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.


Jiang shi shao ye (1987)

... aka: 殭屍少爺
... aka: 神奇小叮噹
... aka: Corpse Master
... aka: Magic Story
... aka: Shen qi xiao ding dang
... aka: Young Master Vampire

Directed by:
Bing-chi Liu

During the opening credits, three vampires are resurrected, turn into cartoon bats and fly out of a castle. And that ends up being the highlight of this unfunny, lackluster MR. VAMPIRE rip-off. The vampires go to a small village and start killing, starting with a night watchman. A professor (Bill Tung) needs vampires for his experiments and sends his bumbling idiot assistant Akui (Mars) out to find some; promising him 5 bucks per vampire. Too bad the assistant is a complete buffoon who's unable to procure a corpse and is too busy trying to romance the scientist's daughter Ahua. A greedy, red-nosed, bogus priest named Mao Shan has been stealing bodies from the morgue to add to his small army of obedient vampires. Using spell paper attached to the foreheads, he's able to make them jump, turn, go up or down and do other basic commands. Though it doesn't really say, it seems he's using his vampires to scare the villagers and then makes money on the side by selling them charms that supposedly ward off vampire attacks. The corrupt police captain and his klepto chief aide Wang are also in on the scam.

Akui finds a cutesy and mostly benign little child vampire that can be summoned using a gold pocket watch. He nicknames him (what else?) Ding-Dong. Ding-Dong has his own theme song and there's even a cheesy musical sequence set in some kind of black void where the kid vamp plays with other child vampires while a children's choir sings about innocence and how children are "a precious treasure." Ick. The little vampire follows Akui around like a lost puppy, mimics his every move, wraps him up like a mummy, hangs from the ceiling by his fingernails and tries to shave. Akui takes him outside during the daytime and when his sunglasses are accidentally removed, he become ill and wll turn into a pile of ashes unless the scientist can cure him. He comes up with an idea about sending electronic waves through Ding-Dong, which works. But by that point, the bad guys get their hands on Ding-Dong. In a twist lifted directly from MR. VAMPIRE II (1986), the main vampires that have been haunting the village turn out to be Ding-Dong's parents and all they want is their kid back.

For a good hour plus, this is nothing but sub-Three Stooges slapstick scenes featuring idiotic characters doing idiotic things accompanied by comic sound effects. The real action doesn't come until the last fifteen minutes, when our heroes, the bad guys, the vampire parents and a super-strong vampire granny (played by a man in drag!) start fighting. These scenes are passable and utilize decent stunt and wire work, but by this point it's too little, too late. Mythology from the Mr. Vampire series is reused (the spell papers, holding one's breath to keep vampires away, etc.), though this does come up with one new trick to add to your vampire fighting arsenal... piss. Yes, apparently piss can keep vampires away. But only the piss of a virgin (!!!) During the finale, when Akui can't "make water" he's instructed to rub garlic on his privates to speed along the process.

The film went unreleased in American until a few years ago, when Deimos put it on a double DVD ("Eastern Horror: Volume 4), where it's paired with the Indonesian ghost / zombie horror SATAN'S SLAVE (1982).

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