Color, 1972, 76m.
Directed by Andrew Meyer
Starring Marlene Clark, Joy Bang, Roger Garrett, Vic Diaz, Rosemarie Gil
Scorpion (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The first Filipino horror film from the Roger Corman-founded New World Pictures, Night of the Cobra Woman is one of the earlier entries in the snake-themed horror cycle of the 1970s (which also includes such favorites as Jennifer, Killer Snakes, and Sssssss). This one's pretty strange and ratty even by drive-in standarsd of the time, which of course accounts for all of its charm today.
The fun starts during World War II as two nurses approach a cave on a tropical island. Lena (Ganja and Hess's Marlene Clark) goes inside to explore it and gets bitten by a mystical snake in the process, while her companion is raped and shot by a pudgy soldier (Filipino exploitaton legend Vic Diaz). Lena immediately transforms into a sensual half-snake creature who can use the venom of her slithery friends to heal her wounded friend. Flash forward to the '70s as venom researcher Joanna (Messiah of Evil's Joy Bang) arrives on the same island with her boyfriend, Stan (Roger Garrett), and his pet eagle(!). Not surprisingly, Stan soon falls into the arms of Lena, who's stayed eternally young thanks to her magical snake mojo and the local snake god, Movini, but needs sex to keep herself beautiful. Oh, and occasionally she sheds her skin, and the deformed Diaz is still lurking around for comic(?) relief. On the downside, her male lovers are drained of their vitality and age instantly, with only snake venom able to restore their vigor. That means Stan's also helping her find more victims to keep himself intact, with only Joanna offering a possible permanent solution.
Obviously the main attraction here is seeing two '70s starlets at the start of their careers, with Clark making for an intoxicating presenceeven if the role itself doesn't demand a whole lot. Already a veteran TV and film actor (fresh off of Hal Ashby's The Landlord), she would soon go on to a string of odd cult films like Switchblade Sisters and Beware! The Blob. Ms. Bang (and no, that wasn't her real name) didn't stick around as long but managed to make an impression on fans, even turning up opposite Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam. Given its brief running time of 76 minutes (which still feels about right given the material), rumors abounded that (in typical Roger Corman fashion) a longer cut existed at one point, though if so it doesn't appear to exist now. In any case, what's here certainly feels complete enough and should satisfy B-movie '70s fanatics of all stripes.
Following its theatrical run in a seris of double and triple bills, this film turned up on VHS from Embassy in an unbelivably murky transfer that made sitting through more than five minutes a major chore. The film then sat out the entirety of the '90s and '00s on home video, popping up eventually on Amazon as a streaming title from that same nasty, ancient master. Fortunately the 2014 DVD from Scorpion manages to wipe away decades of murk and neglect, featuring much more stable colors and a brighter, far more detailed appearance. It still looks like an ultra-cheap production, of course, but watching it is now an enjoyable diversion instead of a painful strain on the eyeballs. Roger Corman appears for a typically sweet interview (just under six minutes) in which he runs down the history of this film including the possible subconscious influence of the classic Cobra Woman, the "really weird" story, his thoughts on Joy Bang's stage name, the kinky poster art ("you could say it was a phallic symbol, and you'd be right"), and lots more. Then there's a truly fantastic 22-minute interview with Clark, who's been an enthusiastic presence on past DVD releases and seems to love this one quite a bit. Cobra wrangling, cockfighting, black candles, making The Beast Must Die, and other topics make for a lively chat from start to finish. The spoiler-laden theatrical trailer wraps up the set along with bonus previews for Screamers, Stripped to Kill, Sorceress, Seizure, Space Raiders (hey, you'll sound like a snake if you say all these titles in a row), Dogs, Grizzly, Sorority House Massacre, The House on Sorority Row, and Mortuary.