NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN (1972)
Director: Frank Meyer
Scorpion Releasing

One of many exploitation flicks made in the Philippines in the early 1970s (at a time when American producers learned how much cheaper they could mount their productions there), NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN finally arrives on the DVD format courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.

During World War II, two nurses – Lena (Marlene Clark, GANJA AND HESS) and Francisca (Rosemarie Gril, POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL) – are about to explore a cave, when Francisca waits outside, and in turn is raped and shot by a Japanese soldier. Inside the cave, Lena is bitten by a cobra but doesn’t die and she seems to take on magical powers; she heals her friend of her wound by embracing her with the fanged pet whom she now embraces. Almost thirty years later, Joanna (Joy Bang, PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN ROW) a young biology student doing research with an anti-venom serum in Manilla, visits the hut home in the jungle hills where Lena now resides in hopes of finding information about a rare species of cobra. Joanna is told by an aged Francisca that Lena is in meditation and can’t be disturbed, but while waiting for her outside, she is scared off by a grotesque imbecile named Lope (Vic Diaz, BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT), who happens to be Francisca’s son. In the meantime, Joanna’s beanpole boyfriend Duff (Roger Garrett, A SAFE PLACE) flies in from America to visit her, and also ends up heading for Lena’s house in the hills. Duff is bitten by a cobra on his way, and Lena, who hasn’t aged a bit and periodically transforms into a snake, sucks the venom out of him and gives him shelter. But Duff is in store for a lot worse: he is to be made Lena's love slave (and she has to make love to numerous men to retain her youth) and he is forced to enlist further male victims to satisfy her desires and her ultimate destiny – to be a cobra permanently.

When Roger Corman gave up directing to concentrate on producing, he formed New World Pictures, mounting numerous successful productions in the Philippines including THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE BIG BIRD CAGE and WOMEN IN CAGES. Of course, the location and local actors were well suited for women-in-prison flicks, but also horror films (Hemisphere Pictures had done a sting of them during the 1960s and early 1970s). Fast paced and quickly made, NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN was churned out strictly with drive-in theaters in mind (it played in the U.S. on a popular double bill with Mel Welles’ Italian-made LADY FRANKENSTEIN) and feels more like a throwback to black and white Universal femme monster chillers like THE CULT OF THE COBRA and THE LEECH WOMAN with ample doses of nudity thrown in to satisfy 1970s audiences. The plot is convoluted within the short running time, and the acting is notably abysmal but there’s always something crazy up on the screen, be it slithering serpents and untamed wildlife or Clark disrobing to make love to one of her male victims (with a red diamond shape mark below on her neckline, you repeatedly witness the naked Lena peeling off her scaly dead snake skin as if it were extremely thick layers of dried-up Elmer’s Glue). The make-up is ambitious, if not always convincing, and the script is layered with some amusing dialog that’s supposed to be delivered with a straight face (“defanging a snake is like castrating a man”). One laughable sequence has Lena tempted to seduce a young man in the streets after he bends down to expose his carpenter’s crack (as she licks her lips in sudden approval).

Clark, a former fashion model with a number of exploitation films among her numerous movie and television credits, seems tailor-made for the role and actually elevates the film a great deal. With her ridiculous stage name, Joy Bang did both mainstream and exploitation pictures before retiring from acting altogether (she’s probably best known to horror fans from MESSIAH OF EVIL). Usually seen as bubbly bimbos, casting the actress as an ambitious and well-educated researcher is both odd and fascinating at the same time: the oversized eyeglasses don’t make her any more intelligent looking (especially with her constant blank stare) and it’s hard to take her character seriously with such lines as “Doctor, I really hit the jackpot with this venom”. Lanky leading man Garrett, an actor known mostly for episodic television, gives one of the stiffest, emotionless performances you’ll ever see in one of these types of films (his character’s first name is embroidered on his blue denim shirt). Since there must have been some kind of law at one time that Vic Diaz had to be in every single exploitation film lensed in the Philippines he not only plays the idiotic hunchback Lope (with one deformed, lowered eye and gag plastic teeth) but also the opening scene’s Japanese soldier (in ridiculous eye make-up which keeps his familiar mug turned away from the camera). As one of Lena’s more sleazy suitors, a thrill-seeking American sergeant, Slash Marks is likely a pseudonym for Harvey Marks, one of the film’s credited producers. Director Meyer also worked with Bang on his first feature, THE SKY PIRATE (1970); COBRA WOMAN would be his second and final feature.

Never before available on DVD and rarely seen since Embassy Home Entertainment released it on VHS in the 1980s, Scorpion Releasing has licensed the film from Corman himself for this long-awaited digital edition. The HD transfer was done from original vault materials, and the results are impressive, especially given how cheap this film always looked. Presented anamorphic in a 1:78:1 aspect ratio, detail is often sharp and colors are deep and strong, with very little in the way of grain and only a few soft looking shots on occasion. There is some fleeing debris on the source elements which are too far and in between to be distracting. The disc’s English mono audio track is in fine shape. Some sources have NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN listed as running 85 minutes, but this is the standard cut of the film (running a little over 76 minutes) and the same in content which could be found on the old Embassy cassette.

A great featurette “Queen Cobra: an Interview with Marlene Clark” (22:17) has the actress discussing auditioning for the part for Roger Corman, that co-star Garrett got a pulp infection while on location, working with the cobras and the cobra wrangler and how Rosemarie Gil only made a few dollars a day as a working actress in the Philippines. Clark seems to have a great remembrance o the shoot, including some anecdotes about her wardrobe and make-up (and that the make-up man carried a gun!) and the ways in which the Filipino crews work without unions (and how she just accepted their ways after some initial hesitance). The actress also touches upon some of her other films (PUTNEY SWOPE, CLAY PIGEON, BEWARE THE BLOB, SLAUGHTER, ENTER THE DRAGON, THE BEAST MUST DIE, BLACK MAMBA) with some truly amusing and at times, very telling recollections. When she did BEAST, she relates that Peter Cushing gave her a welcoming gift, a nosegay bouquet of flowers, on her first day on the set. “Cobra Venom: an Interview with Roger Corman” (5:46) has the famed producer talking about his first New World Pictures Philippines “horror” movie and his desire to make a film about a woman turning into something (with Maria Montez in 1944’s COBRA WOMAN as inspiration), with his thoughts on Clark, Bang and the director (who worked as an editor at New World) and his thoughts on film’s cult status (and that he’s pleased it’s finally getting a DVD release) fleshing out the brief interview. Corman mentions, as does Clark in her piece, that Cirio H. Santiago (the Jess Franco of Philippines exploitation, if you will) was involved (obviously in some production aspect), though his name is not seen in the credits. New World’s original theatrical trailer (shown here full frame) which boasts that it was shot in “Slitherama” is included, as are trailers for SCREAMERS, STRIPPED TO KILL, SORCERESS, SEIZURE, SPACE RAIDERS, DOGS, GRIZZLY, SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW and MORTUARY (all out or coming soon from Scorpion). (George R. Reis)

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