WRITEN BY: Screenplay by Hal Dresner
Story by Matt Striepeke
DIRECTED BY: Bernard L. Kowalski
Strother Martin as Dr. Carl Stoner
Dirk Benedict as David Blake
Heather Menzies as Kristine Stoner
Richard B. Shul as Dr. Daniels
Tim O. Connor as Kogen
Jack Ging as Sheriff
Kathleen King as Kitty
Reb Brown as Steve Rogers...er, Randall
QUICK CUT: When Dr. Stoner needs a new research assistant for his herpetological research, he recruits David Blake from the local college. Oh, and he turns him into a snake for shits and giggles.
David Blake - Our hapless victim. David is a college student who gets recruited by Dr. Stoner to help out at his farm, and be his latest test subject. He's a nice guy, and there really is not much to say about him, as he's pretty bland until he starts growing scales.
Dr. Carl Stoner - The villain of our piece. He's a snake researcher looking for new grant money, and a new test subject. He actually means well enough, and is looking to advance humanity, but in classic horror movie fashion, he plays God and things go too far.
Kristine Stoner - The doctor's daughter, who is also interested in snakes. Especially David's. She's smart, and kind, and again a bit of a blank slate beyond those traits. Loyal to a fault with her father.
Dr. Daniels - A minor character, but Stoner's chief rival, and the man who holds the purse strings. The two doctors have an antagonistic relationship, but there seems to be an undercurrent of past friendship as well, overshadowed by Daniels' position. Or I'm reading too much into things.
Steve Randall - The college football star, and another minor character, although he does play an important part as being a rival for Kristine's affections. Even if that does come out of nowhere. He's a bit of your typical thuggish brute, although he doesn't start out that way. It's like Reb Brown, in his first role no less, played two different characters at the start of the movie and halfway through.
THE GUTS: I love when a movie starts off with a text card explaining that all the snakes used in the film are real, and the actual versions of what they're supposed to be. They didn't use any twin snakes that were less dangerous. That's pretty awesome, and gives you a real sense of danger that you might see something really go wrong.
With that announcement out of the way, the movie properly starts, and we meet Dr. Stoner and Kogen, carrying a long, coffin-like box out of a cellar. This is actually a really cool shot looking straight up from the cellar floor and into the night sky. I don't think I've ever seen a shot quite frame that way.
The two chat about the mewling creature, and Kogen says that it looks like daytime is about to break. Nah, that's just the stage lights making it LOOK like sunrise.
He pays the doctor for the creature, and heads out on his way with his aquisition, whatever it is. Other than annoying. Gah, those noises. We'll get back to them later.
The next day the doctor drives off, and next we're at a local college where Dr. Daniels is explaining the difference between a coral snake and its less poisonous twin. I'm having Freakmaker flashbacks already, but at least this guy is actually talking in front of the stock footage and slides.
While the teacher hams it up with some actual clever lines about confusing the snakes, we meet Captain America passing Faceman a note to hand off to a cute girl.
The note is intercepted by the teacher and he keeps the girl after class, all while Stoner audits the class from the back. I guess he needed a refresher course.
The rest of the class departs, and Doctor Daniels and Kitty have a private conversation. Well, private aside from the OTHER GUY in the back of the class. Did they not notice him? Ah well, minor quibble. But not minor enough to not point out.
Doctor Stoner, whose name we shall just accept all the jokes have been made already and move on, finally speaks up and Daniels has Kitty leave. Well, that was a nice pointless diversion. I guess it counts as character moments, but we'll not see these two characters much at all in the movie.
Daniels paints a picture of Stoner being a cackling mad scientist with wild theories. I wonder if he knows how right he is about his old friend?
Turns out Stoner is there asking for an extension on his grant. It's tough to get money to fund mad science. He tries to defend his work by patting his large bag, saying he's got a few decades behind his research, and seven books to his name. Does he have them in the bag? Because that would be awesome. Otherwise, why lovingly stroke the satchel?
The best part is he describes himself as not being a crackpot coming there with his hat in hand. The problem is, that is EXACTLY what he is. He is a man with wild ideas, begging for money.
Stoner's also there looking for a recommendation for a new lab assistant, and explains his previous one left on short notice. Short notice must be doctor code for 'in a box on the back of a truck.'
