunatic that he looks up Kristina's address and drives to her house after she spurns him at the carnival. He tries to sneak into her bedroom, but he panics when Harry, Dr. Stoner's pet python, coils around his arm. In a fit of flailing he kills the snake, then drives off. Big mistake, Steve.
Dr. Stoner throws a black mamba into a bag and sneaks into Steve's apartment while Steve is in the shower. I'll spare you the blurry shot of Reb's hinder, as well as his dulcet rendition of "On Top of Old Smoky". The important bit is that Dr. Stoner tosses the snake into the shower with Steve, he gets bitten, and he dies. The entire sequence is a little... odd:
I wonder if the director intended for this sequence to accentuate the subtext of an old man sneaking up on a young man in the shower and giving him a taste of his "snake".
#2: Dr. Daniels!
Dr. Daniels is Dr. Stoner's "friend" and the department chairman of the college that's funding Dr. Stoner's research. I say "friend" because apparently there's some sort of bad history between them now, and Dr. Daniels acts like kind of a dick. Only kind of, though, and once you see how crazy Dr. Stoner is, you can understand why his former friend is hinting at him being a loon and being a little rude with him in general. Mostly, though, I remember him for looking a bit too much like Matt Besser's grandmother.
Dr. Daniels doesn't play a major role in the film, but he's worth mentioning because of his death near the end of the film:
Dr. Daniels' fate is sealed when he sees David's new, snakey face. Dr. Stoner knocks him out and drags him to the basement for a little game: Dr. Daniels is chained to the wall, and there are two keys to unlock said chains in the two tanks on the table in front of him. The kicker is that the tanks contain similar-looking snakes, one highly venomous and one harmless. Throughout the film, Dr. Stoner has claimed that Dr. Daniels is a lousy herpetologist who doesn't know a thing about snakes, so I assume this was his way of proving it. It doesn't work, though, as Dr. Daniels quickly identifies which snake is not venomous, grabs the key out of that tank, and unlocks his chains.
And then a boa constrictor shows up and strangles him. I guess Dr. Stoner was right: Dr. Daniels was completely unaware that basements are a boa constrictor's natural habitat. Not only that, but they can completely devour a man in less than five minutes.
Boy, does that snake have his foot in his mouth! Ahahahahahaha!
#1: The Thrilling Climax!
Throughout the movie, David has been receiving regular injections that are slowly turning him into some sort of snake-human hybrid; He's more sensitive to the cold, he bites his enemies in silly snakelike manner, and his skin starts to show a tinge of green. Then one morning, he's completely green and covered with scales. Oh, and his arms and legs quit working.
This makes it much easier for Dr. Stoner to strap him down and administer the final dose; the one that should make him into a real snake man creature, and not a freakshow-grade snake man like the one from the carnival. He gives David the shot, and the magic begins:
Yeah, you're going to get some shrinkage with your new snake serum. You know, with his smaller, round head and wide mouth, he looks kind of familiar:
Ah, that's right! I forgot that goombas are reptiles, too. Maybe Dr. Stoner just wants to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom.
The transformation continues...
He's definitely starting to get snake-like now. His arms and legs are totally gone, but he's still got a fairly large body, and maybe some venom, too. Things could still be looking up for David as the prototype for a race of snake... oh wait, there's more.
So... he's now completely a king cobra. Not a snake with a human face, not a man with scaly skin and fangs, not a giant snake with big, muscular human arms. He's just a snake. I have to say, this is a little disappointing. You kind of imagine a snake-human hybrid to be a little more than just a snake that allegedly has the intelligence of a man. Dr. Stoner, however, is pleased as punch with the results. He's so excited that he decides to go play with his other king cobra, which bites him a couple times, and he dies. *sigh* Herpetologists...
As for David, he may be stuck in the body of a snake, but he has all the intelligence of a college student! How many snakes do you know that can play hacky sack, or fill out their FAFSA paperwork? Probably none, since those things require limbs, but I'm sure there are plenty of other useful things that David can do.
Sadly, David doesn't know any techniques for subduing a mongoose that don't involve using your opposable thumbs. Kristina arrives just in time to see this epic struggle, and she immediately recognizes that the snake is David. How does she know this? Well obviously, when she saw ol' Torso Boy back at the freak show, she knew that she was looking at Tim, so it stands to reason that she would intuit that her father had created a serum to turn men into snakes, used an early version of the serum on Tim, and used the perfected version to gradually (yet suddenly) turn David into a king cobra. She's very smart, that one. Now if she could use that brain of hers to, say, stop the mongoose from killing her boyfriend instead of using all her energy to scream, that'd be great. Unfortunately, the credits roll before we find out if she can manage that.
I often hear about movies from long ago that freaked people out when they first saw them, but have lost their impact over time. I'm tempted to believe that SSSSSSS was never all that scary, even back when having live snakes on the set was all it took to make a scary movie. Strother Martin does a good job as the mad scientist, but he loses a little bit of his menace when he has to wrestle his king cobra in front of tourists for pocket change, and the rest he loses when he lets that same snake kill him for some unknown reason at the end. Then again, maybe he was just upset that instead of making a man-snake hybrid, all he wound up making was an exceptionally dumb cobra.
But hey, how about that Reb Brown?
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