VCI’s new “Euro Fantastico” collection is just that, a rediscovery of two seldom-scene West German thrillers made in the early 1960s. While this Euro cult double feature isn’t of the overly raunchy, gory or exploitive kind, it’s sure to satisfy those filmgoers with a soft spot for the black & white “Krimi”, “Edgar Wallace” and “Dr. Mabuse” pictures of the same era, which in some cases utilized some of the same familiar performers. My recommendation to you if you decide to pick up this disc: watch these features late at night to recapture the far off days when unconventional imports were given their fair share of air time, at least by the local TV affiliates.
THE BLACK COBRA (Die schwarze Kobra) tells of a young truck driver named Peter Karner (Adrian Hoven) who is unknowingly transporting a cargo of illegal narcotics. His companion, who is in the know, is shot dead by thugs guised as police officers, and after Peter is detained and given a beating by their gang, he manages to make his escape. With the demolished truck and the dead companion discovered by the authentic authorities, Peter is now wanted for murder. He takes refuge at the roadhouse operated by his gorgeous girlfriend (Alexa Bergmann, JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET, HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS) as well as an oversized handyman/mechanic played by Ady Berber. Peter's refugee status is confirmed on all angles by the police trailing him, as well as being tracked down by the crime lords, drug dealers and other sleazy interested parties, many who will be picked off along the way.
THE BLACK COBRA (a direct translation of the German title, a reference to a slithery creature who is let loose and does battle with a mongoose later in the film) has the look and feel of most of the early 1960s Krimi mysteries, with the only real mystery here being the identity of the baddie behind all the contraband and murder (known as "Mr. Green"). On the onset, the film appears to have taken some inspiration from the Hollywood darling THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, but the plot turns out to be pretty standard stuff involving pin-striped suited gangsters, erratic sleazeballs, bumbling detectives, busty cocktail waitresses, etc. It’s basically made much more fun by a top notch Euro cult cast headed by Adrian Hoven, as the film appears to have been a vehicle for him at the time of release.
Hoven had been acting in German movies since the late 1940s, becoming more of a leading man in the 1950s and 1960s, sometimes appearing in genre pictures like 1963’s CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD. In the late 1960s, he collaborated with Jess Franco on several sex/horror films, but would go down in infamy by producing MARK OF THE DEVIL and its even grosser sequel (which he directed). Ady Berber plays a good guy for a change, at one point wrestling a hairy cranium-scarred brute who makes even him look like a pretty boy. Once hyped (at least in small circles) as a sort of German Tor Johnson, Berber (a former wrestler) is best known for his unforgettably fiendish performance as the bald-headed blind stalker in DEAD EYES OF LONDON. Receiving special “and” billing in the cast credits, Klaus Kinski (without the accommodation of his real speaking voice, as usual) plays an obnoxious, snitching junkie and naturally steals every scene he’s in. The film also features Herbert Fux (MARK OF THE DEVIL), Wolfgang Preiss (who played the titular character in most of the 1960s Mabuse films) and Günter Meisner who you’ll all recognize as Slugworth from WILLIE WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971).
In NO SURVIVORS PLEASE (Der Chef wünscht keine Zeugen), a pilot is asked by a mysterious voice to crash his plane, requesting that there be “no survivors please.” That very plane holds American ambassador John Farnsworth (Robert Cunningham), who is all about world peace. The plane does crash, and Farnsworth miraculously survives, only he is not himself but rather the shell for an alien being. More important people of different nations die in violent circumstances, and they're all taken over at the moment of their death by these aliens – their ultimate mission being to destroy the Earth by causing an atomic way. A savvy young journalist named Howard Moore (Uwe Friedrichsen, GORILLA GANG) becomes increasingly suspicious about how Farnsworth and others like him manage to survive, and at the same time he begins a torrid love affair with Farnsworth’s attractive assistant (Maria Perschy, HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE) while attempting to find some answers.
Starting off with cryptic “Twilight Zone” like narration over a black sky of stars, NO SURVIVORS PLEASE is an interesting mix of science fiction and drama, though if you missed the first few minutes, you’d fancy it more the latter. Without encountering the typical alien invasion clichés, the film mounts a convincing chaotic tension and cold war paranoia in the tradition of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and in essence is the superior of the two features on this set. It’s quite a strange film with characters being bumped off in various ways and then reappearing in the next scene via their alien takeover, with the love story between and Perschy and Friedrichsen taking a front seat, and there's a sort of compassion on display in several of these other-world invaders, despite their intentions. There's a bit of documentary style camerawork and lots of stock footage on hand, and despite some scenes dragging on a bit long, it’s quite a unique little film as a whole. A cult figure more known for her numerous appearances in 1970s Spanish genre films, Austrian born Maria Perschy has never looked more glamorous in face and figure, and even though she’s speaking her lines in English (as does most of the cast), she’s unfortunately dubbed by another actress.
VCI presents both black and white films in serviceable 4x3 full frame transfers, likely transferred from their American TV broadcast masters. Both films appear to be compromised from their original 1.66:1 aspect ratios, with BLACK COBRA looking the more cropped of the two in terms of its framing. BLACK COBRA looks the better of the two, with NO SURVIVORS suffering from more blemishes in its print source, but then again, the movie does utilize a lot of stock footage from variable sources. Both contain the English dub tracks which have their intermittent limitations, but no severe problems. (George R. Reis)
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