Monday, March 19, 2012

The Cobra Goddess Will Avenge Herself

Universal-International produced and released this agreeable horror movie in 1955. CULT OF THE COBRA plays pretty stodgily under the frumpy hand of B-movie director Francis D. Lyon (DESTINATION INNER SPACE), but it’s definitely worth viewing for its amazing cast of young contract players who went on to television stardom.

Richard Long (THE BIG VALLEY), Marshall Thompson (DAKTARI), David Janssen (THE FUGITIVE), William Reynolds (THE FBI), and Jack Kelly (MAVERICK) play G.I. buddies in Asia just after World War II. For kicks, they sneak into a snake-worshipping ceremony, but a sixth pal (James Dobson) does something stupid, one of the cultists is killed, and Dobson soon dies of a cobra bite. Weeks later, the five survivors return to New York City, where sad sack Thompson, who has just lost his girlfriend (Kathleen Hughes) to roommate Long, takes up with pretty new neighbor Faith Domergue. Who is a deadly snakewoman looking for revenge.

There was a time when the five male stars were on television constantly, either in prime-time series or in movies playing in late night, and watching their familiar faces earnestly learning their craft in the 20s and early 30s is great fun. So is the movie, by the way, particularly the first couple of reels in which Lyon and U-I’s production designers create a visually appealing backdrop for exotic adventure.

Once the action shifts to Greenwich Village, the film settles into a routine of actors being bumped off one by one, a slight precursor to a later generation’s slasher flicks. The men are unsurprisingly killed in reverse order of their billing, which throws cold water on the suspense. On the other hand, Lyon handles the shock scenes fairly well, and the sloe-eyed Domergue is perfectly cast as the mysterious femme, er, snake fatale. Universal released it on DVD as part of its Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection set, but it’s straight-up horror without a touch of science fiction.

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