The Film (4/5)
“All the reptiles shown in this film are real.”
That’s the first thing you see after the studio bump in Bernard L. Kowalski’s SSSSSSS (don’t say it, hiss it). And it does a good job of setting the tone, because you’re going to see a lot of reptiles. But before we get to those, we open in the middle of the night, a clandestine transaction taking place as a crate containing a distressed mystery creature is loaded up into the back of a truck. The two men exchange a little heightened banter about genius and great work and failure, all the while the…thing in the crate keeps whimpering. Talk about setting a tone.
After the title sequence, we discover that the man who was selling the mystery crate is Doctor Carl Stoner, a world-renowned herpetologist who’s three decades deep into snake venom research, and he’s looking for a new assistant after his previous helper just up and disappears. That’s when we meet Dirk Benedict’s David Blake, a dopey but well-meaning student who agrees to take the job at Dr. Stoner’s snake farm. Once there he meets (and eventually starts a romance with) Stoner’s daughter Krystina (Menzies) and begins a barrage of inoculations against snake venom, since he’s going to be working so closely with them.
But pretty soon David starts to notice small, but progressively more extreme transformations, and we’re left to wonder if the inoculations – and Dr. Stoner himself – are a little more than what they seem to be.
We won’t go into much more of the plot than that because if you’ve never seen it it’s fun to watch it sort of unfold on its own without having it all laid out in front of you.
And while the plot isn’t the most ambitious thing in the world, it asks for some pretty lofty things, especially in an era of practical effects, and Kowalski steers a pretty solid ship. The script and performances are really good, the makeup is enough to make anyone sit up and pay attention, and every single person involved is having an absolute blast, so it’s infectious. And it’s the real snakes that help elevate everything, because when people are being bitten, they’re actually being bitten, so there’s a real palpable sense of danger and high stakes. And it all gels into a movie that’s not going to be an all-timer or a classic, but is absolutely fun, and interesting, and a breezy, compelling watch.
ScreamFactory offers up a 1.85:1 1080p transfer (though I’m not sure about the source they used) with a DTS Stereo track. It’s gorgeous and it sounds great but it’s a pretty standard early-70s movie in terms of both of those things. Nothing to show off a system with, but damn sure the best it’s ever looked (and because of the way Kowalski lit and shot everything, it looked damn good to begin with).
There are a couple of interviews – one with Benedict and another with Menzies. They’re charming and they have fun little stories to tell and they remember the film very fondly, so it’s fun to listen to them, even if they are a little short ad Benedict has this weird rambly, unfinished sentence thing going on that it makes hard to understand him. I’d offer to buy a drink to anyone who was tasked with transcribing that thing.
Other than that there are some marketing materials; radio spots and trailers and a photo gallery, but that’s it. And with the effort SF has put into some of their other releases that’s kind of disappointing. With the energy that was apparently all over that set and the stories that were shared in the two short little interviews, one can only imagine what a full commentary would have sounded like, and it’s a little bit of a bummer that we didn’t get one.
Also, it’s not an official feature, but the case insert is reversible, with the alternate title (SSSNAKE) and taglines, should you wanna flip it.
Damn fine movie. More than just a novelty/curiosity release that SF has a penchant for (lookin’ at you, The Guardian), it’s a legit fun movie that would be at home at any genre watch party.