Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, August 6, 2015


If “Commando" is the definitive Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, then “Cobra” is the definitive Sylvester Stallone movie. Here’s an anecdote I’m sure you’ve heard before. Stallone was originally offered the lead in “Beverly Hills Cop.” He would heavily re-write the script, remove all the humor and ramp the action way the fuck up. When the studio rejected his ideas, Stallone reworked many of the ideas into “Cobra.” Elements of Paula Gosling’s novel “A Running Duck” would also be incorporate into the film, though it’s a stretch to call this an adaptation of Gosling’s book. Though “Rambo: First Blood Part II” helmer George P. Cosmatos is credited with directing it, “Cobra” is Stallone’s baby through and through. The film is built upon his odd humor, utter toughness, sweaty machismo, massive action, and disturbing right-wing politics.

Lt. Marion “The Cobra” Cobretti is the toughest cop in the L.A.P.D. A member of the “zombie squad,” he deals with the nastiest criminals in the city with direct, severe prejudice. Cobra’s tactics, which frequently employ his customized pistol and knives, do not make him popular with his police chiefs. Meanwhile, the city is being terrorized by the Night Slasher, a serial killer who violently hacks up his victims and seems to have no patterns. When a supermodel survives being targeted by the killer, Cobra is assigned with protecting her. This becomes more difficult when he discovers that the Night Slasher isn’t one man but an entire cult of axe-wielding psychopaths.

When I reviewed the “Death Wish” movies a few years back, I found myself bracing between the enjoyable campy action of the series and its psychotic political leanings. “Cobra” walks a similar line. The story is essentially a ramped-up remake of “Dirty Harry.” A renegade cop pursues a violent serial killer. The cop sees the system as protecting the criminals and preventing justice. Eventually, he has to go outside the law and murders the bad guy. Cobra is even more single-minded in his pursuit of justice then Harry Callahan and braces against his superiors even more. The Night Slasher is even more violent and deranged then Scorpio. Andy Robison is in both movies but he’s down-graded from villain to pencil-pushing asshole here. Reni Santoni is also in both films, playing a partner named Gonzeles in both! The original “Dirty Harry” at least acknowledged the ambiguities of the situation but “Cobra” doesn’t have time for sissy bullshit like that. It’s hard to believe anyone actually agrees with beliefs like this but “Cobra” is one-hundred percent sincere in its right-wing nut-job-ery. Two of the film's theme songs, “Angel of the City” and “Voice of America’s Sons,” align the psychotic protagonist with working class, blue collar, all-American values. The extreme politics pushes “Cobra” even further into the reaches of camp.

By 1986, the slasher film had become popular and omnipresent enough in pop culture that even films outside the genre began to be influenced by it. The villains of “Cobra” meet in an empty warehouse, clanking axes together. They wear panty-hoses over their faces and wield bladed instruments. The killers chase victims into isolated areas, slashing and stabbing them to death. When the Night Stalker attacks Ingrid in a hospital, the film reminds me a lot of “Visiting Hours,” especially when the killer stabs through a door to get to her or hides under a bed to kill a nurse. Originally, the film was more graphic, received an X rating for its gore, and was drastically cut down from two hours to a sleek 87 minutes. Even in their tourniqueted form, the stalking and killing scenes still create some intensity. Despite its studio backing, the film certainly feels greasy and sleazy enough to be a low budget horror film. (Then again, the film was co-produced by Golan and Globus of the Cannon Group, the leaders in eighties action cheese.)

The villains are some of the most eccentric aspect of the film. The cult espouses a mantra of social Darwinism and seems to cross all genders and boundaries. The one female cop we see is a member of the axe cult and naturally betrays the hero. Considering the only other female characters in the film are either screaming victims or damsels in distress, “Cobra” maintains the eighties action credo of misogyny and exploitation. This is except when the bad guys are portrayed as generic bikers, dressed in leather and decked out in tattoos. The Night Stalker’s philosophy of wiping out the people they see as inferior is only so dissimilar to Cobra’s own beliefs, an irony the film only acknowledges in passing. The leader is played by Brian Thompson, whose voice is so deep and growling it sounds digitally altered. He wields a ridiculous knife, with a spiked knuckle-duster grip, which he spends all his free time sharpening. The goofiness of the blade apparently didn’t bother knife collectors any, as you can buy working reproductions of it. 

Marion Cobretti is a distillation of the Sylvester Stallone Character Type. Despite being a Reaganite-era murder machine who shoots first and asks questions later, Cobra is not a slick movie bad ass. He’s actually kind of a weird dude. He lives alone in his swanky apartment. He cuts up his cold pizza with scissors, swills warm Coors, and keeps his gun in an egg carton. The character gives us a peek into Stallone’s unique ideas of what “cool” is. Cobretti wears aviator glasses, skin tight black muscle shirts, cowboy boots, and usually has an unlit match dangling from his lips. Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen were dating at the time. Yet their scenes together are incredibly awkward. When Ingrid is dousing her French fries in ketchup, Cobra’s idea of romantic banter is skin-crawling. These eccentric elements, such as Gonzeles’ love of junk food and Cobra’s chastising him for it, are the closest things this hunk of cheese has to a heart.

But cut the shit, Rick. What about the action? “Cobra” gives the audience action satisfaction, Jackson. In its opening minutes, a bad guy takes a grocery store hostage. Cobra’s solution to this problem is to throw a knife into the guy’s chest and shoot him six times. When the killers attack Marion in his apartment, we get a moodily directed scene of him punching, tossing and shooting the attackers over the railing. The car chase mid-way through the film is badly hampered by the movie’s re-editing but is still massively entertaining. There’s at least two massive explosions. The vehicles race over hills and curves in the road. The scene climaxes with Cobra’s supped-up car, a 1950s Mercury muscle car with the vanity plate “AWSOM50,” colliding with a boat and cork-screwing through the air. This shit is stupid but cool.

The entire second half of the film is devoted to action. The high-light of the film is when the Night Slasher’s gang corners Cobra and Ingrid at the hotel they’re staying in. A motorcyclist drives through the wall before Sly shoots him with his laser-sight outfitted machine gun. This leads to a massive action scene, where Cobra rides in the back of a pick-up truck, blasting attackers off their bikes. There’s even a brief stop through an orchard, where Cobra kills some more people. Because this is an eighties action flick, it concludes in a factory that seemingly manufactures only sparks and molten ore. Cobra sets a dude on fire before confronting the Night Slasher in psycho-on-psycho combat. The conclusion is grisly and sadistically violent. Stallone impales the villain on a massive hook and pushes him into an oven, while Thompson wails in agony. Holy shit. I told you “Cobra” doesn’t fuck around.

“Cobra” probably isn’t a “good” movie, by any traditional metrics. The story is derivative. The characters are thin and the writing is simplistic. Though never officially released, the complete two-hour cut is out there. Even in that form, I don’t suspect “Cobra” is much different. However, if you have any love for Stallone or eighties action cheese, you’ll find something to enjoy here. I mean, the movie even takes place at Christmas! If only Sly hadn’t kept his shirt on the entire time, denying us a perfect 5 outta 5 Stallownage score. [7/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Renegade Cop]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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