It's really hard not to want to gamble with their titles, however. All the Scream (and Shout!) Factory releases have great packaging, and often do justice in terms of extras to even their lesser films; plus in many cases the label has quite a knack - when not digging out weirdo items that I'd never even heard of, like The Nest - for putting out movies that I, at least, have been curious about for decades. Such is the case with Michael Ritchie's modern-day Caribbean pirate film The Island - actually a Shout! Factory release. It's based on a Peter Benchley novel; his works have been the source of at least one great film (Jaws) and one interesting one (The Deep), plus it stars Michael Caine and David Warner, who has been a favourite of mine since I saw him as Jack the Ripper in the 1979 time-travel adventure Time After Time. I remember the box art from ads in newspapers my parents used to get, back when I was twelve, and remember even then having a positive association with the name David Warner. I've wanted to see it for a really long time, but it never came out, to my knowledge, on VHS, and I never crossed paths with the archive DVD release, though there was one - overpriced, as usual, considering the bare bones, burn-on-demand nature of archive releases. If there's ever a way to have seen this film, since it came out theatrically in 1980, the Scream Blu/DVD combo is it, and I'm probably going to pick it up at some point even though the reviews simply aren't very good. (IMDB reviewers are kinder, and one, Jay Nix, actually deserves points for giving his review a clever title, "Terror on the High C+"). How can you not be compelled by art as cool as THIS, though?
Anyhow, the reason I write is to reassure anyone who shares my concerns that Sssssss, out now on Scream (and which, at $22 something, is actually priced lower at Videomatica than at HMV!), is one of those total winners the label has dug up, and a film that more than deserves their loving Blu-ray treatment. It has one of the most implausible horror movie scenarios of all time (in no way a bad thing, note): a mad scientist (Strother Martin) is performing experiments on human subjects - including original Battlestar Galactica star Dirk Benedict - in the hopes of turning them into a king cobra - which approaches a Human Centipede level of batshit, but is played more-or-less straight up. There's just enough shlockiness afoot that you wonder if the scientist being named Dr. Stoner was a wink at 70's drug culture, though in the film, he's not a toker, but a whisky drinker. So, for that matter, is his python, Harry (presumably that's not real booze he's seen drinking).
Implausible premise aside, this film has so much to go for it: bizarre and inspired creature effects, including a bathroom mirror sequence that surely inspired Cronenberg in The Fly, and a shower sequence that has a lot of fun with its references to Psycho.... plus there are tons of real (and apparently un-defanged) snakes, and real interactions between the snakes and the cast, which includes faces that will be like a warm hug for fans of 70's exploitation, including Heather Menzies - now Heather Menzies-Urich - from Joe Dante's Piranha and Alan Rudolph's Endangered Species, and other vets like Richard B. Shull and Tim O'Connor. Strother Martin does a great job, too, in a thankless role, playing Stoner like a man who is mostly defeated by life. Not only is he bored of the mundane world, he's sick of being ridiculed by his career-oriented peers, and enraged and humiliated by having to hustle for funds. He's forced to treat aspects of his work (like collecting snake venom) like he's a circus sideshow - and, in a particularly memorable opening scene, we see him selling off one of his failures to a carny, swallowing his pride and taking the cash. Still, his ego clings to the hope that his experiments will vindicate him and win him glory, that all his failures and mediocrities will be atoned for by some (deeply improbable) future success; you can - or, well, at least I can - actually identify with the guy, feel a bit sorry for him, as a fuckup Frankenstein whose self-delusions only carry him so far, and whose alcohol consumption isn't quite high enough to entirely obliterate his self-awareness. (The "hero," Dirk Benedict, is quite dull by comparison, actually - a "doofus," as Benedict himself describes him; this is Strother Martin's movie).
an interesting read - but in the end, I have no idea what the case is with Sssssss.
That one concern aside, this film is a real winner, in my books; cheers to Scream Factory for having done it justice. Now if only I could convince my girlfriend to watch it with me...