A decent premise drives this 1955 feature about six US soldiers caught up in a cult of snake worshippers. Creepy atmosphere, effective set-ups, and fine lighting highlight this somewhat uninteresting feature. Cult of the Cobra is solid for what it is and nothing more.
Those expecting snake attacks will be sorely disappointed. Cobra isn’t a creature feature, but more of a murder mystery. Faith Domergue plays Lisa, sent to New York to kill the six GIs who interrupted a sacred ceremony while on duty. She’s cold and sultry, a far cry from her characters in It Came from Beneath the Sea and This Island Earth the same year. She has the ability to metamorphose into a cobra, her means of claiming her victims.
Not enough time is spent with the soldiers, led by Tom (Marshall Thompson) and Paul (Richard Long), and their mental state. Once into the city, they begin meeting their fates quickly and continually dismiss the ever-real possibility that a curse has come true. Instead, the script takes the turn into a relationship story between Tom and Lisa.
This fails too. Their time on screen is never spent in a unique way other than Lisa constantly shrugging off Tom’s advances. The moral question of her religion, any explanation for the transformations, why she adapts so easily to a more modern society, and other questions remain unanswered.
Director Francis Lyon keeps the inevitable snake attacks interesting. Whether or not the strikes are performed from a point of view of the snake for style or budgetary reasons, they work. When the cobra does land some screen time, it’s an effective puppet, highly detailed to remain believable in rapid cuts. There’s something to nearly every death besides a basic venom shot.
Cult of the Cobra moves quickly, wasting little time to make it to the curse and getting the soldiers back to their homes in the US. This creates a fun action sequence when the men are caught spying and their eventual escape. It draws the viewer in and keeps them in place.
Logic is of course at a premium. Apparently, the coroner failed to notice snake bites on all the victims until requested by Paul. The deaths are all under suspicious circumstances.
With make-up legend Bud Westmore on the crew list, it’s also a shame we’re never treated to a transformation until the closing seconds. Lisa transforms off screen, in silhouette, and finally in plain view ineffectively. However, prior to her change, the lighting focuses on her eyes, creating a sense of panic and terror. This is arguably a better choice.
Cult of the Cobra gets around half right. The mystery doesn’t necessarily work since the viewer is let in on the secret early. However, it’s still highlighted by sharp filmmaking to keep a ridiculous and loose story together. It’s simple entertainment for an audience that enjoys sci-fi from the era.
A widescreen print greets the film for its first DVD appearance (and first home video release in 11 years). Clarity is high, and the contrast that is critical to the film is spot on aside from the opening market scenes which appear washed out. The print is in remarkable condition without a speck of damage. Grain and dirt are heavy at times and vary dependent on the shot.
Audio fans will find this 2.0 mono presentation serviceable. It’s flat, though free of popping or static. The soundtrack is controlled without distortion even when pitched high.
No extras are included aside from the original trailer.
Curse of the Cobra is available at Best Buy in an exclusive five-movie set. The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volume 2 houses Universal classics in a sharp fold out case. While none of the films have any notable extras, the presentations are wonderful.