The students are milling about in the hallway, because I know when I was in college I always hung out right outside the classroom rather than go ANYWHERE else. Stoner comes out and introduces himself to David Blake, the middleman of note passing. David instantly recognises the name as a well-known herpetologist, so I guess he does have some renown hidden in that satchel of his.
Outside, they go to get into Stoner's car, and on the passenger seat is one of his snakes, Harry. Or possibly the latest in high fashion seatbelts. Or a previous research assistant. I gotta say, if someone asked me to get in their car and a snake was already using my seat, I might reconsider the job offer.
Oh hey, it might just be hard to see, but once Dirk is getting in the car, the snake is nowhere to be seen. That's probably a wise idea, but it is a rather glaring continuity error, especially since we never see him moved from the seat. We do see him picking the snake up a short bit later in the same uncut shot, so he got moved somewhere along the line. I won't be too hard on them.
And bonus props to how comfortable everyone seems with the snakes so far. That couldn't have been easy to do. I wonder how long it took for the actors to get aquainted with the snakes to that level.
David says the snake looks thirsty, and Stoner pours out some booze for the snake. I kid you not, he pulls out a bottle of something clearly alcoholic. If it wasn't clear from the bottle, it sure is from the dialogue.
They stop at a gas station and David starts to fill up the tank, until the local yokel attendant gets grumpy at him since this isn't self service. He grabs the gas pump from David's hand and spills gas all over David's pants and the ground. He is making way too big a deal over this. But this movie is before my time, so who knows? Maybe that's the way things were.
A little revenge comes along when Johnny Greasemonkey reaches into the car to get something, and Harry decides he looks tasty and wraps himself around the redneck's arm. And I'm already rooting for the snakes. I vote that Harry may well be the hero of this movie.
Stoner and David get the snake off the panicky attendant who gives them a bit of a yell, and David just smiles back and chastises him in the same way he was, for grabbing the gas pump without asking.
They arrive at Stoner's house and we meet his daughter Kristine. David sees her, and by the look he gives her, he's got love at first sight written all over his face.
Stoner tries to compare the natural fear we have of snakes to fear and hatred of minority groups, but I just ain't buying it. It's not a fear of something we don't understand, it's not because we're told one of them is dangerous so we hate the rest. It's instinctual fear of things that were once known to be quite deadly to our kind. Six of one, half dozen of the other, I guess. But comparing snakes to the plight of the slaves...
He then shows how one of the snakes is completely harmless and can't even be prompted to bite. Oh man, that would've made a great outtake if they managed that one in a million time when that sort of snake actually bit. Am I wrong? "See? This snake will never bite, ever! No at aaaaaAAHHH!"
Next we get a description of the tagging system on all the cages; green for non poisonous, yellow for poisonous but with readily available antivenom, and red for the ones that the antivenom is rarely able to be given in time due to the fast acting nature. There are several red tags on there, and again I recall that opening card of these being all real snakes, and just how serious those warnings are. Again I say props to each and every actor for working with these animals. I am simply fascinated watching these two actors actually feeding a black mamba. The training, the safety precautions, and they are as calm as can be. Awesome.
After the tour, David is given an immunization shot - suuuure he is - and warned there will be booster shots every few days, until he has built up enough resistence. That would be the deal breaker for me. I hate needles. A lot. Oh, and there's that thing about not liking snakes. But it would probably be the needles that did me in more than snakes.
David next gets to meet the prize specimen in Stoner's lab, the King Cobra. He stands tall and defiant in front of his captors, and Stoner explains he's afraid of almost nothing. Then he brings in a mongoose. Anyone who knows their animals can probably figure out what should come next.
It sadly doesn't though, as the cobra just shies away a little, not quite in fear, as the mongoose chitters angrilly at its natural enemy.
Over dinner, the Stoners and David get into a philosophical discussion about the snake in Eden, Lucifer, and man taking the knowledge it aquired and bringing us to the brink of extinction, which David doesn't agree with, and the knowledge can save us just as easily as damn us.
David gets up to help with dishes, but a wave of fatigue sweeps over him, and Stoner says that's just the innoculation. Suuure it is. He tells David he should sleep through the night and maybe even the following day, and that the venom is one of the strongest hallucinogens. Gee, thanks for mentioning that before jabbing him.
