Saturday, September 10, 2011

Insert 'Asp' Joke Here: "Black Cobra Woman" (1980)

Joe D'Amato, auteur of the sometimes hardcore "Emanuelle" series and other exploitation classics, puts his muse Laura Gemser through a nasty little revenge pic that will have grindhouse fans cheering.

Judas (Jack Palance) and Jules (Gabriele Tinti) are brothers living in Hong Kong. Judas has all the family money, thanks to a condition in their dead father's will that stipulates Jules must "behave" for five years before he gets any inheritance. Jules travels for business, and brings home the exotically beautiful Eva (Laura Gemser). Eva has quite a nightclub act. She strips topless and writhes around with a large snake, much to the enjoyment of drunk Oriental businessmen. Judas sees Eva and is immediately taken with her.

Eva is invited back to Judas' to meet his "friends"- about half a dozen live snakes, all venomous and dangerous. Eva moves in with Judas, who pays for everything, but she still gets to crawl into bed with whomever she pleases, man or woman. She eventually meets Gerri (Michele Starck), and the two fall for each other. Eventually, one of the cast members starts playing with the serpents when they shouldn't, and people start ending up dead.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a good film. While it was shot on location in Hong Kong, and D'Amato makes sure the entire female cast is unclothed often, the performances are pretty terrible. Indonesian Gemser was always easy on the eyes, but her command of the English language is tenuous. Palance is alright as Judas, the character you assume would be the bad guy thanks to the name...and the fact he is being played by Jack Palance. The musical score is goofy Euro-softcore, full of choral wooing and strings. D'Amato also shows the actual deaths of two animals, another turn-off.

The BCI DVD version of the film is terrible. The print is scratched beyond belief, and the editing is atrocious. While this does add to the grindhouse feel, someone should have rinsed the print off before scanning, as much of the cinematography is ruined by the washed-out look. Also, there are no extras, just PLAY and CHAPTERS on the main menu.

So why two stars for this thing? D'Amato's screenplay is actually kind of clever. You may see the climactic island scene coming a mile away, but there is a twist thrown in that had me grimacing. I don't like snakes, so watching everyone handling them also made me cringe. However, there are some scenes in here that are basically hot as hell. Eva and Gerri bond during a mutual massage. There is a stage show at a lesbian bar that made me drop my notebook and pen. There is also some hilariously bad dialogue that had me laughing out loud, like Eva's justification for prostituting herself.

"Black Cobra Woman" is known under at least half a dozen different titles, including an unofficial entry in D'Amato and Gemser's "Emannuelle" series. This is not a horror film (or a Fred Williamson actioner that it is constantly mistaken for), but it is pretty different. (* *) out of five stars.