Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cult Of The Cobra!

This 1955 Universal effort is an out and out horror movie. The premise of Cult of the Cobra is a bit busy, but basically six American soldiers at the end of World War II are sporting about Asia and stumble across a Cobra Cult called Lamians whom they offend mightily and so get cursed with death. Then a woman who can become a cobra begins to kill them off one by one.

The movie stars the magnetic and properly exotic actress Faith Domergue as the fatal "Lamia" or cobra woman, and a gaggle of handsome leading men types as the doomed G.I. Joes. Richard Long plays Paul Able who along with his best buddy Tom Markel played by Marshall Thompson date the same girl played by Kathleen Hughes. Along with their buddies Rico Nardi (David Jannssen), Pete Nortan (William Reynolds), and Carl Turner (Jack Kelly), they fly home after the thrillseekers had a harrowing encounter with the Cobra Cult which ended in the poisoned death of Nick Hommel (James Dobson). Once there the two rivals soon discover that brainy Paul has won the girl and somewhat bitter Tom finds solace in a mysterious but beautiful woman named Lisa Moya played by Domergue. She then knocks off the boys one by one before she is ultimately discoved.

There is a real chummy quality between the men which gives this movie some machismo charm. They seem really to like each other despite disparate personalities and backgrounds. But this esprit de corps is challenged by Moya's beauty and by the death which stalks them all.

The upbeat nature of the men's relationships is countered by the women in the movie who are disruptive and downright dangerous. In addition to the obvious threat posed by Moya, the woman Julia who the two leads vie for seems more than a bit manipulative in the way she ultimately handles both guys and unaccountably blind to the heartache she causes. I don't think she's supposed to be such a heartless character, but circumstances do not make her seem all that charitable.

So in spite of the chaos the men cause in this story, it's the women who seem truly to be the dangerous ones.

The movie has a few really neat scenes, though few are actually very scary. The scariest is a death that is handled off screen and is only suggested and shown in aftermath. That's the kind of restraint this film might've made better use of from time to time to maximize the threat.

I did see some attempts in the movie to evoke the manner of a Val Lewton flick, with some startling jolts from time to time, though they aren't nearly as effective. The general antiseptic nature of the movie is really after all what undermines its ability to scare, right from the Las Vegas nature of the Lamians and their dance skit to the generic studio lot feel of the sets.

This does seem like a movie ripe to be remade, and I can see a very sexy version of this made today with the right cast, and set in a more modern setting. it would sure be the snot out of the endless parade of backwoods slasher flicks they seem intent on churning out endlessly.

I can't say it's a classic, but it's a pretty decent movie nonetheless.

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