Happy Halloween, classic movie buffs! I hope you’re all enjoying a very spooky day. If you missed ’em, the past three features in this year’s Horror Half-Week were Don’t Look Now (1973), Diabolique (1955), and The Leech Woman (1960). Today, we dive into the dark and strange world of cults.
Slender hangs illusion, fragile the thread to reality. Always the question: Is it true? Truth is in the mind and the mind of man varies with time and place.
The time is 1945. The place is Asia.
The second World War has ended, and the troops are planning to ship home. Six officers of the U.S. Air Force are taking advantage of what time they have left, exploring a bazaar.
The men meet a snake charmer, who tells them of a strange, local cult that worships snakes and believes people can turn into them. For a fee, he’ll even take the men to see the cult in action.
Naive and more than willing to put their own interest over respect for the locals, the men follow the snake charmer into the cult’s temple, observing a ceremonial dance.
One of the Americans ignores the snake charmer’s warnings that they should be quiet and undisruptive, and decides to take a picture during the ceremony. Even worse, as the crowd reacts to the presence of the men and the high priest promises a death curse as punishment, Nick goes on to steal a woven cobra basket from the cult.
When the men run out into the street, they find Nick on the ground — suffering from a snake bite, with the empty basket on the ground next to him. Will the high priest’s death curse come true?
Cult of the Cobra was directed by Francis D. Lyon. It was written by Jerry Davis, Cecil Maiden, and Richard Collins, from a story by Davis.
Cult of the Cobra is surprisingly slow-paced for a film about a killer snake, who is actually a human, and a cult member. Not super slow — but enough for me to see plenty of room for improvement. Give us less romantic fluff, more odd cult rituals and snake attacks!
While the film would benefit from a bit more energy, it’s still a worthwhile watch. I liked Faith Domergue’s performance as cult member/shape-shifter Lisa, her emotional journey, and her introspection regarding her beliefs.
I’m a sucker for all things weird, so as much as I cringed at the exoticism (and the white actors playing Asian characters), I enjoyed what we did get to see of the cult’s practices.
In one scene, a woman embodies a snake in a ritualistic piece of performance art. She wears a costume that covers even her face, slithering out of a basket and around the floor (see the image below). The snake attacks that pepper the film also have some neat “snake’s eye view” photography.
The immediate post-war setting and targeting of war heroes are interesting, too; the victors of the war are facing the consequences from their darker wartime activities, such sneaking into sacred temples, stealing artifacts, and generally disrespecting the locals. I’m not sure the film was intended as a meditation on the perils of war and hero-worship, but it can certainly be read that way.
I expected to love this film, as it seemed to promise some of my favorite things: cults, snakes, and shape-shifting monster people! Though I did end up having a few issues with it, Cult of the Cobra delivered on those three counts; I’d give it a mild recommendation.