Saturday, October 3, 2020

SSSSSSS (1973)


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

In some markets this film was titled SSSSSSSNAKE. A title more honest to its sluggish pace would have been SSSSSSSNAIL.

SSSSSSS feels like a throwback to 1940s B-movies about mad scientists coming up with weird new ways to kill their enemies with killer bats or homemade werewolves. During the fifties director Bernard Kowalski actually made a few SF-cheapies in a similar mode, such as NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST and ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES. But even a master of pacing couldn't have done anything with the poky script, co-written by one of the film's producers.

The old-fashioned B-films might have been simplistic, but at least they were generally efficient in getting across the mad scientist's passion for his discoveries and his motives for killing people. SSSSSSS, though, is so preoccupied with giving viewers an in-depth tour of snake-science that it neglects the personality of mad snake-scientist Stoner (Strother Martin). He runs a snake-sanctuary with his grown daughter, and though nothing's said of the presumably deceased Mrs. Stoner, daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies) has apparently grown up following in Dad's herpetologist footsteps. Later we'll learn that Stoner has disposed of one of his daughter's boyfriends by turning him into a snake-man, which might seem to suggest some Oedipal issues. However, Stoner doesn't seem the least interested in his daughter's sex life; he just nurtures some dim, Biblically-inspired conviction that mankind is going to bomb itself out of existence, and the only solution is to turn people into snakes. Yet Stoner doesn't have any grand plan to do so, and he's apparently content just to practice on whoever's at hand-- like his new assistant David (Dirk Benedict), who just happens to form a romantic relationship with Kristina.

The script throws in a couple of minor side-plots-- a scientific rival who gets too close to Stoner's secrets, and a muscle-brain (Reb Brown) who hits on Kristina. Stoner kills both of them with deadly serpents, but the deaths are far from compelling, and merely serve to burn up time until the paltry conclusion, which doesn't even give "monster" David the chance to turn on his demented "creator." There are a few interesting factoids about snakes, and some vague references to the Garden of Eden, but not enough to cause me to give the film anything but a poor mythicity rating.

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