From the DVD case: Vengeance is sworn against six American G.I.’s after they witness a clandestine ceremony worshipping beautiful women who can change into serpents.
Mark says: Tom Markel can’t catch a break. During his last day of service he and his buddies crash a snake cult ritual resulting in a curse upon the gang and the sudden death (cobra bite) of one of his pals. After returning to the states, he loses his girl to his best friend and roommate, Paul. The very same night he meets the woman of his dreams who, it is eventually revealed, transforms into a cobra at will and is methodically knocking off his friends one by one. The brutalities of war must have paled in comparison.
It is difficult to watch Cult of the Cobra without being put in mind of Val Lewton’s Cat People, released thirteen years prior. We have the haunted, alluring woman, in this case Faith Domergue in the role of Lisa Moya, who has the ability to transform into a deadly creature and who fears she’ll harm or kill the man she loves; we have an American leading man, Marshall Thompson (Fiend Without A Face, It! The Terror from Beyond Space) playing Tom Markel, who tries desperately to understand his girlfriend’s hesitancy towards passion; and we have the “other woman,” Kathleen Hughes (It Came from Outer Space) as Julia who stirs jealousy in our shapeshifting friend.
What Cult of the Cobra lacks is the artistry of Cat People. There is no ambiguity as to who or what the killer is, a prime source of suspense in Val Lewton’s productions. Although Cult of the Cobra attempts to use some of Lewton’s techniques (i.e. the false scare often termed “the bus”), it just can’t seem to pull them off in a convincing manner. The suspense created is almost negligible.
That being said, Cult of the Cobra is not a total loss and certainly worth your time. Its primary credit is Faith Domergue in the role of Cobra woman, Lisa Moya. Though Ms. Domergue is most remembered for her roles in This Island Earth and It Came from Beneath the Sea, it is in Cult of the Cobra where she really shines as an actress. Domergue’s marriage was falling apart in the midst of this production, and the anguish she emotes is palpable. Though her large, droopy eyes and full lips don’t really reflect the characteristics of a cobra, she admirably expresses the torment of a woman torn between human and reptilian nature. I could also add that, at times, she is quite stunning.
Marshall Thompson has never been my favorite genre actor. He’s grown on me through the years, but he has never endeared himself to me like, say, John Agar has. There’s something awkward about his delivery that never lets me forget that he is acting. Nevertheless, he is somehow suited to the role of Tom Markel. That’s probably not a compliment.
Tom is obnoxious in his relentless pursuit of Lisa Moya. Today, most women would probably have a restraining order put on the likes of Mr. Markel. He not only continuously attempts to force kisses on a woman who obviously has no interest, but he lets himself into her apartment on the flimsy pretense of returning a glove. He then falls asleep on her couch so he can question her when she returns. Of course, as the era dictates, Tom’s stalker behavior pays off and Lisa admits to falling in love with him.
Most of the cast of Cult of the Cobra will be familiar to you because they went on to be popular television fixtures. Richard Long, who plays Tom’s roommate, Paul Able, will readily be recognized as Jarrod Barkley from “The Big Valley,” as well as his role in House on Haunted Hill; David Janssen, the bowling alley owner, went on to star in tv’s “The Fugitive;” and Edward Platt, the Lamian who curses the servicemen, amusingly enough, went on to play Chief in “Get Smart.”
Though Cult of the Cobra cannot boast the craftsmanship of Cat People, it is an enjoyable watch, thanks primarily to Faith Domergue and the black and white cinematography of Russell Metty (Monster on the Campus).
Directed by Francis D. Lyon and written by Jerry Davis.
Other notes of interest:
Tom’s roommate, Paul, is the scientist among the bunch, yet he is the only one open to the idea that the curse is real and that people can transform into animals.
The dog, Corky, is perhaps the finest actor in the picture. His terror of Lisa seems genuine, especially the way he shivers when she is around. I don’t want to know what they did to make him “act” that way.
When Lisa approaches Julia in the kitchen, in an apparent attempt to kill her, they get awfully close to kissing. I can’t help but think that was a deliberate innuendo.
It’s amusing to note how in the final transformation scene, from cobra to woman, Lisa’s clothing and accessories re-materialize, too.
Scene to watch for: Tom gives Lisa a serious once-over and then asks for a cigarette.
Line to listen for: “Hi baby, wanna egg?”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! out of 5.