Black Cobra (1976) Black Cobra / Black Cobra Woman / Erotic Eva / Hot Pants / Emmanuelle Goes Japanese / Eva Nera ( 1976) -***

     Now this is interesting. This is not the Italian Cobra rip-off starring Fred Williamson. Rather, what we have here is a 70’s-vintage European antecedent of that most quintessentially Skinemax genre, the “erotic thriller.” Not only that, Black Cobra/Black Cobra Woman/Eva Nera features a concentration of non-talent and anti-talent that is simply not to be missed. Where else are you going to see Joe D’Amato directing not only his favorite couple, Laura Gemser and Gabriele Tinti, but Jack Palance as well— and with Bruno Mattei running the editing room, too?!?!

     We open with all the stock footage of airplanes landing in Hong Kong that Joe D”Amato could get his hands on— and he got his hands on quite a lot. Two of the passengers on one of those planes are Jules Carmichael (Gabriele Tinti, from Cut and Run and The Eerie Midnight Horror Show) and a girl named Eva (Laura Gemser, of Women’s Prison Massacre and The Erotic Nights of the Living Dead). Evidently they ended up in adjacent seats and spent the entire flight talking to each other. Eva is a nightclub dancer, who has come to Hong Kong to work. Her shtick is performing with live snakes, in a style she picked up while still a child on some dinky Pacific island. Jules is a businessman of some kind, younger brother and partner to a real fat-cat named Judas (Jack Palance, from Man in the Attic and The Sensuous Nurse). From what I was able to puzzle out, Jules handles the day-to-day operations of the company, while Judas makes all the big decisions and looks after all the money. Anyway, Eva told Jules all about her act, and wants him to come see her perform that night. Jules agrees, but he insists on bringing his brother along.

     I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a bad feeling about these Carmichael boys. First of all, I can think of only one movie I’ve ever seen in which Gabriele Tinti didn’t play some kind of perverted sociopath, and even in that one, his character didn’t seem any too trustworthy. As for Judas, Jack Palance characters don’t have a much more encouraging track record in European movies, and for God’s sake, the man’s name is fucking Judas! Not only that, his huge-ass penthouse is full of venomous snakes in plexiglass cages. (He’s got a constrictor or two, as well.) In fact, those snakes are the closest thing Judas has to a social circle. He never goes out of the apartment if he can help it, he has no real friends, and who the hell knows when was the last time he had anything like a date. With that in mind, it seems exceedingly likely that Jules, despite all appearances to the contrary, doesn’t want Eva for himself, but rather means to set her up with Judas. Her show that night certainly does much to pique the tycoon’s interest. I mean, really— what lonely snake-lover could resist the sight of a topless Laura Gemser dancing with a seven-foot python? What really turns Judas on is the girl’s fearlessness in the face of her ophidian dance partner. He himself knows well the almost superstitious dread that most people feel regarding snakes, which, one assumes, goes far toward explaining his own reclusive lifestyle. Who knows where he gets her phone number (I don’t recall seeing Jules get it from her), but Judas rings Eva the next morning to invite her to lunch “at [her] favorite restaurant.” Nevermind that Judas has really no way of knowing where that is (in fact, the movie goes so far as to bring that point up and then drop it without offering any explanation more satisfying than “lucky guess”); Judas just tells Eva to meet him at 1:00 and then hangs up the phone.

     You’ve sort of got to admire the way Judas pulls this next part off. He clearly realizes that he has no social skills, is old enough to be Eva’s father, and is hardly an attractive man. Whereas most men in his position would probably skirt the issue as much as they could, Judas cuts right to the chase and tells Eva that he is probably far richer than any man she has hitherto known. He says he’ll make no demands of her, form no expectations. All he asks is that she spend time with him and accept the vast largesse that he proposes to lavish on her. It almost doesn’t work, but Judas’s odd combination of firm insistence and frank self-effacement eventually wins Eva over. Of course, the fact that the Cantonese businessman she’s currently dating slaps her around when he hears what she’s been up to that afternoon— and then subjects her to what looks like just about the least satisfying sex in human history— surely doesn’t hurt Judas’s case. Eva moves into the penthouse the very next day.

