Cult of the Cobra - 1955
In Cult of the Cobra, a group of American G.I.s, out of curiosity with a slice of hubris, intrude upon a snake cult ceremony while in Asia, and for their trouble get cursed with death (by an uncredited William Platt!).
Returning to the USA, the G.I.'s re-enter civilian life in New York City and continue with their individual endeavours, but they start dying, one by one, from snake bite. One of the men (Richard Long) starts putting two-and-two together, realizing the source of the attrition is traceable to one of the men's girlfriends, played by Faith Domergue, her character recently arrived from, you guessed it, East Asia.
What the film lacks in special effects (the transformations of people into snakes and visa-versa is pretty thin) it tries to make up for with back story about the group of men struggling with their individual goals and, in the case of our two main male leads played by Long and Marshall Thompson, competing over the same girl (Kathleen Hughes).
The film pulls off the early Asia setting pretty well (that is, in a very Hollywood way, which makes it partially something like a stage show) and many of the snake scenes aren't half-bad, but the main special effect of Cult of the Cobra is Faith Domergue, her large expressive eyes giving the character of the lethal Lisa more substance than would otherwise seem possible.
Director Francis D. Lyon paces the film well and though he's no Jacques Tournier, Cult of the Cobra does borrow rather heavily from the Val Lewton movie style, with surprise moments appearing in stylistic ways right out of Lewton's Cat People and The Leopard Man, and for that matter, Faith Domargue's character is clearly patterned after the troubled Simone Simon feline-female from Cat People. Monster movies are hardly known for originality in general and borrow from their genre predecessors in many ways, and director Lyons (along with writers Jerry Davis, Cecil Maiden, and Richard Collins) may as well swipe from one of the best, something which doesn't hurt Cult of the Cobra at all.
Both Richard Long and Faith Domergue give the film energy and style when they're given the center of the screen, and if only they could have carried more of the tale. There's precious little mystery since we all know what's knocking off the men one-by-one, but the somewhat confused and tortured performance from Faith Domergue temporarily boosts the movie's qualities and makes it seem like its much more than it really is.
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Original Page September 30, 2020 | Updated Deb 2023