The year is 1945. A party of six G.I.s stationed in Asia are making their way through an Indian market, weighing up the sights and wondering if they should buy anything for souvenirs, when they see a snake charmer and one of their number, a shutterbug, snaps a few photos of him. They get to talking, and the charmer tells them of a cult which not only worships such reptiles, but claim to be able to metamorphose into them as well; understandably this is met with scepticism by the troops, but they are intrigued, and the Indian informs them if he meets them later tonight, he will reveal all...
OK, horror movie mistakes part one: if some low level mystic claims he can get you a free pass to an exclusive snake ceremony, you'd be better off politely declining the offer and beating a hasty retreat. As evidence for this rule, take a look at Cult of the Cobra, an unfashionable horror movie of the fifties when the thrills and chills of Hollywood genre cinema were more usually connected with science fiction, unless you were The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Faith Domergue was not, but she was one of the cultists, though she didn't show up in the movie till we were quite some way into the plot, as first we had to see our G.I.s make the blunder at the ceremony.
That being the photographer unable to resist capturing a photo - with the flashbulb which alerts the followers to his presence and leads to the Americans fleeing, whereupon they think they get away but the Chief from Get Smart has already announced the game is up: from now on they will be cursed. Sorry about that. While still in India, the photo fool gets bitten by a cobra twice, just to make sure (no half measures with these cult assassins) and expires, but his pals return to the United States and hope to leave all this unpleasantness behind them. No such luck, as they have been followed by Faith, playing Lisa Moya, not perhaps the most convincing Asian you'll ever see.
They don't even apply dark-skinned makeup to her, but suspension of disbelief was not this film's strong point. Once she appears we can get on with the matter in hand as she strikes up a relationship with one of the G.I.s, Tom (Marshall Thompson, later to find fame on safari TV show Daktari), who is on the rebound from Julia (Kathleen Hughes, also in It Came from Outer Space), who has got together with his best friend Paul (Richard Long). As you can see, there's more than a hint of the soap opera about the way this plays out, and Tom is the one we're meant to be feeling sorry for, not least because we're way ahead of the characters and know that when Lisa moves in across the hall, he's in for trouble.
Lisa is one of those shapeshifters which periodically transform into a cobra when she wishes to bump one of the defilers off; there's a bit of business about the culture clash and a bafflement for Westerners concerning why what the G.I.s have done should result in such harsh punishment, but largely this was a low budget monster movie which saw the cast members regularly subtracted from the plot. The effects were more of the rubber snake variety, though we did get snakecam to give the point of view of the slithery bad girl as she crept up on her victims. Suspense may have been strictly routine, especially when this had its own transformation trick when it turned into a detective flick in the last act, it was amusing enough to watch the regular mayhem, and even in an odd way rather poignant when you considered the plight of Tom, who couldn't seem to catch a break romantically - having a snake woman as a girlfriend can do that to a chap.