Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cult of the Cobra (1955)

... aka: Cobra

Directed by:
Francis D. Lyon

While stationed somewhere in Asia, six air force corporals about to be sent home decide to do something crazy before they head back to the states. They come across a snake charmer named Daru (Leonard Strong), who promises to sneak them into a secret society of snake worshippers called the Lamians for a hundred bucks. The cult believe that humans can transform into snakes at will and worship some kind of ancient snake goddess. After knocking back a few drinks, the guys slap on some robes and prepare to enter the Lamian temple incognito. Daru warns them to not be noticed. After watching a weird ceremony where a guy dances, two guys swordfight and a woman in a skin tight snake outfit slithers out of a wicker basket, one of the guys - Nick (James Dobson) - decides to snap a picture. The flash signals the cult that they've been infiltrated, a fist fight breaks out and, as the guys rush out, a cultist warns "One by one you will die!" The next day, Nick dies from a cobra snake bite. The other five guys; Paul (Richard Long), Tom (Marshall Thompson), Pete (William Reynolds), Carl (Jack Kelly) and Rico (David Janssen), head back to America.

Some time passes and the men are all back to regular jobs and regular lives away from the military. Rico has inherited his father's bowling alley, Tom makes a good living doing commercial / advertising art, Carl is a womanizing playboy, Paul is a research assistant and, uh, I'm not really sure what Pete does but since he's played by William Reynolds he at least looks good doing it. Roommates, Tom and Paul have both been dating the same gal, aspiring actress Julia (Kathleen Hughes), but she has finally made up her mind. She wants Paul and goes to break the news to poor Tom in the most condescending way possible, with such zingers as "We want you to stay our friend!" and "I'm sorry things didn't work out the way you wanted." Hey Julia, you could have avoided all that if you didn't simultaneously date two best friends. And if I were you, I'd be checking into your man's current living arrangement. He and his "roomie" cook each other breakfast, bring each other drinks and sleep in the same bedroom ("I'll be along in a minute, professor!") Next thing you'll tell me is that they even get their dry cleaning done together. Uh, wait a second...

Heartbroken but realistic about losing his sort-of girl, Tom is settling down for bed when he hears a woman screaming. He rushes into the apartment across the hall and sees Lisa (Faith Domergue), a doe-eyed beauty in a state of panic. It's her first night in town and she claims a man has just snuck in and tried to rape her. Tom uses this as an opportunity to ask her out on a date. I forget the exact words he used, but it basically amounts to, "I'm sorry you almost got raped... Wanna go out?" Smooth. Lisa agrees and he shows her all around New York City. Well, we don't actually get to see any of it. We just see them sitting at a hot dog stand talking about it. (Probably because this was filmed in sunny California).

Tom's instantly smitten by the alluring mystery woman, but she does have some hard-to-understand quirks about her. Why do dogs bark, cats hiss and horses kick any time they see her? Why does she go out on strolls around the neighborhood at 3am? Why doesn't she smoke, drink or enjoy bowling? Why is she so cold and resistant to romance? In you're quicker on the draw than that poor sap Tom, you'll realize that Lisa is the snake goddess. She's come to New York City to kill off the remaining guys who saw the secret cult ceremony. What she doesn't count on is falling in love. Paul doesn't like her. Of course he doesn't like her. Julie invites everyone to a play she's going to be in, telling Paul and Tom that "I'm counting on you all to be so gay that I won't have time to be nervous!"

Cult of the Cobra reminds one of CAT PEOPLE (1942) in its depiction of a virginal, foreign young woman who seems out of place in the world, is frightened by the prospect of love and sex and whose repressed animal instincts take on a literal form. This one adds the whole revenge angle to it, so it's a little different, but it's along those lines. However, while CAT PEOPLE effectively used suggestion to fuel its horror, this one gives us shadows of the cobra, rippling snake POV shots as it approaches victims and even utilizes a rubber snake. It's rather talky, not particularly original, the only actual transformation scene we get is at the very end (which isn't much) and the ending is unsatisfying. Much of the acting is pretty stiff, but Domergue (who replaced Mari Blanchard days into filming) is fun to watch. Every time someone mentions the Lamian cult, snakes or any of the soldiers, she'll look off into space with a vague sinister expression while spooky music plays. She also gets DRACULA-style lighting around her eyes any time she's about to attack or has a malicious thought. Aside from her, there's not much else here to recommend though it proves to be mildly entertaining.

Director Lyon was an Oscar-winning editor who'd also go on to direct CASTLE OF EVIL (1966) and DESTINATION INNER SPACE (1966). A quality print of the film has been issued on VHS and DVD by Universal, but the studio really seems to have cut corners on the budget on this one.



CavedogRob said...

Wow! haven't seen this since the early '70's. Great to hear it's on DVD!

zed said...

I quite liked the film, youve gotta admit the army guys at the start werent that smart (camera and all) their kindred were last seen pissing on bodies in afganistan and taking pictures of said actions :). the camera effect with the cobra is like war of the wars (though havent seen that film for F'in years)

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