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Traumafessions :: Reader TickleMeCthulhu on Sssssss

January 17th, 2009 by unkle lancifer · 7 Comments

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.

NOTE: Even more Sssssss induced trauma can be found HERE.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 WarpedRecordNo Gravatar // Jan 17, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    It is disappointing how movies that traumatized us as children seem silly when we become adults, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “Sssssss” (seven S’s, right?).

  • 2 FatherOfTearsNo Gravatar // Jan 17, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Yep, I found this creepy as a kid but I too found it silly as a grown up.  When I look at it now I think “Hey, that’s Starbuck from the original “Battlestar Galatica”.  Also when I see his girl friend I think “Hey, she married that “Vega$” actor!”.    The one thing that really struck me as a kid was the cliffhanger-ish ending.  I guess back then I wanted a final finish and not be kept guessing as to what happened next. 

  • 3 jm_kayeNo Gravatar // Jan 17, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    oh yeah, the snakeman scared the hell out of me when i was a kid.  Then I saw it as an adult and felt sorry for him.  I’ m kind of lame that way.

  • 4 bwanaNo Gravatar // Jan 17, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    I saw it at my beloved Algiers Drive In in New Orleans on a double bill with THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF. Probably my favorite drive in double bill as a kid. I still remember the radio ads, SSSSS…hiss it, don’t say it” or something close.  WEREWOLF is scarier but both were pretty killer when you’re nine.

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Jan 18, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Growing up this one was always a big deal in my house when it was on T.V. My brothers and I never missed it. It does seem pretty silly now and it’s not the least bit scary but I think it was the first sort of tragic body mutation movie I ever encountered. In my head it sort of laid the groundwork for me to appreciate stuff like Cronenberg’s version of “The Fly” How could you not feel sorry for poor Dirk?

  • 6 HowardNo Gravatar // Jan 18, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    I always enjoy seeing my homeboy Strother Martin, especially when he’s not playing a redneck.

    Speaking of brother Strother, he was in a movie that I suppose could be a Name that Trauma: I saw this movie on late night TV in the late ’70s, I think. I was in high school, but not yet old enough for R movies. All I remember is that Strother Martin was in it, it had something to do with a murderer or a monster, and there was a scene that took place in a mobile morgue on the back of a truck, and it was full of blood and body parts in clear plastic body bags. And somehow it was broadcast on regular TV with none of the gore edited out.  (Hmmm… checking IMDB the only likely candidate is Nightwing. Was there much blood in that?)

  • 7 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Jan 20, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    I think Ssssss was made memorable by Dirk Benedict’s performance. He’s fantastic in this movie.

    I am so jealous that bwana saw The Boy Who Cried Werewolf  on the big screen. I’ve never seen it period. I need to get on that.

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