Does anybody remember the 1973 movie, Sssssss in which a young DIRK BENEDICT undertakes a position as lab assistant and is slowly transformed into a cobra? I believe I first saw this film at a drive-in theater in New Jersey, though I remember also seeing it on T.V. I’m not sure. I would have been 3 in 1973, so I’m not sure if we saw it that early, but it’s possible (maybe ’74-’85).
Before seeing it again on DVD in the past couple of years, my memory of the film was sketchy, at best. I remember key scenes: the freak half-snake, half-man hybrid at the carnival; the snake eating the man after choosing to select a key to his locked room from a coral snake or a milk snake; DIRK BENEDICT peeling his shedding skin off in the bathroom; but mostly I remember “Snakeman.” In fact, that’s what I used to call the movie- I didn’t know it was Sssssss until much later. My memory of the Snakeman was a phase in DIRK BENEDICT’s transformation in which he turned pale and hairless, his folded arms fused to his body, and his mouth became wide and speechless (with the exception of pained “mmmmm-mmm!” sounds). He was locked in the lab by the professor character and his scenes involved him clumsily stumbling around the lab, bumping into things and going “mmmm-mmmm!” In actuality, this memory is actually a fusion of various scenes in the movie: the carnival freak; the discovery of the previous lab assistant; the final transformation; and the actual scene (shown below).
After seeing this, my nighttime fears became an obsession with Snakeman. Snakeman was under the bed, Snakeman was in the closet, Snakeman was looking in the window, my brothers’ suggestions as to Snakeman‘s whereabouts and intentions didn’t help.
Well, as I mentioned before, I watched it again on the no-frills DVD my brother lent me. It’s a terribly insipid movie. The Snakeman scenes are only a few minutes of screen time and hardly the stuff of horror legend. I cannot overstate the inevitable let down you’re setting yourself up for when re-viewing movies that effected you as a child. It’s best just to let these things remain what they were to you. Most of my childhood terrors were comprised of the bits and pieces of horror films I had seen (until my parents told me to close my eyes or go upstairs to bed) and the creative continuations and reconstructions of those scenes. This was one movie where I fixated on one scene and just blew it out of horror proportion.