Sssssss (1973) SUMMARY
Dr. Carl Stoner (Martin), a herpetologist, sells a mysterious creature in a crate to a carnival owner. He later hires college student David Blake (Benedict) as an assistant, claiming that his previous assistant had left town to attend to a sick relative). Unbeknownst to David or anyone else, Stoner is a delusional man, convinced that humanity is doomed and is attempting to prepare for what he believes to be the inevitable by working out a method of transforming humans into reptiles that can survive pollution and any other ecological disaster that would wipe humanity out.
Stoner begins David on a course of injections, purportedly as a safeguard against being bitten by a snake in his lab. David’s skin slowly starts to change and even peel like a snakeskin. He begins to have strange nightmares and goes into a coma when having dinner with Stoner and does not wake up until a few days later. He also begins to lose weight as well, but Stoner tells him those are side effects from the venom. David begins a romance with Stoner’s daughter Kristina (Menzies), although her father objects and insists that she not have any sexual relations with him.
When David wakes up the next morning, he looks in the mirror and screams in horror. Later, a distraught David is in the lab, where Stoner gives him another injection. Meanwhile, a suspicious colleague of Stoner’s, Dr. Daniels, arrives to inspect the property, and as David begins to get weaker, Stoner hides him in a corner. But David gets enough strength to walk to the window, where Daniels sees that his face has become green and very scaly. Before Daniels can react, Stoner knocks him out and feeds him to a python, and David collapses.
Kristina visits a carnival freak show and is horrified when she sees a bizarre “snake-man,” whom she recognizes as Stoner’s previous assistant, Tim. Distraught, she races back home to save David who is currently mutating into a king cobra, brought about by the injections Stoner has been giving him. Stoner is bitten by a real king cobra from his lab and dies, just as David’s transformation is complete. Kristina arrives home and finds her father dead with the real cobra next to him. Growing suspicious, the police then arrive and shoot the cobra before heading to the lab where a mongoose is attacking David’s neck, attempting to kill him. But the police do not have a clear shot, and as Kristina screams David’s name, the movie ends abruptly, leaving their fates uncertain.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Released in 1973 by Universal on a double bill with The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. Sssssss was the initial collaboration of executive producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown who hired Twentieth Century-Fox’s head make-up chief, Dan Striepeke, to produce their first venture. Striepeke had worked with John Chambers on the unique simian make-up for the Planet of the Apes series at Fox, and was actually thinking about filming a man-into-snake movie at the time. While the problem of such a transformation seemed unfilmable. Striepeke hired screenwriter Hal Dresner to concoct a scary story with plenty of comedy relief, and then persuaded Chambers, along with Nick Marcellino, to provide a believable method of turning Benedict into a king cobra. Dresner’s original title for his script was King Cobra, but that really didn’t do anything for Striepeke, who came up with Sssssss when one of the hundred inhabitants recruited as supporting players from Hermosa’s hissed at him. All agreed that the unmistakable and universally feared sound.
“The idea of turning into a reptile fascinated me. Other than that, my role was kind of… well, I don’t want to say boring, but rather ordinary. I was playing the helpless victim. But I’ve always been interested in makeup. I had just come from New York when I got this job, so as a stage actor, I was used to doing my own makeup.”
For Sssssss, he was in the capable hands of two veteran makeup men. “Dan Striepeke, who also came up with the film’s story, had been head of makeup at 20th Century Fox,” Benedict says. “Dan and John Chambers won an Academy Award for Planet of the Apes. So, it was exciting to work with them. Both Striepeke and Chambers were much more excited and proud of the snake makeup than they were of their Apes work. It’s much more difficult to turn somebody into a snake!”
It was also much more time-consuming, but Benedict looked upon it as an adventure. “Four weeks before filming, the made a cast of my head and then built a snake-head to fit it, like a diver helmet. Then, I was completely shaved, and snake scales made of latex were applied all over my body.
“It took seven hours to apply the final snake makeup. It took four makeup artists, who then painted and textured the scales. And the early transformations, where I’m still half-human, took about four hours to apply. Those are the scenes where my head is a snake’s, but I still have wisps of hair and my body is still human. It was a tedious but very interesting process.
“It was a fun film, and Strother was a joy to work with. Unfortunately, the movie was not a success. Universal had high hopes for it and they even had a couple of sequels in line, but it didn’t make enough money.” – Dirk Benedict
Director Bernard L. Kowalski Interview
How did SSSSSSS come about? !
