Plot: Eva, a snake dancer, is hired to perform at a gentlemen’s club in Hong Kong.
There always has been a thin line and a degree of overlap between horror and erotica. Nowhere was that line more blurred and the distinction more nebulous than in continental Europe in the early-to-mid 1970s. Around the Mediterranean countries such as France, Spain and Italy eked out very specific brands of kink-horror with their own distinct visual styles and regional flavours. When it came right to it, though, it were a mere three directors that took up the mantle of merging horror and sleaze. Jean Rollin, Jesús Franco, and Aristide Massaccesi (or Joe D’Amato as he’s internationally known) all worked on the fringes of their respective cinematic industries and frequently strayed into hardcore pornography whenever economic anxiety became too dire. No one extolled the virtue of the female form, preferably disrobed and gyrating, better than they did and each had their muse. Jean Rollin was an exploitation director with arthouse inclinations and aspirations who loved women and pebble beaches and Jesús Franco was a talented director who sadly fell victim to his many neuroses and obsessions upon losing his first muse. Standing in stark contrast to Rollin and Franco was Joe D’Amato. D’Amato was no ordinary smut peddler or base sleaze merchant. He was an extraordinary smut peddler with an undeniable talent for knowing what audiences wanted. He could’ve been just another workhorse exploitation director on the circuit. Instead he transformed himself into Italy’s first and foremost base sleaze merchant anoiting himself the grandmaster purveyor of perversity par excellence.
Towards the second half of the decade D’Amato was still churning out pulp of every possible stripe and variety. He had directed Rosalba Neri in the unforgettable intro segment to The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) and directed his first giallo with Death Smiled at Murder (1973). Like any good exploitation director D’Amato was a fiendish and devious opportunist whenever it served his interests. Not only did he steal Black Emanuelle (1975) right from under Adalberto "Bitto" Albertini but he took his two principal actors (everybody’s favourite couple of Laura Gemser and Gabriele Tinti) with him. To make matters worse for Albertini not only did D’Amato spun off his own little franchise but he made decent money doing so. Eva Nera (or Black Eva, for some reason released as Black Cobra Woman in the English-speaking world) was filmed between the disastrous Venezuelan-Italian co-production A Beach Called Desire (1976) and Brunello Rondi’s Black Velvet (1976) while for D’Amato it landed in between Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976) and Emanuelle in America (1977). One supposes that after doing Sister Emanuelle (1975) and Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976) back-to-back that D’Amato wanted to stretch his legs a bit, creatively. However, let it be known that he can never be accused of not completely milking an idea while it was still profitable.
Black Cobra Woman not only has Gemser and Tinti but also D’Amato warm bodies Michele Starck, Ziggy Zanger, and Koike Mahoco (who, judging by her name, was Japanese). Starck had been in Autopsy (1975) and Salon Kitty (1976). Her highest-profile role was probably in the Bud Spencer comedy Charleston (1977). Zanger was in Black Velvet (1976) and the Bruno Mattei sex comedy Cousin, My Love! (1976). Mahoco was another D’Amato regular that would figure in Emanuelle in Bangkok (1976) and Emanuelle in America (1977) and much earlier in The Snake God (1970) (with Nadia Cassini). American actor Jack Palance was in the country for the Bruno Corbucci Nico Giraldi action comedy The Cop in Blue Jeans (1976). Black Cobra Woman was willed into existence and seems to exist for no other reason than to showcase goddess Gemser naked as early and often as humanly possible. And who in the right mind could fault anyone for that? Produced by Alexander Hacohen and an uncredited Harry Alan Towers (yes, him) and written, directed, and photographed by D’Amato; Black Cobra Woman is the perfect pulp storm considering it was edited by that other enfant terrible (and future king of the cheap knock-off) of Italian shlock, Bruno Mattei. At best something of a curio Black Cobra Woman covers most of the same territory as those early Black Emanuelle (1975) sequels, does quite a lot with very little and its accompanying posters, dare answer the rather pointy question of, “how much snake can one woman take?” As far as erotic potboilers go you could fare far worse.