While David sleeps, we see his dreams of smoke and flame, and lava, and images of demons. See, this is why we don't have religious discussions after taking hallucinogens. Good things cannot come from that combination. And again with the stock footage. It is Freakmaker all over again.
David eventually wakes up after we see nearly two minutes of his fever dream, and there's Harry lying in the bed next to him, while Stoner watches over them both. I'm not sure which would scare me more after a long night of bad dreams.
Harry squeaks...wait, do snakes squeak? and has a conversation with Stoner. If I didn't have a tendency to talk to my pets, that would almost seem odd. Heck, it stil seems odd.
Stoner gives Harry some more booze, and justifies his work by saying God could always easily stop him if he feels it's wrong. Fair point. For a religious person, the fact the snakes haven't killed him yet is easy justification. I can roll with a character believing that.
David finally, groggily wakes up, to the sounds of people arriving from far and wide on the Stoners' front lawn, and Christina doing her best carnival barker and introducing people to her father's work. I love that David goes to the window, completely starkers, and pokes his head out. If the wrong kid looked at the wrong time, oh the hilarity that could ensue.
They release the king cobra into a pen as people watch. I watched the footage closely, and while they do tie in bits and pieces of the snake with Stoner, there is a lot where you can tell that they were filmed seperately as well. Which makes sense, just not the best editing job. The few pieces tying the two characters together though definitely help sell the moment.
Letting the snake get right up in the camera's lens, sitting on the ground, makes for some amazing shots though. I can only imagine how much more awesome that would be in a theatre.
See? There are indeed a few, very few, shots tying the doctor and the king cobra together. I really hope the actor got paid super extra megabucks, because he deserves it. Wow.
Things almost goes horribly wrong as the doctor gets distracted and the cobra almost strikes. Stoner is a pro though, and gets it together, reasserting his dominance, barely.
After that, Stoner grabs the snake and harvests venom in front of the crowd, as his daughter continues to explain, much to their excitement. Well, to the grabbing of the deadly snake. Not the explaining.
Later, David wakes up for the day's chores of who knows what. He doesn't seem to really do much besides sleep on this farm. And get jabbed with transformative serums...I mean, innoculations.
While brushing his teeth, he picks at some dead skin on his cheek, and forehead. This mildly worries him, although not overtly. It's more of a gee gollly, that's odd way. Stoner tells him that it's a perfectly normal reaction to the venom. Suuuure it is.
As if that wasn't bad enough, while they're talking about it, Stoner is peeling off gigantic swaths of skin from David's back. I know it's makeup, but damnit it still creeps me right the hell out.
David also comments on how he feels a little cold too. He obviously was not chosen because of his brains for this job.
The local sheriff and his deputy arrive to check out the place, and they really drive home how dim they are, very quickly. It's almost painful to see the empty eyed stares on their faces when Stoner references Bach, and they have no idea to whom he's referring. I suspect that's the look everyone makes when I make one of my more out there references.
They get the tour, meet the daughter, and a sick python that they help move into isolation. They're nervous, and I bet that's not acting. It must have been plenty easy to get people to convey their fear.
Once the doctor is alone with the cops again, they confront him about his previous assistant who has gone missing. They've heard from family and the school hasn't heard from him, and the last person to actually see him is the one the cops are interrogating in the basement. They seem satisfied enough with his vague answers, and don't really have anything to go on, so they head out.
David gets some more booster shots, and the mongoose is flipping his shit in front of him. Dave seems incredibly oblivious to this as he chows on an apple and gets his shot. Granted, we all know what's coming from the box, or trailers, or because we have a functioning brain cell, but c'mon. No danger bells are ringing in his head? How often can the excuse of, "Oh, they're perfectly normal reactions!" work?
We then get a montage of more snakes, including a cool two-headed one, and then a series of shots of David getting more injections, the mongoose wigging out, tossing in his sleep, wash, rinse, repeat. This goes on for a few minutes.
While David and Kristine go skinny dipping, Doc wanders around the farm, listening to his book on tape of Ssssssssssss, and he's up to the part where David's skin change has completed, and his temperature is dropping, not to mention some changes beginning to his facial features.
