Color, 1976, 97 mins.
Directed by Joe D'Amato
Starring Jack Palance, Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Michele Starck, Sigrid Zanger Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Cinekult (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
It's hard to believe that veteran cinematographer Joe D'Amato was less than three years into his official directing career when he took on this sexy potboiler, shot back to back in 1976 with Emanuelle in Bangkok, the first of five Black Emanuelle films he made with the iconic Laura Gemser. Here he and Gemser also joined forces for a non-Emanuelle tale of Eastern sex and sin, originally released in Italy as Eva Nera and in America as Black Cobra before being circulated on home video under such titles as Black Cobra Woman and, in its Blu-ray debut, Emmanuelle and the Deadly Black Cobra. (There's still no Emanuelle here, and the spelling change in the character's name here would have probably incited legal action a few decades earlier.) Adding considerable marquee value is American star Jack Palance, who was enjoying a stint in Italy at the time making this in quick succession along with such films as Rulers of the City and The Cop in Blue Jeans.
In swinging '70s Hong Kong, wealthy and sometimes idle magnate Judas Carmichael (Palance) likes to spend his downtime tending to his collection of large, exotic snakes. Meanwhile nightclub performer Eva (Gemser) jets into town while hooking up with Jules's black sheep brother, Jules (Tinti, Gemser's real-life husband), who's on a five-year probation before he's eligible for his family's inheritance. The two brothers go to see Eva's nightclub act, which spurs Judas to offer her an extended stay at his penthouse where she's free to indulge in wild snake fantasies and explore her bisexual side without any sexual obligations to her benefactor. However, something sinister may be afoot with Judas's reptile obsession bound to end in violence.
Filled with bare skin, travelogue footage, and dreamy easy listening music by Piero Umiliani (partially recycled from his superb score for La ragazza dalla pelle di luna), this film is prime Eurosleaze with Gemser at the peak of her allure here and D'Amato clearly enjoying himself. It's more than a little odd to see Palance (probably roped in by the uncredited partial financing by Harry Alan Towers) thrown into the mix of what could have been a standard softcore offering eventually destined for cable TV, but his presence gives the proceedings a bit more of an edge than you'd expect.(It's also nice to see him veering away from the usual straight-up bad guy roles he was known for at the time. The kinky snake angle is presented here with relative tact, all things considered, certainly more than it would have been if the film had been made a few years later. (For proof, look no further than the incredibly trashy Libidine from 1979.) That said, the really perverse comeuppance for one character is still a pretty audacious touch and wouldn't be out of place in the directing filmography of this film's editor, the outrageous Bruno Mattei.
Finding a good quality English version of this film proved to be impossible for decades, with the only decent video transfer ever issued on DVD coming from the notoriously anti-English Italian label Cinekult. The Code Red Blu-ray is obviously the best presentation this film has enjoyed in any format, which isn't surprising given the lack of any real competition out there. Detail and color accuracy are greatly improved across the board, and it's fun to finally make out little signs and architectural touches in the Hong Kong exterior footage. The darker scenes have a digital grit to them likely due to the Italian scanning equipment as usual, though it's fairly subdued here compared to some of the more notorious offenders out there. The sole audio option is the standard English track (DTS-HD MA mono), featuring Palance's original voice apart from a few amusing (and very confusing) instances in which a completely different voice actor does his lines off-screen. The track sounds like it was pulled from a theatrical print and is clear enough despite some obvious crackling around the reel changes. An audio commentary is also provided by Latarnia's Mirek Lipinski (his first, it would appear), who goes into detail about the shots done in Rome versus Hong Kong, Gemser's history and (shy) personality, her relationship with Tinti, and the glories of '70s female pubic grooming, among many other topics. His speculations get quite amusing at times (especially regarding the reason Gemser wears sunglasses while driving), and you really have to hear him grappling with a critical reading of Tinti's big scene at the end. He also admits a lack of professional knowledge about types of snakes, bringing in tips from another expert to explain the functions of the various reptile actors throughout the film. Also included are the film's Italian trailer and bonus ones for The Curious Female, After the Fall of New York, Blastfighter, and Hands of Steel.