Bernard L. Kowalski: It was an original story idea that ! Dan Striepeke had: Dan had been a makeup artist, and he and John Chambers were credited with Planet of the Apes. Dan went to see Dick Zanuck, and Zanuck had responded to the story. It ended up being the first movie that Zanuck and David Brown made at Universal
And that’s where the film was shot?
Bernard L. Kowalski: We did it entirely at Universal, the backlot and a few of the street areas around it: back near the Psycho house, we used the Virginian ranch as Strother Martin’s place. We shot it, I think, in about 22 days.
And your budget?
Bernard L. Kowalski: Since we made it at Universal with their Overhead factors and everything else, it came to $1,030,000. We had high hopes for SSSSSSS, we owned a good piece of it, so there was a chance to be in a profit participation basis that might have proved quite lucrative. We’ve never really received any money on it in the way of profits, but that’s a tough thing to do at a major studio. It was quite well-received in Europe.
Were you happy with the unusual title, SSSSSSS (Don’t Say It, Hiss It)?
Bernard L. Kowalski: Yes, I found it to be a title that created a lot of word-of-mouth. Part of how the title came up was, Dan Striepeke and I went to the Hermosa Beach Reptile Emporium during our initial investigation on cobras. The store owner pulled a cobra out-a totally poisonous, lethal cobra-and put it down at his feet. He was between us and the cobra, but it was a very small room, and we heard the sound that it made. That’s where we picked up the title of the show. It worked for us.
Did you enjoy working on this one as much as you did the Cormans?
Bernard L. Kowalski: We had a good time making it. Dan Striepeke was a very bright, honest man, full of integrity; Zanuck and Brown were wonderful to work with, thorough gentlemen who had a lot of input; and Strother Martin was just a wonderful human being a lovely actor and a very funny man.
Did the snakes present any threat during production?
Bernard L. Kowalski: We had 155 reptiles, and of that, we had like 60 or 70 that were lethal. The king cobra that we used was absolutely regal in the sense that he didn’t make mistakes twice. All the other snakes would hit the glass any time you’d go near them, but the king Cobra did it once, and then he’d just look at you. There were a lot of silly, fun things that we shouldn’t have done but we did. The very first day, for instance, I said to my assistant Gordon Webb, “I want you to tell everybody here there’ll be no games, no playing around. We’re in a position where it could be dangerous, and we’ll deal very heavily with anyone that fools around with this.” Well, he makes this speech, and the minute he gets done somebody throws a rubber snake at him and he screams at the top of his lungs. That was the end of it: after that, everyone was doing terrible things to everybody else all the way through
One story I enjoy telling on Dick Zanuck: Dick, who was very athletic, very much his own man, would come up to the set every day to offer his comments on dailies, but he never got too close to the snakes. So one of the young snake trainers, who didn’t know or care who anybody was, walked up to him and said, “You’re one of the big shots with the company, huh?” And Dick said, “Well, I’m the executive producer.” And the kid came back, “You’re also scared shitless of the snakes, huh?’ Dick just looked at him. The kid went on, “Yeah, I could tell. You haven’t come anywhere near ’em, and you get away as fast as you can.” Dick is the type of person that would swing on a lot of people who would call him that, but he got in his limousine and left. He came back in two hours, walked up to this kid and said, “Put the boa constrictor around my neck.” The kid looked at him and said, “You had a couple of drinks, huh?” Dick said, “Uh-huh. Put the boa around my neck.” And so they did it. That was kind of fun
What precautions did you take to safe guard your cast and crew against the snakes?
Bernard L. Kowalski: We had a doctor there at all times, in case anyone had gotten bit by accident. I’d had all of the people that were going to be dealing with the snakes exposed to the hazards, dangers and limitations of the snakes prior to our filming Everyone was informed as to what we could fool around with and what we couldn’t fool around with. We had no problems, I’m very pleased to say.
One of the highlights of SSSSSSS is the effective makeup on Dirk Benedict.
Bernard L. Kowalski: It was done by the best people in the makeup business, Dan Striepeke and John Chambers. At that time they were the very finest–they were Academy Award winners. Dirk Benedict was very patient–some of that makeup that they put on him took six to eight hours to apply. He was a wonderful person, by the way, a super guy. Heather Menzies and he were a wonderful team. It was a little family, all the way through working the picture, we did everything together, Strother and them, all of us. We shared all the good and the bad moments.
