The film begins with some creepy “thing” making odd sounds in a wooden box. Dr. Stoner, an ophiologist, is selling the noisy contents in the box to another man. Stoner owns a snake farm where he extracts venom from a variety of poisonous snakes. He even “wrangles” with his King Cobra in front of an audience for money. The doc recruits a young man named David Blake (Benedict) to be his new assistant at the farm. It seems that Dr. Stoner’s former lab assistant just packed up and left him. David is instantly attracted to the doctor’s daughter, Kristina (Heather Menzes). Why David thinks that Kristina is cute is beyond me. She wears large round glasses and has a bad multi-layered hair style!! Considering she posed in Playboy magazine, one would think that she would look better. However, Dirk is really cute!
Soon, we discover that Dr. Stoner is very strange. He and Kristina have a pet python they both talk to like a human best friend. And we know something is amiss when the good old doc starts giving David injections of snake venom. When David asks why he is getting injections that make him sick and cause bizarre dreams, the doc tells him it will protect him from the poisons if he is bitten. It’s not long before David’s skin begins to peel, but the doc says it’s just a normal reaction. David believes him and keeps getting the injections.
That night, the bully, Steve Randall (Reb Brown), comes to Dr. Stoner’s house and climbs into Kristina’s window. Harry the pet python attacks the intruder. Randall falls out of the window, but survives and kills Harry. Dr. Stoner wants revenge for Harry’s death, so he takes a Black Mamba snake to town and sneaks into the bully’s house. He puts the poisonous Mamba in the shower and Randall dies from its bite. The snake’s venom makes it look like the bully died from a heart attack.
Later, the sheriff comes to Stoner’s house and asks about his former assistant, Tim, who has disappeared. It seems his family has reported him as missing. Stoner tells the sheriff that Tim just left and never came back. Stoner confronts his daughter about having sex with David. She tells him it is none of his business. Her father says it is dangerous if she has sex because of David’s venom inoculations. You can’t help but wonder what is the doc up to?
The make-up used on David’s character is good, as are the special effects for the snake-man. In the scenes where Dr. Stoner milks the snakes, the reptiles were real (except for one part where Martin grabs the King Cobra’s head and a puppet is used). A snake actually bit Strother Martin in the movie. The King Cobras were flown in from Thailand,and the Python was from Singapore. Benedict and Menzies had to handle the real snakes, too. The herpetological library used in the movie is a real one. The Spanish title for this movie was Ssssilbido de muerte which translated in English means “Hiss of Death.” Martin actually used a hypodermic needle and really punctured Benedict’s arm during the injection scenes.
Sssssss was directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, who did many pilots for television shows such as Richard Diamond, Private Detective (1957) and NYPD (1967). He was the executive producer for Baretta (1975) and worked on many Mission: Impossible episodes. He started out in movies by playing an extra in two Errol Flynn movies, Dodge City (1939) and Virginia City (1940).
Dirk Benedict is most famous for playing Starbuck in the original Battlestar Galactica (1978) television series and as Templeton “Face” Peck in The A-Team. Heather Menzies gained modest fame for playing Louisa von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965). She was married to Robert Urich for 27 years until his death in 2002 from cancer. Urich was in the television series Vegas (1978) and Spenser: For Hire (1985).
Strother Martin is best remembered for his role as The Captain in Cool Hand Luke, where he uttered that film’s classic line: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” He was also in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1967) and Slap Shot (1977) with Paul Newman. Strother Martin died in 1980.
Yes, Sssssss is a cheesy horror film, but it was scary to me the first time I saw it and has gained a minor cult following over the year. I hadn’t seen it since 1973 before I watched it again recently. It didn’t scare me as much this second time around. Still, Sssssss is an original and effective low-budget picture that’s worth watching—if you aren’t afraid of snakes.