• King Cobra



    Released by: Shout! Factory/IFC Midnight
    Released on: February 14, 2017
    Directed by: Justin Kelly
    Cast: Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, James Franco, Molly Ringwald, Alicia Silverstone, Keegan Allen, Sean Grandillo, Spencer Lofranco
    Year: 2016
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Sometime in the late evening hours of January 24, 2007, a house in Dallas Township, Pennsylvania, was set aflame. Firemen responding to the incident found the body of 44-year-old Bryan Kocis inside, his head nearly severed at the throat. An autopsy revealed that Kocis had been stabbed 28 times, and police officers determined that his house had been robbed. The fire was set to cover up the grisly crime. Kocis’s body was so badly burned that it took dental records to reveal the man’s identity. After several months and a lengthy investigation, police arrested two gay male escorts, Joseph Kerekes and Harlow Cuadra, for the murder. Kocis—who had once been convicted of the sexual abuse of a child, transporting a minor for sexual purposes, and child pornography—was in fact a porn producer, one who made films involving young men just above the legal age. He had made millions of dollars from his films, thanks mostly to one performer, Brent Corrigan (real name: Sean Lockhart). After a falling out, however, Lockhart reported to authorities that he had been underage when his first four films were made; he also learned that the name under which he had become a star was trademarked by Kocis. A legal battle ensued, and just days before Kocis’s death, he and Lockhart had worked out a resolution.

    In 2012, Magnus Books published a true-crime thriller based on the case. Titled Cobra Killer: Gay Porn Murder (after the name of Kocis’s production company, Cobra Video), it was written by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway. The film rights to the book were picked up, and four years later, the film King Cobra was made and released. The film took some liberties with the story, changing Bryan’s name to Stephen, eliminating at least one participant, and making changes to the relationships between the characters. In general, however, it’s a gripping tale of a twink, Sean/Brent (Garrett Clayton) who hooks up with an older man, Stephen (Christian Slater), via the Internet. Stephen is a porn producer, and before long, Brent is starring in bareback ‘barely legal’ films. Meanwhile, two self-starring porn producers, Joe Kerekes (James Franco) and his boyfriend, Harlow Cuadra (Keegan Allen), take an interest in Brent from afar. When Brent begins to feel smothered by Stephen, he demands more money, but Stephen refuses to capitulate to any serious degree. Brent walks, only to learn that Stephen owns his porn name, and other producers won’t hire him if he can’t use it. Brent informs the police of his underage status, Stephen is investigated, and Joe and Harlow make their move on Brent. But first, they have to get rid of Stephen.

    The biggest surprise about King Cobra is how good it actually is. Not your typical indie gay film, it is stylishly directed, professionally written, and extremely well-acted. Among the supporting cast is Molly Ringwald as Stephen’s devoted but unsuspecting sister and Alicia Silverstone as Brent’s loving but immature mother. James Franco plays the sleazy, unstable Joe, while Christian Slater stars as Stephen. And while Franco is very good in his role, Slater is even better, pulling off what so many other actors before him (including Dwayne Johnson and Macaulay Culkin) couldn’t: playing a gay man with slightly effeminate mannerisms while never resorting to over-the-top stereotypes. Rounding out the cast are Keegan Allen of Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars as Harlow and Garrett Clayton of Disney Channel fame as Brent. Both are naturals for their parts, and they bring an air of authenticity that other, better-known actors may not have been able to pull off.

    King Cobra is very much an adult film. While far from soft- or hardcore, it does have some fairly graphic sex scenes involving noted actors (including Slater and Franco), who go further than they ever have in pursuit of believable performances. It’s not something one will want to watch with the kids (or with Mom and Dad), but King Cobra is a good film nonetheless, and if it weren’t for the obvious reasons of its graphic nature, one would be asking: Where were the Oscar nominations?

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Shout! Factory and IFC Midnight have placed King Cobra on a BD50 with a high bitrate. Given an MPEG-4 AVC encode, the film is presented in 1080p high definition at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It was shot on high-grade digital video rather than on film, so viewers shouldn’t expect a completely filmlike appearance. There’s little grain (only enough to add an artificial ‘filmic’ look), but the detail level remains exceedingly high at every point, whether a scene takes place indoors or outdoors, in bright light or low light. People’s faces are the best test of this, though really, it doesn’t matter where you look in the frame, you’re going to see whatever you focus on with crystal clarity. Another positive is that director Kelly didn’t use lenses or computer tricks to tone down the color. Greens are lush while reds are vivid, yet flesh tones remain natural throughout. The only scenes that appear of lesser quality are those shot through Stephen’s camera and act as a kind of video within a video.

    There are two audio options for viewers’ aural pleasure. The first is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, the other is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Naturally, the 5.1 track is the way to go. It’s pristine, with clear and understandable dialogue. Kelly effectively uses music to accentuate various scenes within the film, and that music is perfectly balanced with the dialogue. If there’s any complaint, it’s that conversation, pop/dance tracks, and sound effects are mixed well but aren’t as dimensional and deep as they should be, possibly because the bitrate isn’t high enough. The 2.0 track is decent as far as 2.0 tracks go, and anyone with a sound bar or two-speaker stereo system will be fine watching the film with this track selected. English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are included, as are Spanish-language subtitles for the Hispanic market.

    A third track is an audio commentary provided by director and co-scenarist Justin Kelly. It lasts the duration of the film, though there are a couple of dead spots during which Kelly is either getting caught up watching the film or is at a loss for words. He provides ample background information about the film and the true story (and subsequent book upon which it’s based), as well as discusses the stars, how they came to be cast, and how the movie came to be made. He also touches on the score and the various songs that populate it.

    When the disc is popped into the player, it automatically plays the trailer for two other Shout! releases: Tale of Tales and The Autopsy of Jane Doe (both 2016).

    Extras are sparse but entertaining nonetheless. The predominant extra is a collection of outtakes running 7:43. Really more bloopers than deleted scenes (though sometimes both simultaneously), the collection is surprisingly funny, and the actors come across as charming and likable, making their performances as mostly unsavory characters all the more impressive. And though the film received a scant release, playing in only a few disparate theaters nationwide, a “trailer,” which runs 2:14, is included.

    The release also comes with a DVD, which contains the same material as the Blu-ray. Naturally, the image is in standard definition, though it still looks quite good (though nowhere near to the standard of sharpness presented by the BD). The sound options are the same/sound the same.

    The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack comes with a reversible cover.

    The Final Word:

    King Cobra is an excellent film; it presents a rare feat: an independent gay art film that’s actually worth watching! While far from historically accurate, it’s entertaining nonetheless, thanks to strong performances from everyone involved, and Shout’s release features a stunning visual presentation. There are a few notable extras, including a commentary and “outtakes,” all of which make this a compelling release well worth the price of purchase.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!