SSSSSSS (1973)
Director: Bernard Kowalski

Shortly after leaving Fox for Universal (and a couple of years before HUGE success with JAWS), Darryl Zanuck was executive producer for this low-budget mad scientist/science fiction effort directed by the man behind such 50s AIP titles like THE GIANT LEECHES and NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST. Veteran make-up designer Dan Striekepe (known for his work on the "Planet of the Apes" films and TV series) also produced for the first and only time to date, and co-wrote the story which is actually a throwback to something AIP would make in the 50s.

Strother Martin stars as Dr. Stoner, an ophiologist (a scientist specializing in snakes) who runs a snake farm, which is sometimes open to the public. Needing a new assistant for the summer, he hires friendly yet naïve college student David (played by a very young Dirk Benedict of "Battlestar Galactica" and "The A-Team" fame) who soon after is given regular injections of an "immunization serum" since he'll be around dangerous snakes all day. Of course, since Dr. Stoner is a mad scientist, these injections are intended for his ultimate plan: to transform a man into a male species of King Cobra. David discovers layers of his skin shedding, his facial features starting to change (eventually turning a shade of green) and growing scales! He is also romantically involved with Stoner's daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies from PIRHANA) and when she visits a carnival's freakshow to get a glimpse at one of dad's "failed" experiments, she begins to realize the truth about what is happening to her boyfriend.

With a rather silly premise which includes a totally oblivious victim/leading man, SSSSSSS still has enough ingredients to please B movie fans. Strother Martin gives another meaty performance as a determined nutcase who talks to his array of pet snakes, sinisterly employing them to get rid of his enemies, including a dumb bullying jock (Reb Brown) and a sleazy rival professor (Richard B. Shull). Real snakes are seen attacking, slithering and biting, so anyone with a fear of these reptiles is bound to find the film creepy. John Chambers (also known for his Oscar-winning achievements on the "Planet of the Apes" films) also worked on the make-up, which is pretty impressive, especially when viewing the failed "snake man" experiment, played by Noble Craig, an actor with no legs and one arm. Universal originally packaged the film with THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF (yet to make its home video debut), making the program one of the last double bills released by the studio.

Universal has released SSSSSSS on DVD in its original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio with anamorphic enhancement, and it looks quite nice. The presentation is free of blemishes and defects and creates a solid picture with great detail. Colors are rich and vibrant, with natural fleshtones and solid black levels. The Dolby Digital mono audio track is strong and renders the dialog and music fine, and there are optional Spanish and French subtitles. Optical censoring of brief nudity -- in the form of inserted leaves and a lamp's silhouette -- is apparent in two scenes. Since this was also the case with Universal's previous VHS release, and since they obviously went back to the negative for this DVD transfer, it's hard to tell if this was done for theatrical release or not, as the film always maintained a PG rating. The only extra is the original trailer. (George R. Reis)