The budding romance takes Dave and Kris off to a local carnival, and sharp eyed viewers might recognise the man from the start of the movie in the background. And look, what do they go see? A sideshow. I really shouldn't be surprised. They're like my own personal hell. And gee, they have a snakeman. Guess what was in that box on the truck from earlier.
Kristine believes all these things are fake, but David insists on going in, so continues on his own into the sideshow tent. It is definitely one of the creepier sideshows. All the freaks look like they're in cellophane boxes, displayed like toys. Except the snakeman. It just looks weird to have them all displayed like that.
Once Dave is done checking out his future self, he comes out and runs into his college buddy Steve Rogers. Who was coincdentally hitting on Kristine while David was gone. Out of all the girls, it just happened to be that one.
Captain America starts to beat up David like he's the bully of the beach, for no particular reason. Seriously, he just shoves him to the ground, and pushes him around. They weren't shown as being antagonistic before! In fact, Steve used David to pass the note to Kitty at the start of the movie. It's like if I met a friend of mine and kicked him in the shin. The hell?
He tosses David around like he's a shield, until at one point he picks David up, and he starts biting Steve on the neck. I'll say this, Dirk does a pretty decent snake biting impression. It's far from perfect, but for someone human to do that, it's pretty convincing. Fortunately the cops are there to break up the fight.
And Doc Stoner is reading to Harry. I have nothing to add to that. He is reading Walt Whitman. To a snake.
Steve's still pissed about Kristine shunning him, so drives up to the farm on his bike. She's getting ready for bed, and David gets more shots, loses weight, and feels cold. And still is clueless that anything might be wrong.
Cap climbs up the trellis to Kristine's room, and as he's climbing in through the window, Harry clamps around his arm. See, he is the hero of this movie. Steve falls back to the ground, thus starting Cap's long, long fued with the Serpent Society.
Don't worry Cap, you'll get Kristine when she plays a doctor in one of your own movies!
The dink kills Harry, and after the snake's funeral pyre, Doc Stoner takes the black mamba out for a Sunday morning drive. As he heads off, David tries to comfort Christine, and she notices something is wrong with his face. Yes, she notices it before he does. And he even tries to just brush it off with a shrug and say it's delayed puberty or something. Suuure it is. How did he get into college?
Of course, Steve's attempts to get the girl don't matter, since by the time we see him back in his apartment, he's already done the deed with some ditzy brunette several times. He moved on quickly.
Stoner watches the girl leave (Is that supposed to be Kitty? If it is, she got drunker since we last saw her an hour ago), and sneaks into Steve's apartment. He tosses the black mamba into Steve's shower, and we learn that snake venom and the super soldier serum do not mix.
While he's gone, David and Chris make love, and I hope the doctor doesn't react to finding that out like he reacted to Steve's intrusion. Never anger the father of a girl with deadly snakes. That's got to be the moral of this movie.
As they make out, Christine notes she can't see David clearly, since she took her glasses off, and they drive the point home with a very blurry shot. They did the same thing with her glasses when they went skinny dipping. Now, this should build up to a third instance where she can't see David, and when she puts her glasses on, he's all freaky snakeman. But no, this never comes up again.
They hear the car pull up, and David quickly pulls underwear back on, while Kristine was already wearing hers. Ahhh, once again the curse of Hollywood sex strikes. They rush off before the doctor comes inside, but they left candles burning, pillows scattered around, and clothing behind. They know he's a brilliant doctor. They can't think Stoner is going to think nothing went on.
Stoner naturally does know what happened, and confronts his daughter about it. It plays like a typical father trying to protect his daughter scene, but thanks to the preceding hour of movie, we also have the undercurrent that she just slept with a budding snakeman, and she could have snakeman babies, or who knows what could happen after snakeman sex? It's a very well-done scene, with some nice subtext built on what came before, making it more than the typical sort of scene, even if the dialogue is right out of the playbook.
David wakes up the next day, feeling bad, and he screams at his reflection. The movie torments us by not revealing it yet. The doctor brushs it off as an allergic reaction when Christine wants to see David and find out what's wrong. Suuuure it is.