Eva (Laura Gemser) is hired to perform her famous “Dance of the Cobra” at a prestigious gentlemen’s club in Hong Kong. Always one to turn heads on the plane over she catches the eye of young playboy businessman Julius Carmichael (Gabriele Tinti) and she promptly invites him as a guest to her inaugural performance. Once in Hong Kong Eva goes on a dinner date with her girlfriend (Koike Mahoco). On the evening of her show Julius arrives in company of his older brother Judas (Jack Palance) who’s instantly smitten with the dark-eyed, raven-haired beauty. He uses his high society connections to obtain Eva’s phone number and invites her to an opulent dinner. The older Carmichael made his fortune breeding snakes and as a herpetoculturist he has an impressive collection of snakes, thus enough of a pretext to invite Eva to come see it. He has no physical interest in scantily clad, carnally insatiable, sexually omnivorous Eva in his old age, but instead he offers the Javan dancer patronage (including her own room, car, and bank account) and protective shelter from the aggressive advances of an especially abusive Chinese businessman. To celebrate his return Judas has organized a lavish party where Candy (Ziggy Zanger, as Sigrid Zanger) and her boyfriend offer Eva a threesome, but an incensed Julius prematurely stops it before it begins.
Sometime later Eva secretly embarks on a steamy affair with Julius’ friend Gerri (Michele Starck). Upon returning home Eva discovers that Candy was killed by a black mamba snake from Judas’ expansive collection. What she doesn’t know is that Julius staged the escape envious of her affection for (and attraction to) Gerri. Things turn complicated when Judas is expected to attend the annual Zoology Congress and he leaves his snakes in the care of Eva. Not able to bear the thought of sharing Eva with his younger brother (or anybody else, for that matter) Judas broods on a plan to get rid of his competitors. When Judas and Julius both announce that they have business obligations outside of Hong Kong Eva senses that something is afoot. Julius, as much of a snake as the venomous specimens his brother collects, has his eye on Judas’ considerable fortune and will stop at nothing to inherit it. While Eva and Gerri continue to their passionate affair Julius arranges for one of Judas’ snakes to kill Gerri so that he can have Eva all to himself. Having survived the attack and with no more women to distract her Eva deducts that Julius is behind the deaths of her previous lovers. With jealousy, betrayal and tensions - sexual, interpersonal and otherwise - running high between all parties, the love rectangle soon turns sour with deadly consequences for most involved when Eva introduces Julius to "The Rites of the Serpent" or an ancient custom for punishing liars and murderers by "putting the devil into a man."
Steaming up every scene she’s in is Black Emanuelle herself, Laura Gemser. Sure, there were others. Zeudi Araya and Me Me Lai are the first to come to mind but Gemser outlasted them all in terms of sheer visility and cinematic longevity. Here Gemser once again plays the only character she was ever hired for: the swarthy seductress that enchants everybody she comes in contact with. Like Edwige Fenech and Gloria Guida, Gemser would be getting naked in front of the camera during the second half of the 1970s and the entirety of the 1980s. Black Cobra Woman was one of five features that goddess Gemser would star in in 1976 and she would star in 6 the next year. D’Amato is wise enough to give la Laura a lot to do, most of which consists of cavorting around in the nude (with or without any snakes), frolicking around in various locales, and there’s an absolute dearth of dialogue and even less in terms of clothes. There’s acres of skin to be had and goddess Gemser gets to engage in lesbian histrionics with whatever actress happens to be within arm’s reach. Gemser, uninhibited in her nakedness, willingly indulges D’Amato’s every whim. This being a chintzy softcore romp Joe D’Amato shoots Gemser from a multitude of flattering angles, often with very little in the way of clothing. The snake dance sequences are photographed beautifully but no one was doubting D’Amato after seeing that The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973) opening scene where Rosalba Neri emerged nude from the fog-shrouded tomb. Michele Starck spents much of her time naked, but not nearly as much as Gemser. None of which really means that Black Cobra Woman is very inspired, or good for that matter.
Black Cobra Woman serves largely as a preamble to get Laura Gemser naked at every possible opportunity. It’s also a rather flat and uninspired precursor to D’Amato's in every way superior deluge of softcore – things like Eleven Days Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988) to name the most prominent – during the 1980s. In the grand scheme of things Black Cobra Woman is but a blip on the radar. It’s solid enough from a technical standpoint, but that’s faint praise indeed. The natural beauty of Hong Kong is seldom exploited or properly captured on camera. The entire thing isn’t helped by the dreary editing from Bruno Mattei. On the plus side, Joe D’Amato was to keep Gemser (and his assorted stock company players) busy through the rest of the following year with Emanuelle Around the World (1977) and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (1977). For one reason or another Black Eva was never explored further in any sequels. Not that continuity, or main characters dying, ever stopped old Joe from milking what potentially could have been a parallell franchise. Imagine Laura Gemser starring alternatively in Black Eva and Black Emanuelle (1975) sequels. The world may never know what those would’ve looked like… and maybe that’s not a bad thing per se.