By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Dr. Carl Stoner (Strother Martin) hires a college student named David Blake (Dirk Benedict) to work as his lab assistant on his research of snakes. David also finds himself attracted to the Dr.’s daughter Kristina who also works with her father on his research. However, unbeknownst to both of them the kindly Dr. has come up with a serum that can change a man, over the course of several weeks, into a king cobra snake.
Although clearly done on a limited budget, this film really impressed me in a few areas. The first was that the actors performed with actual snakes. The snake handling that Martin did was simply amazing. I found myself captivated in one scene where he takes a live Black Mamba out of its cage and grab its head and then force feeds it through a special type of mechanical tube. Another scene has him taking a King Cobra out of its cage where, while in front of a viewing audience, he is able to grab its head and make it secrete its venom into a jar. To top that off the film climaxes with a mongoose attacking and killing a cobra, which is quite violent. I almost wished that this had simply been done as a nature documentary as it could have been just as frightening and fascinating. The chilling throaty sounds that the King Cobra makes, which is all perfectly natural, would be enough to scare most people. There is even a segment where actor Reb Brown gets bitten by a snake on his foot and it is done in slow motion.
Another thing that was impressive was the make-up effects done by John Chambers. Benedict really starts to look like a snake and the final transformation is incredible.
The areas were the film is limited is in the horror portion itself. For one thing it takes too long to get going. The metamorphosis doesn’t start to get interesting until the final fifteen minutes. The David character seems much too passive and trusting as he allows the Dr. to continue to inject him with the fluid even after he starts to have weird side-effects. The Dr. character is not menacing, or creepy enough to be scary. For most of the movie he seemed pretty cool and I found it hard to cheer against anyone who is able and willing to handle snakes the way he does. The music is another problem as it is too soft and melodic without the jarring and foreboding undertones that is needed to help accentuate the tension. The setting is bland we get no sense of the locale outside of the Dr.’s residence, which looks too much like a studio back lot. The entire production has a cheap TV-movie quality and it is photographed in a flat, unimaginative way.
The side-story involving the budding romance between David and Kristina is uninteresting and unnecessary. The segment where the two go skinny dipping and their genitals are strategically covered by trees and plants at every conceivable camera angle looks cheesy.
If you are into snakes, or make-up used for special effects, then you may find this film satisfying.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: July 2, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes
Director: Bernard L. Kowalski
Available: DVD, VHS