Dirk Benedict will appear at the upcoming Chiller show in October, alongside fellow A-Teamer Dwight Schultz. Let’s see if he has 8x10s from Sssssss, as co-star Heather Menzies has in the past.
Dirk Benedict is best known for his role on two popular television series, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and THE A-TEAM. Though those shows are cheesy by today’s standards, they’re part of today’s zeitgeist because of their recent reinterpretation as a SyFy series and big budget feature remake, respectively. Benedict was the shining star on both those shows, with his Hollywood good looks and his wisecracks, and growing up with him on my TV, I always liked him. But I can’t say I’m surprised that no one has stepped to remake the project he’s probably third most famous for, the sci-fi dud Sssssss. Even in the age of remakes, I can’t see anyone ponying up the cash for an update of a film in which a mad scientist spends 98 minutes slowly turning a grad student into a python.
Yes, you heard that right. It starts off with Strother Martin’s evil scientist Dr. Stoner, selling something named “Tim” to a carny, deep in the night. So many things are wrong straight from the start. Let me rephrase my previous sentence as such: “A character actor from THE WILD BUNCH plays a guy named ‘Stoner” who meets a carny, played by an actor from GALACTICA’S competitor BUCK ROGERS, in a scene directly copped by the SyFy cheapie CARNY.” That sounds a lot worse to me. Anyway, turns out Stoner is trying to get funding and test subjects from the university at which he teaches, much to the chagrin of his colleague, Dr. Daniels. Eager to make a buck and avoid getting pummeled by musclehead Steve Randall, Benedict’s student David is more than happy to capitulate and offer his services to Stoner, whose motives are undisclosed.
David encounters plenty of snakes of all shapes and sizes, needles in the arm filled with fluids unexplained to him, and Kristina Stoner, the doc’s daughter and David’s love interest. What he does not encounter is a lot of action, and neither will you. There are lots of scenes of snake wrangling, but unless you’re like my dad and fear them, they’re not going to scare you. The direction is so flat and uninvolving that even a staredown between a man and a king cobra won’t elicit so much as a flinch. This is how to use a king cobra:
The few attack scenes are laughable, with the snakes falling and, well, just hanging from a victim’s arm. If you’re going to make a movie about snakes, you need to take full advantage of man’s species-long fear of these slithering, fang filled beasts. This could have been a really frightening flick, had it not been shot and scored like a TV movie of the week.
And poor Dirk, this plot doesn’t give him anything to do. By the time he tussles with Steve Randall and bites him at the carnival, it’s almost an hour in, and it’s already too late. The script should have made him more proactive, but instead, he takes injection after injection. The only real development he has as the protagonist is his budding, awkward romance with Kristina. But even this falls flat, as a guy as handsome as Dirk Benedict doesn’t come across as the type to fall slowly for a nerdy scientist in the making. The young love does provide the best scene in the film, though. It’s a PG flick, so when they strip down to skinny dip, there’s the old, creative game of “use the leaf to hide the nudie parts.” And when that’s the best part of a sci-fi horror flick, it’s saying something.
The other problem with the plot is it wants to be a no frills version of H. G. Welles’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Thankfully, when the novel got a formal film in 1977, it had some effects makeup budget and a sense of fun. Sssssss is a bore, in the spirit of a 1950s programmer, where a whole lot of screen time is devoted to scientists talking about science, but not doing much with it. Film was invented for “show me, don’t tell me,” but much like its predecessors, Sssssss is way too chatty when it could deliver the goods instead.
And once it delivers the goods… well, I did tell you that THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU had some makeup in the budget. Here… not so much.
I should have known this flick was going to fail on all cylinders when I first spotted Steve Alexander in class. He’s essayed by Reb Brown. Oh, you have no idea who he is? Then you’re not one of the 57 people who’ve seen THE HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF. I, unfortunately, am. It’s the first of many films to prove that it’s impossible to make a good sequel to the minor classic THE HOWLING. And Reb is a big part of that.
I should also thank the movie’s producers for their PSA at the beginning of the film, which explains where the king cobras and the python came from. Nothing quite like shooting suspension of disbelief directly in its rattling tail before the first scene of a sci-fi film. Bad enough this review kept making me write the word “stoner.” Way to go, Richard Zanuck and David Brown.
And if those names sound familiar to you, I won’t be surprised. They produced Sssssss in 1973, and a few years later, they would return to the threat of animals with sharp bites, in a film just a little more popular than this one. It’s name was JAWS. If Dirk would have found his way into that one, he’d have a third iconic role. Pity poor Dirk.