Blu-ray Review: Sssssss

There’s more to remembering a film than the movie. The place and way that you watched a film plays a major part in the memory that allows a movie to have a personal bond with a viewer. We don’t watch all of our movies in hermetically sealed environments. Most of the time we don’t watch a film in a cinema or megaplex. When you think of the film, the memory of viewing experience enhances what makes the film special to you.

When word got out that Sssssss was coming to Blu-ray, the vision wasn’t merely of all the snakes, but of a summer rental in Chatham, Massachusetts and a crummy black and white TV in the master bedroom. For a week I bent the rabbit ears and bowtie antennas and adjusted odd knobs praying that the ancient set could scoop up distant signals from Boston across Cape Cod Bay. And as if a miracle occurs and to the dismay of my mother, I received a channel. And it wasn’t just any channel, but the amazing WLVI on a Saturday night. While the afternoon had them showing Creature Double Feature, the night had the more adult fare Creature Feature, that night it was Sssssss. This was the mid-70s so the fact that the movie starred Dirk Benedict didn’t have the same impact since he wasn’t quite yet Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica. But I sat on the edge of bed startled at what was being done to Dirk in the name of snake science. The ocean waves could not calm the shivers of a man gaining scales.

Strother Martin (The Wild Bunch) and Tim O’Connor (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) carry a heavy crate out of a basement into the back of a pickup truck. What’s inside? Hard to tell except Tim is paying a good price for the creature inside and is awe of even the failures that Strother has in his quest to be a scientific genius. Later Strother shows up at a college class being taught by herpetologist Richard B. Shull (Splash). The scientific genius needs funding for his snake research, but teacher thinks Strother is a kook. But an unsuspecting Dirk Benedict trusts Strother. Sure it helps that Strother protects the kid from being attacked by football star Reb Brown (Captain America). He also likes that Strother’s hiring him to be an assitant at his snake research farm. What happened to the old guy? He ran off to some dying parent or relative funeral. Since they’re working around poisonous snakes such as the King Cobra and Black Mamba, Strother is giving Dirk a series of vaccines. Dirk is too dazzled by working with Strother’s daughter, Heather Menzies (Piranha) to notice he’s physically changing on the job. When he does notice he’s shedding his skin, Strother says it’s just an unfortunate side effect of his treatment. It’s a small price to pay for not worrying about being fanged by the King Cobra. But is there more to these innocent inoculations?

Ssssss! remains a disturbing movie mostly because of the live snakes used in the film. There’s a lot of slithering on the screen that will have you fearing the armless wonders. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown would team up on Jaws to make us fearful of going into the water. This film had us fearing the reptile house at the zoo. The python in the film is an amazing snake actor and gives Strother a run for his money in scene stealing. You’d hardly know Strother had a fear of snakes as the two share a Milton inspired read-along. Plus the snake knew how to enjoy its booze. Dirk Benedict and Menzies share some amazing ‘70s hair that make them a perfect tragic lovers. Even after all the decades, Sssssss still amazes as a small horror film that scares on two levels. The mad scientist won’t be stopped by morality and ethics. The poisonous snakes are ready to bite anyone foolish enough to get within striking distance. The only thing missing from Sssssss is the sound of my mother screaming, “Are you going to waste all night watching that movie or be social!”

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings the snakes to life. It also adds a lot of detail to Dirk and Heather’s hair. The audio is DTS-HD Stereo. You’ll hear the snake noises. The movie is subtitled.

My Reptilian Past with Dirk Benedict (17:39) recounts how he just visited Richard Zanuck’s office for a visit that turned into talk about fishing. He didn’t even know he was auditioning for the role. He got it. He recounts his time with Strother Martin and the snakes. He has a few great story about director Bernard L. Kowalski, who helmed the legendary Attack of the Giant Leeches.

The Herpetologist’s Daughter with Heather Menzies-Urich (15:09) makes her hiss the title. She was frightened of snakes. But learned to enjoy the boas during the production. She also loved working with Strother. She had a crush on Dirk, but married Robert Urich (Vega$).

Photo Gallery (3:40) is various promo items and photos. They even have the 8mm version of the film from the days before home video.

Radio Spots (1:29) hints you’ll be transformed into a snake. It was double featured with The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.

Theatrical Trailers (4:10) promises the film will sink its fangs into you. “Don’t say it. Hiss it!”

Scream Factory presents Sssssss. Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski. Script by: Hal Dresner. Starring: Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict & Heather Menzies. Rated: PG. Running Time: 99 minutes. Released: April 26, 2016.

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