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This 1973 creature feature, as star Heather Menzies-Urich says, "could have gone the other way very easily." But instead of a whacked-out, slap-your-forehead triumph of unintentional comedy about a mad scientist who wants to turn his assistants into cobras for no particular reason, "Sssssss" represents a whacked-out slow-burn horror carried by honest performances and creepy makeup effects. Although not scary by today's standards, the rated-PG feature should definitely be avoided by those with snake phobias, as it slithers off into the sunset as one of the best old-school snake movies ever!
Herpetologist Dr. Stoner (the fantastic Strother Martin) runs a small research lab out of his farm, milking venomous snakes to sell their poisonous liquid gold for further research, while he gets up to his own tricks. As an amusing, if not totally boneheaded sideline, he runs a weekly snake-charming show in order to fleece the rubes out of their spare change. His daughter Kristina (billed Menzies) assists, but wonders what keeps happening to the hired help. That's where newest sucker David Blake (Dirk Benedict) comes in. He's happy to help, and might have a crush on Kristina, but isn't too keen on both the non-stop courses of 'anti-venom' Stoner keeps pumping into him, and the weird side effects they create.
Unfolding like a small-town melodrama with a sinister underbelly, "Sssssss" finds Kristina and David tooling around the local carnival, discovering the disturbing 'half-snake/half-man' in the Freak Show tent, and fighting off randy bullies. Meanwhile, Stoner's plans remain shrouded in mystery. Audiences are asked to suspect something is up, especially when the Sheriff comes calling (though the description on the back of the box spells it out completely, and the dots are otherwise pretty easy to connect). But otherwise, Stoner comes off as a slightly arrogant eccentric, perhaps too close to his python Harry, whom he plies with whiskey, and whom literally whines about it, showing off his sweet, slithery personality.
"Sssssss" shines with this low-wattage realism and pathos; everyone on board, especially Martin, gives 100% to their roles, selling something that, as mentioned, could have gone 'the other way' very easily. But for Stoner's insanely faulty motives (revealed finally, and soft-pedaled) by movie's end, and potentially hilarious bits such as Blake's snakelike fighting style, "Sssssss" nonetheless manages creepy chills, (the snake-man) awesome set-pieces (anything featuring snakes, and there are lots of them, big ones, too) and a heartfelt, downbeat ending to send you off to look under your bed, lest there be a black mamba there.
Scream Factory delivers a clean, sharp, bright transfer of a creature feature that should be on any former Monster Kid's shelf. "Sssssss" brings creepy, slithery fun to a solidly acted, freaky plateau that the movie could have missed badly. With so much live action snake goodness, snake-fanciers and old-school horror fans who haven't seen this yet can find it cautiously Recommended. (Why cautiously? Read on!)
Scream Factory brings "Sssssss" ("don't say it, hiss it") to your screen in 1080p High-Definition, in a 1.85:1 ratio. It looks great, and is noticeably (but not incredibly) superior to the previously released DVD. Sporting a sharper image, better details, and a brighter picture, this is how the movie should look. Film grain is tastefully evident, colors are natural, and damage can't be seen. If you must have the best picture quality available, then this might be for you.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo audio track sounds great as well. Though it doesn't have a terribly broad sonic spectrum, the mostly mid-range track has well balanced stereo image, with all elements mixed at appropriate levels. Dialog is clean, crisp and damage free, and the soundtrack comes through well.
Here is where my cautious recommendation comes into play. For a movie with so much potential BTS information to be discovered, extras are on the lean side. How about some discussion concerning the fact that pretty much every actor was made to be bitten by actual snakes on screen? Did that python really eat a shoe? The list goes on. A commentary track is essential for a release such as this. We don't get one. We do get a 17-minute Interview with Dirk Benedict, who seems to be turning into a future version of Charlie Sheen. He's got some great stories, though, when he gets going, and certainly stories we'd like to explore in more depth. There is also a 15-minute Interview with Heather Menzies-Urich, who is just a tad bit more grounded than Benedict. She brings up a few other things we'd like to hear more about. A Photo Gallery, English Subtitles, Radio and TV Spots round things out. It's not nearly enough.
Scream Factory delivers a clean, sharp, bright transfer of a creature feature that should be on any former Monster Kid's shelf. "Sssssss" brings creepy, slithery fun to a solidly acted, freaky plateau that the movie could have missed badly. With so much live action snake goodness, snake-fanciers and old-school horror fans who haven't seen this yet can find it cautiously Recommended. (However, better AV quality and a small selection of extras might not be enough to make those who already have this on DVD do any more than rent it to check out the interviews.)