     It is at this point that Jules starts living up to our expectations of him. He takes Eva’s presence in the house as an excuse to start throwing parties, on the theory that a young girl like Eva would get lonely and bored living Judas’s hermit’s existence. At these parties, while Judas uncomfortably plays host to scores of guests he doesn’t even know, Jules makes the rounds, introducing Eva to all of his friends. You needn’t be the Amazing Kreskin to divine Jules’s true purpose— to lay groundwork for a series of affairs meant to leave his big brother looking and feeling like a chump. Apparently, Jules resents the way Daddy’s will divided up the rewards and responsibilities of the family business, and this bit of nastiness— introducing his brother to a beautiful woman with all the right qualities to get his craggy old heart fluttering, only to engineer infidelities between her and other young socialites— is his passive-aggressive way of lashing out at Judas. And in one sense, at least, Jules’s trickery is a smashing success. It’s difficult to say just how Judas feels about this (what— you were expecting recognizable emotions from Jack Palance?), but Eva initiates lesbian relationships with two of the women Jules introduces her to: Candy (Black Velvet’s Ziggy Zanger) and Gerri (Michele Starck, from Salon Kitty and Forever Emmanuelle).

     The dalliance with Candy doesn’t last long— she’s much more interested in Jules— but it eventually gets to the point that Eva spends more time with Gerri than she does with Judas. Then one day, both Carmichael brothers get called out of town on separate business errands, leaving Eva with the run of the penthouse, and with no responsibilities other than to take care of the snakes. Now ordinarily all this would mean is that Eva spends a couple of weeks making the apartment look like Sappho’s place, but there’s something much more dangerous going on in the middle of all that. You see, Jules hasn’t really gone out of town. Partly, he wants to spy on Eva and her girlfriend, but that’s not the half of it. With his brother away, he can sneak Candy into the apartment and play weird sex games with her and Judas’s snakes. Naturally Candy gets bitten, and that’s the end of her. And though he’ll later claim that all he wanted to do was scare the girl, his subsequent behavior shows that either he’s lying or he’s stupid. For not long thereafter, Jules sneaks into the penthouse when Eva is at home and Gerri is spending the night. After surreptitiously watching them have sex, Jules tiptoes out to the living room and gets his brother’s green mamba (stood in for by a perfectly harmless green tree snake, by the way). This he lets loose in the bedroom, where it bites and kills Gerri.

     A very odd thing happens in the aftermath of the “accident.” Eva breaks it off with Judas, telling him she’s in love with Jules instead. Judas knew something like this would happen sooner or later, and he takes it surprisingly well. He even offers to foot the bill for sending the two of them on a lengthy vacation, jet-hopping all over East and Southeast Asia. But this time it’s Eva's turn to be devious. Despite what she says, Eva knows perfectly well that Gerri’s death was no accident, and somehow or other, she has figured out exactly who is to blame. She talks Jules into making a stop in a tiny fishing village on a Korean island, explaining that the rustic setting reminds her of home. Then she colludes with the two brothers at whose cottage they stay to get her revenge, employing an old folk punishment known as “Putting the Devil into the Man.” The “devil” is a de-fanged black cobra, the “man” is whatever malefactor you want to get rid of, and let’s face it— there are only so many ways of putting a snake “into” a human being. You know, this has got to be the ugliest cinematic death Gabriele Tinti has been subjected to yet! And you were wondering what black cobras had to do with anything...

     Once again, Joe D’Amato indulges his penchant for combining smut with other, much more serious things, and coming up with something far funnier than either ingredient would ever have been on its own. The mixture of snakes and sex during the porno phase of the film makes for a few really dazzling moments of pure hilarity, as when Eva spends her first night at the penthouse masturbating to fantasies of her own ludicrously tepid snake “dance,” and then gets sidetracked into weirder and weirder imaginings. Her trip to the massage parlor with Gerri is another highlight— neither of the masseuses lays a hand on the two women, doing their work instead in a cold and detached manner by means of increasingly bizarre vibrating instruments. I, for one, would have asked for my money back. Meanwhile, the movie’s “thriller” aspects are even sillier. Jack Palance cooing to his snakes is a real hoot, and Gabriele Tinti continues to find fresh, new ways to be a shitheel on camera. I just wish Ziggy Zanger (the sexier of the two female supporting players) had had a larger role. In closing, let me also point out that Black Cobra’s obligatory faux-Emmanuelle title must have set some kind of record for inappropriateness. Leaving aside the point that this isn’t an Emmanuelle— or even Emanuelle— movie, in what possible way could taking a job as a stripper in Hong Kong be construed as “going Japanese?!”



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