Black Horror Hall of Famer Marlene Clark is one mysterious figure. There’s strangely little information on her to be found on the Internet beyond the fact that she’s an ex-model who was once married to Billy Dee Williams (and who presumably to this day can’t get the taste of Colt 45 out of her mouth). One thing that seems clear from her body of work, though, is that she has a fondness for: A) the Philippines and B) snakes.
Amidst some success as a Blaxploitation actress in films like Slaughter and Ganja and Hess, as well as integrated work in The Beast Must Die, Switchblade Sisters, and even a recurring role on “Sanford and Son,” she starred as the magical baddie in a pair of serpent-themed Philippine horror movies: Black Mamba and Night of the Cobra Woman.
Both are slow-paced English-language films focusing on rural mythology, and both insist that Clark is evil, evil, EVIL. I don’t know what it was about her that screamed “Satan spawn” to Filipinos — perhaps her dark skin was exotic enough to be frightening (It seemingly gave someone at New World Pictures pause when it was time to release a poster, as the titular character is nowhere to be found, replaced by a blindingly white model.) — but her naturally pleasant looks and kindly, classy demeanor don’t translate to such on screen in either film. Thus, for the sake of Night of the Cobra Woman‘s watchability, it’s a good thing she gets nekkid.
In the movie, her big honking mammaries seduce man after man in order to replenish her youth and keep her from turning into a snake. It’s never explained why sex works better than, say, Oil of Olay, but then again, little is adequately explained in this film. Like, why would Duff (Roger Garrett) go into the woods alone searching for this rumored “snake lady” when it’s his girlfriend, Joanna (Joy Bang), who’s the anti-venom researcher? We come to find out that the emotional state of a snake influences the effect of its venom, meaning that angry snakes kill and happy snakes heal. I guess horny snakes make you wanna bone everything in sight, because that’s what cobra woman Lena (Clark) does.
Duff becomes one of her conquests but soon realizes that once you go black, you really can’t go back. Post-coitus, he finds himself aging rapidly; Lena explains that she had to (ahem) “suck the years” out of him in order to keep herself young and human. Now, he must rely on her to give him the venom needed to keep him young. In return, he keeps her supply of hormonal men coming…so to speak.
It’s inevitable that Lena must have a transformation scene, though, and when it occurs, it spurs unintentional laughs — unless you’re a big fan of papier-mache. Throw in popular voodoo deity Damballa, hot eagle-on-snake action, and a hunchback for good measure, and you’ll find Night of the Cobra Woman a bit more outlandish than Black Mamba and a bit more entertaining only in that it shows more (that is, any) skin — although really, you’ll be hard-pressed to make it through either in one sitting. Hissssss….