Ssssssss


1h 39m 1973

Brief Synopsis

College student David Blake gets a job as lab assistant to Dr. Stoner after the doctor's previous assistant mysteriously leaves town. Dr. Stoner is doing research with venomous snakes and begins David on a course of injections to protect him against being bitten. Before long, David notices some stra

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Jan 1973
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Zanuck/Brown Company
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m

Synopsis

College student David Blake gets a job as lab assistant to Dr. Stoner after the doctor's previous assistant mysteriously leaves town. Dr. Stoner is doing research with venomous snakes and begins David on a course of injections to protect him against being bitten. Before long, David notices some strange side effects from the shots. By now, he and Stoner's daughter Kristina are involved, and the doctor disapproves of their relationship. When Kristina visits a carnival freak show, she is alarmed that its "snakeman" looks very much like her father's precious assistant. Then, David realizes that he is being transformed into a King Cobra.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Jan 1973
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Zanuck/Brown Company
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m

Articles

Sssssss -


In the grand tradition of movies with titles like Phffft (1954) and $ (1971) comes this horror film, released in the U.K. with the somewhat more verbal title Ssssnake.

Yes, it's about snakes, a precursor to the animals-gone-rogue subgenre of the 1970s that includes Frogs (1972), The Swarm (1978), and most horrifying of all, the giant killer bunnies of Night of the Lepus (1972). One might well include the biggest bad beast movie, Jaws (1975), especially since that film shares the same producers as this one: David Brown (his debut executive producing) and Richard Zanuck (sandwiching this project between uncredited production of The Sound of Music, 1965, and The Sting, 1973).

This is not just your run-of-the-mill snakes-gone-wild flick. The closest antecedent to this is more likely H.G. Wells's 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (made into movies in 1977 and 1996), in which a mad scientist turns wild animals into strange humans. The mad doctor in this instance is bent on the opposite trajectory - turning a hapless college student into a snake. And all the poor boy wanted was a summer job! The trope lives - or stumbles - on in more recent years with Kevin Smith's horror comedy Tusk (2014).

The evil scientist here is played by Strother Martin, treating student Dirk Benedict even more harshly than he did Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967). This was Benedict's second feature film before gaining fame as part of TV's Battlestar Galactica and later The A-Team. Of course, what mad scientist movie would be complete without a pretty heroine, the crazed doctor's own daughter who falls for the unwitting victim? She's played by Heather Menzies, grown up a bit since her turn as one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. Menzies would later marry actor Robert Urich and add his name hyphenated to hers. She also starred in her own deadly critter movie, Piranha (1978), Roger Corman's bid to out-Jaws Jaws.

Real snakes were used in the production and venomous ones were not defanged so the film could capture scenes of milking them for venom, much as real-life herpetologist Bill Haast used to do at his Miami Serpentarium. Filming this action took most of a single day since the cobras were more inclined to try to escape than strike the standard threatening cobra pose.

The only time a fake snake was used during the shoot was for the scene where Martin grabs one by the head. Other than that, much squeamishness was performed live on set, including a shot in which Martin sticks an actual hypodermic needle into Benedict's arm.

This film was released by Universal as a double feature with The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973), one of the last double bills released by the studio.

The shoot proved to be rather grueling for Benedict, who had to spend up to seven hours a day in make-up to become the hideous snake man. In the final stages of the transformation, the actor had to be carried to the set on a stretcher.

Sssssss was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, best known for a long television career directing shows ranging from Perry Mason and The Untouchables in the 1960s to Columbo in the 70s and Knight Rider in the 80s.

As for Zanuck and Brown, they did all right for themselves after this, turning out such acclaimed and popular work as Steven Spielberg's theatrical feature debut The Sugarland Express (1974), the Sidney Lumet drama The Verdict (1982) and the Academy Award Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy (1989).

The film lives on as the cult object of a small but dedicated group of admirers. It also received some surprisingly favorable reviews, most notably from the New York Times critic Howard Thompson, who called it a "ss-surprise" and recommended it, with some reservations, as "a gripping, quietly imaginative hair curler."

Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
Producers: Richard Zanuck, David Brown
Screenplay: Hal Dresner, story by Dan Striepeke
Cinematography: Gerald Perry Finnerman
Editing: Robert Watts
Art Direction: John T. McCormack
Music: Patrick Williams
Cast: Strother Martin (Dr. Carl Stoner), Dirk Benedict (David Blake), Heather Menzies (Kristina Stoner), Richard B. Shull (Dr. Ken Daniels), Tim O'Connor (Kogen)

By Rob Nixon
Sssssss -

Sssssss -

In the grand tradition of movies with titles like Phffft (1954) and $ (1971) comes this horror film, released in the U.K. with the somewhat more verbal title Ssssnake. Yes, it's about snakes, a precursor to the animals-gone-rogue subgenre of the 1970s that includes Frogs (1972), The Swarm (1978), and most horrifying of all, the giant killer bunnies of Night of the Lepus (1972). One might well include the biggest bad beast movie, Jaws (1975), especially since that film shares the same producers as this one: David Brown (his debut executive producing) and Richard Zanuck (sandwiching this project between uncredited production of The Sound of Music, 1965, and The Sting, 1973). This is not just your run-of-the-mill snakes-gone-wild flick. The closest antecedent to this is more likely H.G. Wells's 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (made into movies in 1977 and 1996), in which a mad scientist turns wild animals into strange humans. The mad doctor in this instance is bent on the opposite trajectory - turning a hapless college student into a snake. And all the poor boy wanted was a summer job! The trope lives - or stumbles - on in more recent years with Kevin Smith's horror comedy Tusk (2014). The evil scientist here is played by Strother Martin, treating student Dirk Benedict even more harshly than he did Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967). This was Benedict's second feature film before gaining fame as part of TV's Battlestar Galactica and later The A-Team. Of course, what mad scientist movie would be complete without a pretty heroine, the crazed doctor's own daughter who falls for the unwitting victim? She's played by Heather Menzies, grown up a bit since her turn as one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. Menzies would later marry actor Robert Urich and add his name hyphenated to hers. She also starred in her own deadly critter movie, Piranha (1978), Roger Corman's bid to out-Jaws Jaws. Real snakes were used in the production and venomous ones were not defanged so the film could capture scenes of milking them for venom, much as real-life herpetologist Bill Haast used to do at his Miami Serpentarium. Filming this action took most of a single day since the cobras were more inclined to try to escape than strike the standard threatening cobra pose. The only time a fake snake was used during the shoot was for the scene where Martin grabs one by the head. Other than that, much squeamishness was performed live on set, including a shot in which Martin sticks an actual hypodermic needle into Benedict's arm. This film was released by Universal as a double feature with The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973), one of the last double bills released by the studio. The shoot proved to be rather grueling for Benedict, who had to spend up to seven hours a day in make-up to become the hideous snake man. In the final stages of the transformation, the actor had to be carried to the set on a stretcher. Sssssss was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, best known for a long television career directing shows ranging from Perry Mason and The Untouchables in the 1960s to Columbo in the 70s and Knight Rider in the 80s. As for Zanuck and Brown, they did all right for themselves after this, turning out such acclaimed and popular work as Steven Spielberg's theatrical feature debut The Sugarland Express (1974), the Sidney Lumet drama The Verdict (1982) and the Academy Award Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy (1989). The film lives on as the cult object of a small but dedicated group of admirers. It also received some surprisingly favorable reviews, most notably from the New York Times critic Howard Thompson, who called it a "ss-surprise" and recommended it, with some reservations, as "a gripping, quietly imaginative hair curler." Director: Bernard L. Kowalski Producers: Richard Zanuck, David Brown Screenplay: Hal Dresner, story by Dan Striepeke Cinematography: Gerald Perry Finnerman Editing: Robert Watts Art Direction: John T. McCormack Music: Patrick Williams Cast: Strother Martin (Dr. Carl Stoner), Dirk Benedict (David Blake), Heather Menzies (Kristina Stoner), Richard B. Shull (Dr. Ken Daniels), Tim O'Connor (Kogen) By Rob Nixon

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Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1973

Released in United States 1973