Sssssss

King cobra vs. mongoose? Or is it man vs. man?
Released:
1973

Director: Bernard L. Kowalski

Starring: Dirk Benedict, Strother Martin, Heather Menzies, Reb Brown

The Setup:

Graduate student goes to help mad scientist, who unfortunately has designs of turning him into a snake.

Discussion:

I totally remember this movie from television when I was around 8, and I remember being completely transfixed and thinking the whole thing was very creepy. There were several scenes that I specifically remember from way back then. And of course, who could forget the title, which the trailer on the DVD advises: "Don't say it, hiss it." The trailer also included the line above; King cobra vs. mongoose? Or is it man vs. man? I can't tell you the amount of times I've been forced to ask myself that very question. I expected the thing to be more cheesy than anything, but was surprised that it was still pretty creepy! Plus, there was an unusually large amount of frames that I wanted to preserve either for myself or to show to you. So that's unusual as well.

This film is not to be confused with Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," which is the only other movie you'll be directed to upon entering a bunch of S's into a search engine. Just remember, this movie has seven S's, Sweetback has five.

The legendary Dirk Benedict, who of course went on to make his immortal contributions to both the original Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team, is here joined by Strother Martin, most famous for being the prison captain who delivered the "failure to communicate" line in Cool Hand Luke. It seems that Strother plays a weirdo scientist who lost his job at the local university for being a freak. He recruits young graduate student Dirk to help him with his research. It seemed to me as though Dirk was just over for a visit, but he doesn't seem to think it odd that he essentially just moves in. Oh, I forgot to tell you. the movie opens with a mewling "something" in a box being sold to some guy who seems disreputable. and soon questions about where the mad doctor's PREVIOUS graduate assistant went begin to be asked. I hope you're picking up on the sinister intimations being delivered.

Dirk is immediately transfixed by the mad doctor's HIDEOUS daughter, who has this nightmarish hairdo and horrifying John Lennon glasses, and is played by Heather Menzies, who a little research reveals portrayed Louisa von Trapp in THE FUCKING SOUND OF MUSIC!!!! Dirk is also shot up with cobra venom, and introduced to the doctor's king cobra, which is legitimately impressive. Dirk justifiably has some qualms about being injected with the doctor's secret formula, but when the doctor said "cobra venom is one of nature's strongest hallucinogens," I was like "FUCK YEAH! Are we gonna see some HALLUCINATIONS?!?!?" We do, but they're fairly tepid; a bunch of lava and religious imagery. Oh, did I mention that this thing is loaded with a lot of religious imagery and talk about the serpent and temptation, etc.? It is, but it isn't all that interesting.

Several comments on the IMDb mention that poor Strother is a long way down from his work in Cool Hand Luke, but he actually is very good here, and you know, it's not easy to play a mad scientist. Especially when he is required to have several long conversations with a snake. Dirk too is a cute and appealing presence. He reminded me of a prettier Bill Pullman. But Heather Menzies, yikes, that's another story. Dirk is supposedly attracted to her despite the horror of her appearance, but I suppose it was the 70s, when everyone was looking inside. He is supposedly swept away with passion for her, and she is a sheltered desert flower, unschooled in the ways of love. You can tell that the movie is heading into romantic territory when the tone changes and flowers and waterfalls suddenly appear. They, as apparently everyone did in the 70s, fumblingly disrobe and skinny dip under a waterfall. Later, Dirk asks her "Haven't you ever seen wide-eyed passion before?" To which she replies: "Show me." They go inside and make love [thankfully not shown] in front of the fireplace, and one detail I love is that when we later have a wide shot of their passion pit, an electric guitar can be seen in the background!

Anyway, so they go on a date to this carnival, where we recognize the freak show host from the beginning of the movie. And he's advertising a half-man-half-snake inside. could THAT be what he bought from the mad doctor at the beginning? I wouldn't dare reveal. Dirk goes in and gets a little look into his future, while his girlfriend is hit on by the hunky Steve. Dirk and Steve have a tussle in which Dirk BITES Steve [I was so hoping that Steve would start to mutate or begin to have a thirst for human flesh or something after this, but it was not meant to be]. Steve is enraged at being dissed by the hideous Heather, so he goes over there and kills their beloved snake Harry [the one the doctor and his daughter freely converse with], subsequently saying "Freaks! That's what you are. a bunch of snake freaks!" This pisses the doctor off and he takes a black mamba and dumps it in the shower with poor Steve. Just prior to this we have an opportunity to admire Steve's fine physique. Then the doctor goes home to learn that Dirk has been boinking hideous Heather and freaks out, because Heather could unknowlingly be carrying a super-breed of venomous cobra men! Unfortunately this aspect is not further explored, though hello---sequel!

Anyway, by now you've surmised that poor Dirk is being turned into a snake. I SO remember the scene in which his back starts to peel as he molts. Will he be turned into a full snake, or just a half-man-half-snake, or will he be rescued and returned to normal? I won't tell, but suffice to say that this movie ends with one of my favorite lame 70s horror movie tropes, the freeze frame on a screaming face. Don't just say it, sweetie, Hiss It!

Should you watch it?

Yes! It's cheesy enough, and much of it is genuinely creepy.

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