Who brings fear and passion into the heart of the Philippine jungle, striking with terror and hot, venomous lust? Why it’s the Cobra Woman of course, and in Night of the Cobra Woman (1972) she does just that, in a cheap, exploitation-filled frenzy of snakes, breasts, and incoherence. I’m afraid to say you won’t even win the small stuffed bear if you guessed that Roger Corman brought this to the screen.
Released by Corman’s nascent New World Pictures in January as part of a bill with Lady Frankenstein, Cobra was the perfect fit for the bottom half of a double header; short (77 minutes) and very weird, it offers up exploitation goodness as sweaty as the jungle itself.
Mr. Corman was as usual, busy busy busy, and when one has a location as visually sumptuous as the Philippines, one milks it for all its worth. The Big Doll House, Women in Cages, Beast of the Yellow Night (all ’71), Cobra, The Twilight People, and The Big Bird Cage (all ’72) were all made under the (uncredited) auspice of Corman – quick and cheap. And sometimes even good! Or at the very least, interesting; Night of the Cobra Woman would nestle quite snug in the last description.
And speaking of descriptions, let’s head over to the Philippines, shall we? Starting off during WWII, a nurse names Lena (Marlene Clarke – Ganja & Hess) discovers and is bitten by a cobra inside a cave; instead of dying from the venom however, she develops a mind meld with the serpent (named Molvini, thankyouverymuch) and the power to stay youthful as long as she feasts on the blood of young men. Flash forward 30 years, and plucky venom research assistant Joanna (Joy Bang – Messiah of Evil) awaits her stateside boyfriend Stan Duff (Roger Garrett – Circle of Fear) – yes, I’m using his full character name because it is simply wonderful – to arrive so they can visit the mysterious snake lady in the jungle. When Stan Duff arrives however, he can’t be bothered to wait for Joanna and makes the trek himself.
This is of course bad news for Stan Duff; he is soon under Lena’s spell, and believes he loves her – even as she ages him daily. Eventually (and I do mean eventually), Joanna makes her way to the jungle and finds that Lena’s intentions for not only her boyfriend, but mankind, are anything but hospitable. Can she stop Lena from draining every male in Manila of their life force and still get her man, Stan Duff, back?
Night of the Cobra Woman isn’t an especially “good” film, but it is fascinating; coming as it did at a time when exploitation films were pure drive-in fodder to keep folks awake long enough to buy that second soda, it offers enjoyment through its fractured editing and bizarre, serpent-filled narrative.
Director Andrew Meyer first came on the scene with a short film entitled Match Girl (1966), co-starring Andy Warhol himself. After various festival awards he was ready to move to features, and following his debut The Sky Pirate (’70), he made what turned out to be his final film, Cobra. Whatever there was in his short films that led folks to cough over money for a feature is beyond me; he shows no particular skillset for performance or staging, at least not at this length.
But, he does have a lot of enthusiasm; and while the acting is pretty stiff across the dial (even Clarke, who’s terrific in Ganja & Hess), I really wasn’t expecting much in the way of nuanced believability. Certainly not on an ultra low budget and with a barebones script; yet Meyer attacks the material (especially any of the scenes involving our serpent friends) with a gusto that bullheadedly plows through the short running time. There are many unanswered questions in play, including: why does Joanna wait forever to see her sick boyfriend in the jungle? I know snakes are fascinating, but take a break; I mean, Stan Duff’s been bitten – study him! As for how the mythology works, I’m still confused: Lena is bitten but lives; others are bitten but die; some are bitten and just age rapidly. How does this curse work? Who knows? Perhaps the confusion has something to do with the meat cleaver editing, in which scenes start and stop on a whim in a fevered attempt to piece together a cohesive narrative.
But see, that’s what I love, and I have a feeling many of you do as well; we see so many films with similar settings and stories, that when one comes along that does most things differently – even by accident – they become entertaining. And speaking for myself, that’s really all I could expect or want for a film of this caliber.
If I haven’t convinced you yet to check out Night of the Cobra Woman, dig this: when the alluring Clarke is having sex with a partner, she starts to molt; yes, her skin starts shedding right while she’s doing it. Being one of her conquests is like watching this film; no matter how weird everything is unfolding, you just can’t stop.
Night of the Cobra Woman is available on DVD from Scorpion Releasing.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: THINGS (1989)