Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) is a professor and herpetologist. He lives and works in the country. His laboratory is attached to his house. Stoner’s daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies-Urich) works with him. They do a snake wrangling show where Stoner milks snakes and sells the venom to other laboratories. He is also involved in his own research and experiments with venom. He sells one of his failures to a carnival owner named Kogen (Tim O’Connor).
Needing a new assistant, Stoner hires David Blake (Dirk Benedict). He begins giving David injections telling him they are anti-venom and part of a protocol to get David immune to snake bites. In reality David is Stoner’s next guinea pig. Stoner believes that humans are destroying the Earth and that the only creatures that will survive are the reptiles. He is experimenting on David to try to turn him into a creature that can survive should that happen. David begins to see changes in his appearance when he looks into the mirror.
David and Kristina start dating. While they are out one night, they see a carnival. One of the sideshow features is an exhibit called the Snakeman. David goes into the tent and sees the Snakeman that used to be Stoner’s previous assistant, Tim (Nobel Craig). Outside Kristina is being hassled by a college student, Steve Randall (Reb Brown). Steve and David get into a fight. Steve’s temper gets the best of him, and he later tries to sneak into Kristina’s bedroom to rape her. He runs into Harry, the Stoners’ pet boa constrictor. Steve kills Harry. Dr. Stoner gets revenge on Steve by slipping a black mamba into his shower.
Stoner sends Kristina on a wild goose chase to get her out of the way while he completes David’s injections. Stoner’s nemesis, Dr. Ken Daniels (Richard B. Shull) shows up to tell him that the College Board refused to give him the grant he needed to continue his research. Daniels sees that David has changed due to the injections that Stoner has been giving him. Stoner feeds him to a giant python. With everyone else out of the way, Stoner can concentrate on David, but his plans don’t work out the way he hoped.
“Sssssss” AKA “Ssssnake” in the United Kingdom and Japan, was released in 1973 and was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski. It is an American horror film. The film received a nomination for the Best Science Fiction Film award of the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films in 1975. There are seven S-es in the title of the film.
At least 100 snakes were used for the film. Among them were rattlesnakes, boa constrictors, pythons, 5 king cobras imported from Thailand, blue racers, hognose snakes, and two-headed Florida pine snakes. Reportedly the mongoose used in the movie was actually a tayra. Tayras are members of the weasel family and are native to tropical areas of Central and South America.
The concept is ridiculous, but the movie is creepy as hell. As far as mad doctors are concerned, Stoner is the mildest mannered one I’ve ever seen. The transformation sequence is weird but far too short. Other than what was happening to David, I found myself rooting for the snakes. They weren’t near as slimy as the humans. I especially felt sorry for Harry the boa.
What really amazed me is that at least two of the stars of the film, Strother Martin and Heather Menzies, were afraid of snakes. It makes me wonder if they were told that the movie they were doing had real snakes in it.