director Francis D. Lyon
The DVD format might have been short-lived in its marketplace, usurping VHS, then usurped by BluRay and slowly eradicated by non-physical formats, I am possibly of a minority that appreciated aspects of the form. The best DVD’s have typically come from Criterion, not just new prints and repaired versions of films, but with really valuable additions like commentaries by scholars with solid historical or critical value or mini-documentaries to accompany films with valuable information.
But there have also been these odd box sets and double features, which sometimes make for some solid companionship. More recently I watched The Monster that Challenged the World (1957) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), which was a sweet little double feature.
Now, Cult of the Cobra would actually probably make a better double feature with something different than Dr. Cyclops (1940), but it’s still kind of cool to get two for one. The old fashioned double feature, put together by someone. Really, these films have little in common, but I still enjoyed getting to see them both.
Cult of the Cobra, the B-side, is a sample of Universal Horror, though perhaps a more obscure and lesser pic than many. It stars an array of actors who would go on to star in televisions shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as a group of army dudes in post-war “Asia” (it’s actually amusing how nonspecific the film is about where this all apparently happens.) Intrigued by stories of a cult that believes that they can turn people into snakes, they bribe a member to take them to a ritual, though they promise to go incognito and not take any pictures.
Well, one yahoo does snap some pictures, outing them and getting their guide killed and the whole gang cursed (by a very non-Asian Edward Platt). The same yahoo tries to steal a basket from the ceremony and gets bitten by a cobra. They are then all hunted down one by one upon their return to New York by a mysterious lady who turns into a snake.
There are some relevant comparisons to Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942), which also involves a mysterious woman and animal transformations, but Curse of the Cobra is no Cat People. Now that might be a good double feature still.
The fact of the matter is that there is a kind of nonchalant portrayal of American GI’s behaving badly and insensitively in a foreign country. This really isn’t explicit nor is the punishment explicitly a critique of the insensitivity (the yahoo notes that he must have had a few too many to act the way he did as if chagrin is enough for insulting the religious practices of the foreign country). I was actually thinking that this could be re-made today with a more biting (ha!) cultural critique if someone dared.
It’s a B-minus B-picture, but has a good cast and is certainly none too shabby.