He writhes in bed, and when we see his arm grasping at the sheets, we can see it has become a mottled, greyish green shade. While David's in bed, Kristine is sent off to pick up a rare snake for their collection, and the doctor goes to watch his new specimen change.
The movie keeps David literally at arms' length and in shadow. You can see his face, and tell its wrong, but he's kept so far away, you can't quite make it out. Nice way to build suspense, but gimmie already! And when we do get him closer in frame, its from behind. We know he's a snakeman, Sssssssssssssssss, just get to it!
Just then, Daniels returns to the movie to tell them of Steve's...ahem, heart attack, and that the school has chosen to not extend Doctor Stoner's grant. Stoner gives him the brush off and sends him on his way, so he can get back to the far more interesting matter of the transforming snakeman. Whose face is being kept hidden behind well-placed cages and camera angles still.
Once he's far enough away, the other doctor parks his car and sneaks back through the grass. His subterfuge lasts all of five seconds as Stoner sees him lurking conspicuously outside the lab windows. He couldn't be less conspicuous if he wasn jumping up and down with a giant sign saying, "Here I am!" Good thing he's a doctor and not a spy.
Stoner grabs a hefty weight and goes after Daniels, being far more stealthy about the whole thing.
Meanwhile, David's still stumbling around, keeping his face hidden from our view in increasingly contrived ways, until Dr. Daniels comes up to a window, smiling like a goon at his student. And then David finally looks up and at his former teacher, and the camera closes in on him, finally giving us a good look at his new face.
The build up was, sadly, not worth it. It's pretty much his same face, slightly changed, and mostly given a grey pallor to it. They could've done something more at this point. Fangs might have been nice. It's a good thing that it ain't over yet.
Fortunately, the sight of David distracts him long enough for Stoner to kosh Daniels good in the back of the head. Bad prop alert: You can clearly see the foaminess of the weight as it bends and returns to form.
Daniels awakens in the storm cellar, and Stoner informs him that it's soundproof, in case he got any ideas about screaming. Forget soundproof, you guys live in the middle of nowhere. I have closer neighbours, and they wouldn't hear my screams.
And thus his speech about the difference between coral snakes and their twins comes back to haunt him, as Stoner chained Daniels up, but has two other very similar snakes guarding keys to his shackles. All he has to do is tell which of the two very similar snakes isn't poisonous, and grab the key from its cage. Or pray the other snake doesn't bite him if he goes for that cage instead. Clever turnaround, and a nice callback.
Daniels actually manages to guess right, or just get lucky, and he grabs the key without dying. As his shackles fall to the ground, the sick python left in the cellar earlier decides it is feeling much better now, and wraps around him like a squeeze toy.
Back in the lab, David's trying to get to a ringing phone, but he falls to the ground, and begins undulating his way across the floor. The makeup is pretty heavy at this point, and actually starting to change how he looks. I begin to wonder if that's still Benedict underneath it all. I hope it is.
David tries to answer the phone, as Stoner talks to his daughter, and we learn he lied about the rare snake he sent her to pick up. David tugs at the cord with his face, his arms and legs seemingly useless now as the transformation is rapidly progressing.
The man at the post office tells Kristine about the snakeman at the freakshow, and she decides to go check it out, for...whatever random reason suddenly piques her curiosity. And in the cellar, we see the python finishing off the last of Daniels' feet. Which makes me ask the question, do snakes burp?
Kristine lurks around the carnival for a bit, and sneaks in to see the snakeman, and she instantly recognises him as her father's former assistant. I'm gonna guess it's his eyes that are the giveaway, considering. Nice touch showing he's still in there somewhere, as a tear rolls down his cheek when Kristine runs away.
The movie has a hilarious interlude with Steve's girl of the moment showing up at the police station in tears, claiming she killed him because they had sex too much and that wore out his heart. Really. You have to laugh at that. Then she mentions the snake he killed at the Stoners', and the sheriff is suddenly interested. Also, they get a call from Daniels' wife about him being missing, and again they get a whiff of Stoner's name.
David's pretty far gone, and Stoner has stripped the boy's clothes off and secured him to a table, as he gives him one final shot to complete the transformation. He watches as David's arms and legs pull closer and closer together, the gaps fading away, and his body transforming more with each passing second.
