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  Sssssss Hissy Fit
Year: 1973
Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
Stars: Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies, Richard B. Shull, Tim O’Connor, Jack Ging, Kathleen King, Reb Brown, Ted Grossman, Charles Seel, Ray Ballard, Brendan Burns, Rick Beckner, Jim Drum, Ed McCready, Michael Masters, Felix Silla
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dr Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) is a scientist with a penchant for snakes. He has been experimenting on them for some time, yet keeping the precise nature of his work a secret in the home turned laboratory where he lives with his daughter, Kristina (Heather Menzies), who assists him and helps out when he is putting on a show with his reptile collection to raise funds. But he is currently most interested in a new recruit, and when he visits a local college, it would seem David Blake (Dirk Benedict) is the ideal candidate, so after talking to his tutor, a similar man of learning like Stoner, yet sceptical with it, it is arranged for David to move into the house so the experiments can continue...

But what if I told you those experiments were going to be conducted on Dave? You would not be the least bit surprised, would you? No, because with a title like Sssssss, you could tell this was a serpent-based horror flick, and someone was headed for a fall when the fanged little monsters were set loose on the world. We were back in the mad scientist territory of the nineteen-fifties once again, which a surprising number of seventies chillers liked to dwell in, from Night of the Lepus (giant rabbits) to Empire of the Ants (giant, well, ants), that latter created by Bert I. Gordon, King of the huge monsters in the B-movies of that era, and finding his trade lucrative in the ecology-conscious seventies.

That was down to big creatures equalling revenge of Mother Nature on humanity for their hubris in polluting the planet, a fresh twist on the atomic bombs of two decades before which commonly kicked off some rampage or other (in the movies, that was). Sssssss was not quite as ambitious as that, for the monsters remained normal snakes even at the end, albeit rather long ones gathered from various locations around the world, which we were informed about up front as the film opened with a thanks to the cast and crew for being brave enough to work with the beasts, which had not been defanged before the shoot began. They made great play of the authenticity of the animals throughout.

Whether Face from The A-Team could be given snake injections and begin to transform was a lot less credible for that authenticity, but that was where the mad science entered into the equation, and even if you were no aficionado of the sci-fi B-movie, you would doubtless be less than surprised that Dr Stoner was up to no good, and was in fact planning to manufacture monsters. That said, for reasons presumably of budget they did not dive into the possibilities as much as you would have anticipated, not until the final ten minutes at least, as much of the rest of it had those snakes as the stars as the filmmakers dreamt up as many things they could for them to do, or indeed be done to them. Therefore we were offered scenes of them having their venom milked, being hypnotised, menaced by a plot-foreshadowing mongoose, etc.

As a signifier this was the seventies, when David is injected with Stoner's serum he has bizarre hallucinations in bed, resulting in trippy montages to appeal to, well, the stoner crowd, and another one was that skinny-dipping sequence shared between David and the doctor. Only joking, it was between David and Kristina, though to preserve some form of modesty the actors' nudity was partially obscured by leaves, presumably to preserve what used to pass for the PG rating in the United States back in that era as well. Extra tension was added by having the scientist bumping off threats to his research with said snakes, one in the shower in a male version of Psycho's most celebrated section, but for all the way it built up to a bleak, would-be horrible fate for the characters it wasn't half daft. Martin gave a performance of dedication and gravitas this probably did not deserve, he may have been pleased at getting a rare leading role, but nobody was especially bad here, it was simply a flat-looking shocker directed by a veteran, Bernard L. Kowalski, who had been concocting this stuff for a good twenty years before. Music by Patrick Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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