Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Sssssss (1973)

A mad scientist movie made in the 70s (1973 in fact) with a plot involving deadly snakes and an attempt to create human-reptile hybrids sounds like it a great deal of fun. And I’m sure it could have been lots of fun. But sadly Sssssss doesn’t quite make it.

You have a mad scientist (Dr Stoner) working on totally insane plans to assure the survival of the human species by creating human-snake hybrids that will be able to survive any future environmental catastrophes. Being a movie mad scientist he naturally has a young beautiful daughter, Kristina. And he needs an assistant, so he calls on an old colleague (Dr Daniels) who teaches at the local college, hoping to borrow one of his students. Since these two scientists hate each others guts it’s not quite clear why he calls on Daniels for help, but that’s one of the least glaring plot inconsistencies in this movie. So young David Blake not only goes to work for Dr Stoner, he moves into his house.

His previous assistant has mysteriously disappeared, and when Dr Stoner informs young David that he will need regular injections of king cobra venom you start to get the idea that maybe young David should be just a little bit worried. But he seems to think this is normal procedure if you’re working with snakes. Of course our young hero and the mad scientist’s beautiful daughter start to fall in love. So far it seems like a pretty god job that he’s landed, and even when he starts experiencing acid-trip type hallucinations, his skin begins to take on a slightly scaly texture and actually begins to shed, and his facial features undergo some subtle changes he’s still sublimely unconcerned. By now you pretty much know where the plot is heading.

The problem with this film is not the remarkably silly premise or the even sillier way in which the premise is developed. This is a horror movie, so you expect (or even welcome) a very silly premise.

The problem is not the bad acting, because really the acting isn’t outrageously bad. It’s more or less par for the course for low-budget 1970s horror flicks. Strother Martin makes a fun mad scientist, and the other players are at least adequate.

The problem is not even low production values and cheesy makeup and special effects. In fact the makeup effects are fairly impressive and the special effects are not too bad.

No, the real problems are that at 99 minutes the movie is about 20 minutes too long, the plot is a tad too easy to predict and the director and scriptwriter fail to inject any real sense of urgency or suspense into the proceedings. We’re kept waiting too long for any real horror, and when horrific events do happen they fall rather flat. There’s a key scene where the non-evil scientist discovers what the mad scientist is up to. He looks through the window of Dr Stoner’s laboratory and sees a shocking sight, but we don’t get any sense of actual shock. It’s very ineptly handled.

I believe it was originally intended as a TV movie, which may explain why it’s a little on the bland side. It was apparently considered to be a bit too strong for television, but as a cinematic release it’s not quite strong enough.

The carnival scenes are probably the highlight, and they are genuinely creepy.

That’s not to say there isn’t some enjoyment to be derived from this movie. The plot is delightfully nonsensical and jaw-droppingly unscientific, both definite pluses in my book. There are a few genuinely creepy scenes. Technically it’s surprisingly competent for this type of low-budget fare. It’s not horrendously bad, but it just doesn’t deliver quite as much fun as you’d expect.

1 comment:

Samuel Wilson said...

I was very young one Saturday evening when I came home from an outing and found the last act of SSSSSS playing on network TV. The poor hero's ultimate transformation completely freaked me out. I had never before seen the complete dehumanization and de-individualization of a person. And on top of that comes the mongoose! So no, it's not that good, but it's a movie I'll always remember.