The Black Cobra / No Survivors Please DVD Review: Two Kooky Titles from West Germany

VCI wisely pairs up two forgotten curiosities -- and the results are pleasing.
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Sometimes, I get this urge. A longing to sit back and switch off the more cerebral functions of that which all my therapists have claimed was in desperate need of some good medication and just watch some crazy old imports from Europe. They don't have to be great, but they do have to be dubbed into English. And I prefer them to be in black and white, especially if they tend to be a bit on the noir side and were made in what we used to call West Germany (you know, the nice ones). Oh, hey, what's this? VCI's Euro-Fantastico Double Feature of The Black Cobra and No Survivors Please? Yup, I'm down for the count, kids: if I had a phone, I'd take it off the hook.

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I'll begin with The Black Cobra, since it's billed as the main feature in this double billing, but is actually the second motion picture on the disc itself (?). Originally released on the other side of the Berlin Wall in 1963 as Die Schwarze Kobra, this low-key thriller finds a workingman truck driver, Peter Kramer (Adrian Hoven, who later went on to make Mark of the Devil, Castle of the Creeping Flesh, and several Jesus Franco features), who gets into all kinds of hot water with a group of mobsters when he is hired to make a delivery run, unaware he's carrying a shipment of dope.

Escaping from the bad guys the first time by the skin of his teeth (fortunately, all the villains are somewhat comedic and tend to pause for moments of complete buffoonery), Peter returns to the arms of his beloved girlfriend (Ann Smyrner), who runs a road house next to the exotic critter mini-zoo run by their good friend, a large-but-kind ex-fighter named Punkti (former pro-wrestler Ady Berber).

Meanwhile, the cops (who are also prone to flashes of foolishness) try to get their act in gear and figure out what's going on in the movie before it's too late. Paul Dahlke, Hans Richter, and Peter Vogel portray the police; Wolfgang Preiss, Emmerich Schrenk, and Klaus Löwitsch are the bad guys (led by the mysterious Mr. Green, whose very name brings its own musical cue); and Klaus Kinski shows up during the film's second act as a junkie pianist with ties to a rival gang, but who is really jonesin' for a fix.

Needless to say, Herr Kinski steals the scenes he's in -- and it's not hard to do, either, given the fact that The Black Cobra isn't a very "professional" flick overall. It's certainly not a boring one (though it does have its moments of "ho-hummery"), but it doesn't have the panache some of its West German/Klaus Kinski counterpart films do. The titular dark-colored snake, incidentally, is actually a resident of Punkti's mini-zoo. It only appears in one dramatic (if somewhat poorly-executed) scene and has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. So there.

Moving on -- or, back, as it were -- we find ourselves at the film's main feature, erroneously listed as the second on the DVD's artwork. 1964's Der Chef Wünscht Keine Zeugen is a real oddity, one guaranteed to have you tilt your head to the side as you watch it. Better known in English-speaking lands as No Survivors Please, this early tale of alien conspiracy begins with an airline pilot being instructed by a disembodied voice to crash the flight he is captain of, which happens to be carrying an important American ambassador. He does just that, and soon, Ambassador Farnsworth (Robert Cunningham) is reanimated in a Latin America jungle -- only now his body is inhabited by an alien being.

This sort of thing has been happening a lot lately, as it turns out: our interplanetary visitors have arranged a number of deadly accidents around the world -- to wit only a notable prominent politician or scientist miraculously emerges. Their aim? Oh, nothing, really: they just want to start World War III and nuke all of mankind so they can move in! In the meantime, they wait. The alien leaders -- hiding in plain sight within the skins of everyday normal humans -- sit in a bar, killing time, and knocking back the booze while they wait for the world to end (which is scary, since that's what our politicians do, too!), occasionally venturing out to amusingly view the clumsy, foolish people walking around, or to witness the demise of a future member to their cause.

A threat to the powerful alien menace emerges once a hotshot reporter (Uwe Friedrichsen) begins to wonder why only the important people are emerging from these catastrophic accidents -- particularly Farnsworth himself -- and starts to unravel the mystery with the help of the ambassador's attractive young aide (top-billed Maria Perschy). Of course, he finds time to fall in love with the gal, and even observe a car accident culled straight from the archives of the Republic Serial library. Actually, there's a lot of stock footage on-hand here, including the aftermaths of several real-life accidents and tragedies, cunningly edited into this grainy affair.

From the opening narration (which is bound to bring up memories of a bad Wheeler Dixon schlockumentary) to the final, incurable montage, No Survivors Please is so delightfully strange and creepy, that it's a keeper. The film fuses the Cold War political scene of the time with the traits of a certain Jack Finney story, and the creepy photography and lighting -- typical of many West German thrillers from the '60s -- sets the mood admirably. Interestingly, several of this film's actors spoke their lines in English, and were later looped for the exported release.

Both black-and-white films are presented here in Full Frame 1.33:1 aspect ratios and in their original English-dubbed incarnations. The transfers are better than I expected, given the rarity of these gems, but aren't HD material if that's what you're wondering. Unfortunately, there are no special features to be found here (save for a promo or two for other VCI titles when the disc boots up), but I'm sure those of you who enjoy this sort of thing won't mind too terribly much.

I certainly didn't. This was just what I needed.

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