Thursday, April 14, 2016

SSSSSSS (1973) (Blu-ray Review)

SSSSSSS (1973)
Label: Scream Factory 
Release Date: April 26th 2016 
Region Code: A
Duration: 99 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA  Stereo 2.0 with Optional English SDH 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Bernard Kowalski 
Cast: Heather Menzies, Reb Brown, Richard B. Shull, Strother Martin, Tim O'Connor, Dirk Benedict

Synopsis: Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke) and Dirk Benedict (Battlestar Galactica) star in this eerie tale of a respected snake expert who masks a frightening desire to transmute a man into a king cobra. Realizing that his new lab assistant, David (Benedict), is the perfect specimen, the demented doctor begins administering injections of "immunization serum." Soon, David begins experiencing strange side effects: his skin is shedding while his body shape is changing. But before he realizes the horrible truth, the metamorphosis from human to serpent has begun. This thriller, directed by Bernard L. Kowalski (Attack of the Giant Leeches), also stars Heather Menzies (Piranha) and Reb Brown (Howling II and TVs Captain America).

I do seem to love these absurd horror films from the '70s, with Sssssss from 1973 we here we have herpetologist Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) and his daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies) running a snake snake research lab out in a rural area, the doc takes on a research assistant from the local college, a dopey but good natured guy named David Blake (Dirk Benedict, The A-Team) who is unaware that the good doc is actually a mad scientist of sorts obsessed with the transforming man into some creepy cobra-hybrid, what he believes to be the next step of human evolution. The plot makes no sense whatsoever but that does not detract from the pure entertainment value of this '70s cult-classic. 

Longtime TV veteran Strother Martin turns in a rather good performance as the kindly nut of a doctor, sure he is a mad scientist who has wild ideas but he comes off as a nice old man, just, you know,  a little crazy. His daughter Kristina is a bookworm-ish cutey and she and the ill-fated David strike up a flirtation which becomes something more, much to the dismay of Doc Stoner, you see his daughter doesn't know about his diabolic plans to mutate young David. The whole process begins as the doc gives David a sot in the arm with a hypodermic, what he calls a necessary venom inoculations, and soon enough David begins to show signs of change, beginning with the shedding his skin, and then his facial features slowly begin to evolve ever so slightly. 

The movie begins with the doc selling off one of his failed hybrid experiments to a crooked carnival owner who parades the guy - the doc's former assistant - at a the carnival freak show. Reb Brown who played Captain America in the cheesy 70's live action TV show appears as a college football jerk-jock who makes the fatal mistake of killing one the doc's prized snakes, in revenge the doc sneaks into the jocks college apartment and unleashes a deadly mamba into the shower, what follows is a nice scene of '70s slow-motion of the creep stepping on the venomous serpent in the shower.  There's also a fun appearance from Richard B. Shull (Spring Break) as Doc Stoner's colleague and nemesis at the college, the two have a few fun scenes together sparring over much needed grant funds the doc needs to continue his work, which Shull's character holds over is head with relish.

I love these silly '70s horror movies, I love how weird and absurd they are, and this one is up there when it comes to pure absurdity, but everyone plays it straight without any winking, it is so damned earnest about everything and I love that. It does have some pacing issues, the love story really drags it down a few notches, as does the skinny dipping scene with the leaves which are hilariously super imposed over the naughty parts, but the final oddball few moments are worth the watch. We have poor David transforming into a King Cobra through a process of time lapse photography and some cool make-up special effects, but the final transformation is a bit of a letdown as we don't get the promised human-snake hybrid,

Extras on the disc begin with a brand-new interview with star Dirk Benedict, an animated guy with tons of great stories about the cast and director, remembering "Bernie" as a director who got things done without much fuss, someone who enjoyed other's misery and had a wicked cackle of a laugh. Remembering how Strother Martin was scared to death of snakes, and how Kowalski managed to get him to allow a snake to bite him for the movie, but not before egging him on to the point that he pulled down his pants on the Universal back lot! This was a fun one, I am sure many like myself remember Benedict as the vain "Face" from 80's TV show The A-Team. 

The second interview on the disc is with actress Heather Menzies who speaks about her own fear of snakes and working with the cast and crew, Other extras include a handful of trailers for the movie, radio spots, a gallery of behind-the-scenes images and a sleeve of reversible artwork with the minor Sssssnake variant. 

Special Features: 

- NEW My Reptilian Past – An Interview With Actor Dirk Benedict (18 Mins) HD 
- NEW The Herpetologist's Daughter – An Interview With Heather Menzies (18 Mins) HD 
- Photo Gallery (4 Mins) HD 
- Radio Spots (2 Mins) HD 
- Theatrical Trailers (4 Mins) 

Sssssss (1973) is a solid slice of '70s cinema schlock, if you're a fan of sort of b-movies this is something you just might need to own on Blu-ray. Scream Factory offer up a solid HD A/V presentation with a few choice extras. 3/5