Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Honourable Mention: Cult of the Cobra

Perhaps I should make a new series of articles entitled “distant cousins”? This 1955 movie, directed by, Francis D. Lyon is not a vampire film but it does have a lamia in it and there is a lot of interconnectedness between the lamia and the vampire. Many cite Keats' poem Lamia as a vampire poem (it isn’t).

I watched the film after discovering it was about a cult of Lamia and it was one of those 50s films (it double billed with Revenge of the Creature) that just had to be shared. The connection is loose, I grant you, but indulge me.

in the bazaar

A group of six GIs are doing the tourist thing around an Asian bazaar, just before shipping home at the end of the war. They spot a snake charmer, Daru (Leonard Strong), but reach him after he has finished his act and so they persuade him, for a fee, to have his picture taken holding the cobra. One of the GIs, Paul (Richard Long), recounts that he has heard stories of the lamian cult, Daru pricks up his ears.

Richard Long as Paul
Paul suggests that the rumour is that cult members can transform into a snake. Daru confirms this and says that he is a member of the cult but is also desperate for money. For $100 dollars he will sneak them into a ceremony that night. When one of them, Nick (James Dobson), suggests it would be a photo worth having he is lambasted by Daru who is strict that cameras cannot be taken into the ceremony. They arrange to meet later that evening.

Leonard Strong as Daru
The GIs get drunk waiting for Daru. During the conversation they have, Paul tries to convince them that shapeshifting may be possible mentioning that “the werewolf stories in Germany or the vampires in Transylvania” give such ideas credence. Daru takes them to the temple, gives them robes and, before they go in, reminds them to be careful – if they are caught the cult will kill them – sending a shapeshifting assassin if necessary.

They'll never notice!
So in they go and there is an interesting danced psychodrama about the first visitation of the snake goddess to save the lamian people. Nick seems to be missing but actually has got his camera out – remember, just after the Second World War, the camera has a giant old flash on it… but he’s drunk. Chaos ensues, there is a fight, Nick steals a cobra basket that one of the dancers emerged from and a high priest curses them all as Daru is killed.

The woman
They drive off suddenly realising that Nick isn’t with them. Up ahead they see a shape in the road and a woman running off. The woman escapes and the shape is Nick, next to the cobra basket. One has presence of mind to suck the venom out and they get him to the hospital. He responds well to anti-venom and treatment and is going to ship out with his buddies but a snake gets in his hospital room (and we see through the snakes point of view) and bites him again, killing him. The others are shipped home to New York.

Tom and Lisa 
A few weeks later and Julie (Kathleen Hughes) who had been dating squad buddies and civilian roommates Paul and Tom (Marshall Thompson, Fiend Without a Face, It! The Terror from Beyond Space & First Man in Space) has chosen Paul. Tom is a little out of sorts but feels better when he goes to the rescue of new neighbour Lisa (Faith Domergue) – especially as he seems to fall for her straight off. Yet we see that animals respond negatively to her and their other friends from the squad start dying off.

In cobra form
So, Lisa is our lamian (c’mon that was hardly a spoiler) and she actually does transform from woman to snake. The transformation is shown in silhouette once and is shown from snake back to human once as well (it isn’t a great effect, to be fair, but they had a crack at it). In snake form she is the size of a normal cobra and she has her normal human intelligence. She does bite, but to administer venom rather than to feed.

The film is actually really good fun. As I said at the head, it isn’t vampiric in any way but the close association of vampire and lamia makes this of genre interest.

The imdb page is here.

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