The most disappointing thing about SSSSSSS is its too-abrupt, let’s-get-this-thing done ending. Was that a last minute, money saving measure?
Kowalski: No, that was the original writing, We didn’t know where to go with it from the time that Dirk Benedict was killed. Being of the genre that it was the intent was to go out on the girl, Heather Menzies, screaming, and the terror of it. I can appreciate where you feel that it was abrupt. Obviously, in some senses, it didn’t work for us, but that was not done through an economy cut process.
Which is your personal favorite of the three horror/sci-fi films you directed?
Kowalski: The most recent one, SSSSSSS because the memories are more alive and fresher for me. I’m a giant fan of Strother Martin, and it was one of the latter experiences he had in films. He was such a joy to work with man into a snake. Strother Martin played the mad doctor whose specialty was reptiles. He had a serpentarium and hired aides, whom he then experimented on. One of the actors was an amputee who was without his legs and one of his arms. He portrayed the specimen who was a by-product of the drug that Strother Martin injected into his aides He was entered as a freak in a sideshow
Bernard L. Kowalski
Daniel C. Striepeke
Daniel C. Striepeke
Make Up Effects John Chambers
Strother Martin as Dr. Carl Stoner
Dirk Benedict as David Blake
Heather Menzies as Kristina Stoner
Richard B. Shull as Dr. Ken Daniels
Tim O’Connor as Kogen
Jack Ging as Sheriff Dale Hardison
Kathleen King as Kitty Stewart
Reb Brown as Steve Randall
Ted Grossman as Deputy Morgan Bock
Nobel Craig as Tim McGraw, the Snake Man
Drive-In Double Feature Released in 1973 by Universal Movie Studio
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973) SUMMARY
Robert Bridgestone (Kerwin Mathews), a divorced father, takes his son Richie (Scott Sealey) to the family mountain cabin. During a moonlight hike, the two are attacked in the darkness by a werewolf. During the struggle, the werewolf falls into a ravine and is impaled on a wooden fence, but not before biting Robert. Upon investigation, they find their attacker to be human. Unable to identify the body, the local sheriff concludes their attacker was a crazy drifter. Richie insists it was a werewolf, but his father and the sheriff laugh it off as childish imagination.
Concerned with Richie’s story, Sandy (Elaine Devry) insists her ex-husband talk with her son’s psychiatrist. The psychiatrist (George Gaynes) says that Richie’s werewolf fixation stems from his inability to accept that his father killed a man and instead has concocted a fantasy wherein his father bravely battles a monster. He suggests Robert take his son back to the cabin, predicting that when Richie returns to the scene and sees that everything is normal, his interest in werewolves will cease.
Returning to the cabin during another full moon, Robert experiences a wave of pain and sends Richie off to the stream. As he watches in a mirror, Robert changes into a duplicate of the creature he had killed. When Richie sees what is apparently the same werewolf resurrected, he flees to the woods, crossing a mountain road. The werewolf pursues, causing vehicles to crash. One driver is then dismembered by the creature. Richie comes upon two newlyweds camping. While they do not believe the boy’s story, they see his distress and agree to take him home. Arriving at the cabin, Richie’s father is nowhere to be seen, and Richie begs the man to let him return with him to the camper for the night. The next morning Robert, appearing dazed and confused, shows up at the camper and tells the couple he has been searching for Richie all night. Richie tells his father about the werewolf, but Robert is clearly losing patience with his son’s fantasies.
During the following night’s full moon, Robert transforms and searches through the house for Richie who, in anticipation, has hidden himself. The werewolf then seeks out the newlyweds, pushing their camper down a hill. He mutilates their bodies, carrying away one of the heads. Returning to the cabin’s shed just before daybreak, he digs a hole to bury the head. Richie, hearing noises, sneaks down to the shed and witnesses the werewolf’s changing back into his father. Moments later, the sheriff arrives to report on the previous killings, convinced of a connection between the attacks. On the drive home, Richie questions his father about his actions, but Robert dismisses everything, clearly irritable and bothered about his memory blackout. Richie jumps hurriedly out of the car upon arriving at his mother’s, telling her that he is scared to be alone with his father, because his father is a monster.
