When it comes to snakes, I’m pretty much in the same camp as Indiana Jones. I can’t stand them! Even the reptile house at the zoo can be a challenge sometimes. Dang things just weird me out. I’m certainly not alone in this opinion, which is why snakes are well suited for horror movies. Today we look at one of the many films that producer Roger Corman had made in the Philippines, where I’m sure snakes are everywhere, 1972’s Night of the Cobra Woman.
The film opens with two nurses gathering herbs for medicine during World War II. In a cave, one of the women encounters a firebrand cobra with a red triangle on it’s chest. After being bitten by the snake, the triangle appears on her neck. When she emerges from the cave, she finds her friend has been raped and shot by a Japanese soldier. Somehow, she able to use the snake venom to heal her.
We jump forward almost 30 years. A young scientist named Joanna (Joy Bang) has come to study the firebrand cobra. Joanna is intrigued by the legends that the cobras can possess people and keep them youthful. This leads her to seek out a local woman named Lena (Marlene Clark) who supposedly owns just such a snake. It turns out that Lena is our World War II era snake lady, and her friend, Francisca (Rosemarie Gil), is with her.
Before long, Joanna is joined by her American boyfriend, Duff (Roger Garrett). Upon arriving in the country, Duff immediately buys an eagle which the couple names Dirk. For some reason, Duff ends up heading out to check out Lena’s place. While there, he is attacked by her firebrand cobra, Movini. Lena, however, uses her healing powers on him. Before long, Joanna arrives with the eagle Dirk, which manages to kill the snake. She also gets her hands on a vial of the snake’s venom which she intends to perform tests on. Getting all this?
Meanwhile, Duff has been getting a bit too cozy with Lena. As it turns out, bumping uglies with this snake lady causes rapid aging and deterioration. The venom, though, stops that process. So Lena sends Duff out to get the venom Joanna stole. He also starts trying to get new lovers for her as she needs a fresh new mate every day to keep herself young.
If you’re confused reading that description, well then welcome to the club. I watched the darn thing and I’m as confused as anyone. Night of the Cobra Woman is a complete mess of a movie, but it’s not without its charms. The story is actually a somewhat decent premise and there are a few legitimately squirm-inducing, if somewhat cheesy, sequences. The strange-looking eye effect that Lena has at times is goofy but effective in weirding out the viewers. It seems like the makeup department simply painted zombie-like pupils over the actresses closed eyelids. There are also a number of moments where the cast members have some up close scenes with the cobras. I can just imagine the crew on this low-budget production assuring the actor that plays Duff that everything will be fine as they place a nasty snake on his chest. Harrison Ford at least had a glass pane between him and the snakes. I doubt Roger Corman made such an investment.
I can get behind this film to some degree, but it still suffers from terrible acting, choppy editing, and some general sloppiness. So, Night of the Cobra Woman is a bit of a mixed bag. Poorly executed to say the least, but somewhat creepy in a cheesy kind of way.