This scene...it still gives me chills. They pull off a pretty convincing transformation. Especially for the 1970s. Nothing done with CGI has beaten this yet, in my opinion. It is scary, if not downright terrifying to me, to this day. It's actually hard for me to watch, and that's saying something. I'm sure many people looking at this for the first time today and say it's very cheesy, but something about it really sticks in the back of my head. Possibly from when I saw the movie as a young kid, and it instantly pulls me back to those memories.
Even Stoner, who shows some joy at the birth of his new creation, can't stop looking somewhat horrified at it as well. I think that's part of what gets me. This is something he wants, and he still realises the depth of what he's done.
Stoner scoops up the completely transformed snakeman, or just a snake really, now indistinguishable from any other king cobra save for his bright blue, still rather human eyes, as everyone begins to converge on the farm.
The mongoose is going apeshit at the new arrival, as Stoner takes the original cobra out into the pen. The doctor tells his pet about the competition and how it is a better snake with the intelligence of man. Because that is what the world needs, a smarter snake. That goes as well as expected, and the snake finally has its revenge, and bites the doctor.
He tries to speak, explain things to the snake...It's a snake! Explanations mean nothing! Good riddance, doc. It's only a shame that it wasn't David that killed you, as he should have.
The mongoose escapes and attacks David the Snake, as Kris arrives and confronts her father. Not that it does any good, what with him being dead and all. The king cobra is still there and protects its kill, backing Kristine against the pen's fencing.
Finally the cops arrive, and take a shotgun to the cobra. Cool effect of its head going splat. I'll say one thing for the movie, it's got some good effects and makeup.
They hear the squawking of the animals fighting inside and rush in to try and help David, as he rolls around fighting the mongoose. Kristine screams and screams, and...and the movie ends on her screaming face, leaving it highly up for debate as to just what everyone's fate is.
In a truly just movie universe, David's human intelligence gives him the edge over the mongoose, then he gives in to his snakely urges, killing the human intruders leaving pretty much everyone we see in this movie dead, save for Kitty.
But the mongoose probably kills David, and everyone moves on.
Anyone else with me on the everyone dies version?
Video: This is a very solid transfer of a movie this old. Good colour, clear, not too grainy, and well lit. A well made movie with good stock to work from, and the money spent to back it up.
Audio: A simple two channel mix, that had a good blend of the stereo, with the sounds of animals nicely used. A remix of this in full surround, with snakes lurking all around, and sneaking up on kills could be fun, if the movie supported such a plot.
Best Line: In memory of our dearly departed hero, "This is Harry, my obedient serpent." Sniff. Fare thee well, Harry!
First Kill: A full hour and five minutes in, and Stoner uses a black mamba to kill Steve in the shower.
Best Kill: Sticking with Steve for this one. That's a pretty crafty way to kill someone, and for the time, probably pretty new. The way Stoner just sits outside the shower and waits is unnerving. It might have been Daniels if he got killed by the wrong snake in the tank, but instead he gets accidentally by he python, which wasn't the plan. At least, not as stated.
Blood Type: B+ It's got some blood, mostly from an exploding snake head, but takes too long to get there. Most of the creepy stuff comes from the previous snakeman, and David's transformation, which are simply amazing, and in my opinion still hold up pretty well.
Sex Appeal: Minor. David and Kris get derobed a few times, but its kept hidden behind leaves...and I just got the Adam and Eve reference there. David is frequently shirtless though, as he gets injection after injection. Definitely more for the ladies in this department.
Movie Rating: This is another Freakmaker. It looks cheesy, and it kinda is, and yet it's pretty solidly made. The acting is good, and the drama isn't bad either. It doesn't quite have as much to say about stuff as Freakmaker did, but it's a fun ride, for what it is. A solid three out of five king cobras, with a possibility of maybe even being four on a good day.
Entertainment Rating: The pacing in this movie could have been better, and it takes way too long to get some dead bodies piling up, and we don't get anywhere near enough. This movie is a total slow burn, as we watch David's almost agonisingly slow transformation around mundane events. That said, it's still pretty cheesy, and worth watching, and I have fond memories of watching this with friends in the 90s. But the amount of time it takes to get to the good stuff ultimately hurts the movie, so we match the movie rating with a three out of five 'antivenom' injections.
Suuuuure they are.