In all of forty-five seconds I deduced that this Roger Corman production was made in the Philippines. And how did I figure that out so fast you ask? Simple, the name Vic Diaz appeared in the list of credits and I’ve said this many times since starting Mike’s Take, American movies made in the Philippines always seem to have the pudgy actor in the cast. Usually playing a heavy of some sort be it a mobster in a white suit or a hooded demon. Either way they never seem to be overly kind to the women cast in the films.
His role here is no different in the opening segment of this film directed by one time Corman editor Andrew Meyer. The story of the Cobra Woman begins during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Two Red Cross nurses are in the jungles when they encounter a cave decorated with ancient paintings of snakes on the cavern walls. Our inquisitive nurse played by leading lady Marlene Clark goes exploring while Rosemarie Gil waits at the cave entrance. Both ladies are going to find themselves in peril. Miss Gil is the victim of rape and an attempted murder at the hands of a Japanese soldier played by ….. wait for it …. have you figured it out yet? Can you say Vic Diaz!
While Vic is playing nasty with our Red Cross gal, Miss Clark is bitten by a Cobra and magically turns into a Cobra Woman for a fleeting second before exiting the cave. Finding Gil near death, Marlene, will return her to life using a black magic that she is now capable of.
Fast forward to present day1973 in Manilla.
Top billed, Joy Bang, is a young gal working at a research institute that studies snakes and the search for anti-venoms to save lives. It’s here that we’ll learn the legend of the Fire Brand Cobra. “Once bitten you will remain young.” At just 77 minutes in length there’s little time for maneuvering so let’s send Joy on her way to the countryside to learn if there’s any truth to the tales of a Cobra Woman residing in the area. While she doesn’t get a look at Marlene on this first venture she does come upon an aggressive cross between Stoker’s Renfield, a hunchback and the village idiot all rolled into one. Heavily made up it’s none other than Vic Diaz once again.
I’m not sure if he’s playing the same soldier from WW2 or perhaps the offspring he fathered with that Red Cross worker, Gil, who is now an elderly lady. Either way it’s not all that important in the overall plot. Coming in to the story next is Roger Garrett as Joy’s boyfriend and lover. He takes up the search for the Cobra Woman when Joy returns to Manilla.
Not only will he find her but he’ll fall victim to the bite of a cobra and because of that will come to face to face with Marlene Clark who saves him from certain death. But by doing so Garrett will find himself tied to her and in constant need of a dosage of her venom. Yeah this leads to lovemaking. Or should I point out this leads to interracial lovemaking at a time when it was becoming “the thing to do” thanks to the rise of the blaxploitation market.
That and an interracial kiss between a certain Captain and Lieutenant of the Star Ship Enterprise on network television.
Marlene is much like a vampire. In order to maintain her human form she needs to “suck the years” out of her victims. Looking as good as she does walking the streets of Manilla, it isn’t too tough for her to land a lover for the night. She’ll leave them alive but looking like a distant cousin to R.G. Armstrong’s character Pruneface in 1990’s Dick Tracy. She’ll also shed that snakeskin she’s cursed with on occasion giving the FX department a chance to get in on the snake act.
I’ll leave the final segment for you to discover on your own and thankfully the film turned up on blu ray via Scorpion Releasing if you’re interested enough to find out. Included on the disc is the movie’s trailer that proudly points out in the advertising campaign that Cobra Woman has been filmed in Slitherama!
Sure there are some plot issues involved and at just 77 minutes I’m left to wonder if the film was heavily trimmed or more likely due to the Roger Corman budget it’s tied to is that some scenes may have been written but never filmed. No matter cause I’m just the type to appreciate these low budget 70’s thrillers and there are plenty to discover for yourself that came out of the Philippines during the 60’s and 70’s.
Also of interest to film buffs on the blu ray are interviews with both Roger Corman and leading lady Marlene Clark. Corman’s conversation is brief but Miss Clarks’ touches upon not only this film but much of her work in the 1970’s. It’s quite enjoyable as she recounts working with the Cobras but not before seeing for herself that their fangs had been milked. She’ll move on to chat about Larry Hagman on Beware The Blob and Slaughter with Jim Brown among others.
It’s her chat about 1974’s The Beast Must Die that caught my ear due to my love for the film as a kid watching late night TV. She seemed to glow when chatting about horror icon, Peter Cushing, and just like every other individual I’ve heard talking about him she had nothing but fond memories to recall. She called him an old fashioned gentleman who on the very first day of shooting presented her with a Nosegay arrangement of flowers. She then went on to share memories of partying with Bond villain, Charles Gray, who also appeared in the film.
Looking for a double bill? Two choices are a natural fit. Faith Domergue’s 1955 film Cult of the Cobra or keep it a 70’s affair by doubling up Marlene with Strother Martin’s Sssssss.
I remember Roger Corman saying in an interview once that the Philippines was a great place to film for both budgetary reasons and that it had the possibility of opening up a new market for up and coming filmmakers. Granted the safety conditions weren’t always the best depending on what kind of production it was, but the heart and passion was still there. That co productions ceased by the early 90’s I think hinted that the glimmer faded and didn’t end up what Corman had hoped it would be, but the Filipino movie industry itself still thrives, so that’s a positive.
While it did fade out there are so many titles made there during the heyday of those co-productions that offer hours of genre fun. I’m always on the look out for them. I know along with Corman, John Ashley made a bunch of flicks there both as actor/producer.