Sandy talks with Robert about their son’s fears and how Richie thinks Robert is a werewolf. It is agreed that another visit with the psychiatrist is in order. The doctor tells Robert that Richie genuinely believes that Robert is a werewolf, and that these type of fantasies can be quite powerful for children. The doctor tells Robert that werewolf victims suffer from amnesia and their hands will become deformed the longer they are infected. As their session goes on, the full moon rises and Robert kills the doctor. Meanwhile, Sandy tells Richie this time she will go with him and Robert for a family weekend.
The next day, a reluctant Richie and his mom prepare to leave for the cabin with Robert, unaware that the headline of the morning paper reads “Local Psychiatrist Murdered”. The three set out for the cabin, stopping at a hippie commune on the way. The hippies, with their wild-eyed leader (Bob Homel), are forming a circle of power to drive away evil spirits. When the family stop to watch, the hippies shout at them to join in, and while an amused Sandy agrees, when Robert tries to enter the circle, he is stopped short and cannot move further, as if an invisible barrier were before him. A disturbed Sandy grabs him and they get back in the car and continue to the cabin, where they settle down for the evening. Sandy talks gently with Robert, confessing that she has really missed him and that perhaps they should get back together.
The full moon rises, and Robert turns his back on her, silently walking away. In the shed he finds Richie, digging up the bag he had seen his father (in werewolf form) burying on their previous visit. Robert grabs Richie, clearly in the first stages of transformation, and begs Richie to lock him in the shed. Richie does so, but as he finishes, his mother sees him and hears the noises in the shed. Richie tells her it is his dad in there, whereupon she scolds Richie and tries to open the shed. Richie screams at her just as a clawed hand bursts through the door. Richie and his mother run to the car, escaping just as the werewolf emerges, screaming and snarling. The werewolf attacks the hippie commune and as the sun rises, the werewolf weakens and collapses. The hippies witness the beast’s transformation back into Robert, and though not understanding what they are seeing, they pray for the creature’s soul. Upon regaining consciousness, Robert flees into the woods.
Richie and his mother seek help from the sheriff, but upon returning to the cabin they find the creature gone. The Sheriff leaves some men to stand guard, while Robert watches from the woods and sees that his index finger has now become deformed. Later that evening, as Sandy sleeps by the fire, the werewolf slips silently through a cabin window. Sandy awakes to find it staring her in the face. It starts to carry her off, but on hearing her screams, the deputies burst in, opening fire as the monster jumps out the window. Richie begs for them not to hurt his dad, but of course everyone still cannot accept that it is a werewolf, let alone Richie’s father.
That evening, as the sheriff organizes a search party, Richie breaks away and heads off to try to save his father. As the moon rises, Richie finds his father, once again transformed, who grabs him and carries him off, with the mob close behind. Cornered, the werewolf attacks Richie, biting him on the arm, before a hail of gunfire distracts him. The bullets cannot kill him, but frantically attempting to flee, he stumbles and falls on the broken stake that held the hippies’ cross to the ground. It pierces his heart, and as a horrified Richie and Sandy watch, the werewolf transforms back into Robert. The last thing we see is Sandy examining her son’s bite mark, with dawning horror on her face (implying that Richie will be cursed to become a werewolf now).
BEHIND THE SCENES
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf is a 1973 Technicolor horror film directed by Nathan H. Juran, who came out of retirement to make the film as a favour to producer Aaron Rosenberg. Kerwin Mattews was closing out his career in 1973, with this film. “That was the absolute pits,” he relates. ‘ ‘The makeup took about four hours to apply, and almost as long to remove. The torture was immense. I couldn’t even eat during the day because I couldn’t move my face. The first time I saw myself in the full werewolf makeup, I thought: ‘Kid, this is definitely your last film.’ After that, I didn’t want to go on any more.”
Nathan H. Juran
Makeup Department Thomas R. Burman
Kerwin Mathews as Robert Bridgestone
Elaine Devry as Sandy Bridgestone
Scott Sealey as Richie Bridgestone
Robert J. Wilke as the Sheriff
Susan Foster as Jenny
Jack Lucas as Harry
Bob Homel as Brother Christopher
George Gaynes as Dr. Marderosian
Loretta Temple as Monica
David S. Cass Sr. as Deputy (as Dave Cass)
Harold Goodwin as Mr. Duncan
Tim Haldeman as First Guard
John Logan as Second Guard
Eric Gordon as Hippy ‘Jesus Freak’
Paul Baxley as First Werewolf
Making a Monster Al Taylor and Sue Roy
Son of Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film