There is no movie title that is more fun to say than this one. The kid in me gets a real kick out of telling people about this movie because saying the title elicits looks of confusion and the occasional nervous laugh. It is even more satisfying because I can give this flick a solid recommendation as it clips along at a nice pace, has good make-up effects, and comes from the nature-runs-amok subgenre (one of my favorites). The movie also boasts that all of the reptiles that are used in the film are real via a message in the opening frames. This is true for the most part and demonstrates what a different time the 70’s were for filmmaking. Coming from today’s world where nearly everything is fake, it is a big deal to expose actors and crew members to deadly snakes and it adds a level of realism that we seem to have lost in today's computer-generated world. This really pays off by immersing us in the world of an overzealous snake scientist and his cockamamie experiments.
Strother Martin stars as Dr. Carl Stoner, a scientist who has developed a serum that can turn a man into a snake. After a failed experiment, Stoner recruits a college student named David (Dirk Benedict) to become his new lab assistant. I was really tempted just then to put extra s’s in the word “assistant”. Anyways, David is really keen on his new job as Stoner is a reknowned scientist so he happily agrees to be injected with snake venom on a regular basis. He also finds himself attracted to Stoner’s nerdy daughter Kristina (Heather Menzies) and they soon develop a relationship despite the protests of her old man. Things take a turn when a local jock named Steve (Reb Brown) follows Kristina home from the fair. While trying to have his way with her, Steve kills the most beloved of the Stoner’s pets. This leads to crazy Carl hunting Steve down and killing him (with the help of a slithery sidekick). While this is all going on, David is feeling the effects of the injections and wakes up one morning to find himself looking quite different and coming to the realization of what is happening to him.
The innocence and naivety that David and Kristina embody is what makes this movie work. These two are completely oblivious to Stoner’s intentions and are more concerned with feeling their young love blossom. You would think that the peeling skin and feelings of being cold would be a hint but nothing seems to phase these two. Even after an altercation at the amusement park where David awkwardly attacks and bites his assailant like a cobra, there still seems to be no concern that something may be amiss. The movie plays quite simply so that we just focus on the story rather than flashy cinematography. This may have something to do with that fact that director Bernard Kowalski and cinematographer Gerald Perry Finnerman come from a background in television rather than feature films. Although this is sometimes a hindrance to a theatrical motion picture, the style worked for this flick as most of us are mostly interested in the snakes. The movie delivers in this respect and the scenes with the reptiles are shot well.
Make-up legend John Chambers was involved with the effects which is why they look so good. Chambers created the memorable make-up in the Planet of the Apes series and you can see traces of this in the snake transformations. It helps that Dirk Benedict in convincing and sells the subtle changes without overacting. Benedict was Starbuck in the original “Battlestar Galactica” and Face in the original “A-Team”. Menzies appeared in Endangered Species and Piranha. Reb Brown is memorable in his film debut as the meathead jock and went on to a career of starring in cheesy action flicks such as Yor: The Hunter from the Future, Strike Commando, and Cage. He also had the lead role in the 70's TV version of Captain America with Menzies as his co-star. Strother Martin has appeared in countless movies but most people know him as the Captain in Cool Hand Luke who explains to Paul Newman, "What we've got here is failure to communicate." He was also a Stoner in Up in Smoke. (Josh Pasnak, 2/16/12)
Directed By: Bernard L. Kowalski.
Written By: Hal Dresner.
Starring: Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies, Richard B. Shull.