Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"Cobra": When a psycho could just be a psycho.

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you've seen the movie, so...SPOILERS.

The first few months are typically slow movie months, but for me movies seem to grind to a halt entirely. This year, it’s due to a combination of things. First, there’s the usual post-awards season blues. After watching multiple movies a day for a month and a half, then voting, then writing about the Oscars, I just get a bit burnt out. Secondly, we have a toddler at the house, so movie-going is rare all the time, and there’s the added bonus of a pregnant wife too. Finally, I’ve had a busy month with concerts and stuff. Any spare time I’ve had has been more devoted to that. But I still love movies, and I wanted to spend a few weeks writing about some of the less thought-provoking movies in my collection. So after taking a look around my collection, I settled on Cobra, the Sylvester Stallone movie that was originally supposed to be Beverly Hills Cop (the filmmakers parted ways with Stallone when he wanted to change the script to be darker and more action-oriented, so he took his ideas and made this!). I loved this movie as a kid (and as an adult until very recently), and it had been a while since I had watched it, so here we go.

I want to see the director’s cut for all the wrong reasons.

I decided early on to not write too much about the Beverly Hills Cop aspect since that’s been covered before. I didn’t realize there was a lot of crazy shit going on with this movie until I checked out the trivia section of IMDb. The whole list is worth checking out, but what stuck out to me were the Stallone diva claims (no one was allowed to talk to him, he watched a basketball game rather than film scenes with Brian Thompson, etc.) and that the film was edited from a two hour X-rated gore-fest to an 87 minute R-rated mostly-bloodless-death fest.

When I first read that, I really wanted to check out that director’s cut to see if there was a lot added that fleshed out the story. As it is, the film’s villains, a cult who wants to bring about a “New World” by killing the weak, have very little backstory or motivation. They are simply psychos created by our weak-ass world of rules and laws. I wanted to know more. How did they get people to join? It’s mentioned that some of the members have no criminal record (that might have been from a deleted scene...more on that in a bit). How did the sweaty, psycho, roided-out Matt Damon leader get people to join his axe-clanging cause?

Some devotee (psycho?) of the film compiled footage from the lengthened TV edit and behind-the-scenes documentary to describe the excised footage. I watched it, but it seems like most of the stuff cut was either for time or for gore, and nothing too important was axed (get it?). So some continuity errors were created from the edit, and a lot of the violence occurs off-screen. But not much about the cult is gone, aside from a few scenes showing them at their day jobs and some ritual in which they destroy a mirror.

At first I was disappointed by this, but then I realized this movie is better without explaining the cult anymore than it already does. I loved this movie because it was a product of the ‘80s, which meant villains were sometimes psychos simply because they were psychos. They existed just to be killed by Stallone. Why bring logic or backstory into that? I’m serious. This is why I still enjoy Cobra. I see these crazy cult members holding up grocery stores, cutting themselves, getting killed by the dozen by Stallone trying to kill a witness that only saw their leader and I laugh because in most big-budget movies today, the filmmakers would feel obligated to provide at least one scene explaining why someone would be devoted to this group. The ‘80s were a simpler time. A time when a man could just be a sweaty psycho and not have to explain himself to anyone.

One thing that I do miss upon rewatching it is the gore I expected to find. I remember this movie as a brutal action movie featuring a knife and axe-wielding murderer as the villain. Watching it today, I see all the editing that takes place to basically only show dead bodies. The action overall is heavily edited and not very enjoyable (aside from that scene of the security guard getting hit by the van). I still like this movie, but now it’s as an ‘80s oddity rather than a brutal action classic.

So I’ll watch this again. But now when I rewatch it, it’ll be for the cheesy soundtrack and all the stupid stuff with Stallone meant to make him look like a cool rebel (cutting pizza with scissors, constantly wearing gloves and sunglasses, etc.). And I still think Brian Thompson makes for an excellent, sweaty psycho. Maybe one day I’ll get to see footage of his gruesome handiwork.

Why do I own this?

First off, it was very cheap when I bought it years ago. And I do still enjoy it for nostalgic reasons, but it isn’t as good as I remembered. I would like to see a director’s cut in the future, but that seems very unlikely since a new “Collector’s Edition” just came out, and it only featured some new interviews.

Random Thoughts

I tried listening to the commentary, but Cosmatos gives little insight into the movie overall. He just gives tidbits about locations and the mood he was going for. He narrates a lot of it, even saying the lines of some of the characters.

Do yourself a favor and check out the IMDb trivia section. My personal favorite claim: Stallone wanted the book it's based on to be reprinted with him as the author.

Could you imagine what Beverly Hills Cop would've been like if it started with Axel Foley talking about how many rapes a day there are?

As far as movie cults go, my favorite will always be the snake cult from Conan. But the dudes in suits clanging axes together cult from Cobra is a close second.

I miss the days when bad guys were just sweaty psychos with no clear motive aside from wanting to kill innocent people and cops.

Cobra: brought to you by Coors Original, the banquet beer!

That reporter was a dick! “Hey Cobra, did you really have to kill the sweaty psycho who just killed someone and was threatening to blow up a grocery store? You couldn't bring him in peacefully?!”

That said, this movie seems to be anti-journalist and anti-rules-for-police? Timely…

Oh, and anti-Hispanic. What was wrong with those dudes parked near Cobra's house? They had his favorite spot? Too bad, Cobra, go park somewhere else, you jerk.

Also, that guy was clearly mic'd up yet they kept cutting back to him. Sloppy.

Why does Cobra keep his sunglasses on while he cleans his gun, but takes them off to see the TV?

Okay, cutting the pizza with scissors is only one part of the randomness. First, why does he keep leftover pizza in the freezer? Why does he keep gun cleaning kit in an egg the freezer? Why not just eat the single slice of pizza as is? Why cut the tip of it off to eat? What the fuck is happening?

This movie takes place around Christmas, by the way. It never factors into the story at all.

My God, I love the soundtrack. All the songs are inspirational and/or about working hard.

One of my favorite montages of all time. It has so many ‘80s stalwarts: urban decay, serial killers, big boobs, robots, etc.

Man, that photographer is using every angle to sleep with her: don't do it for me, do it for your career; hey, I'm just trying to bang you for your happiness, there's nothing in it for me!

That security guard getting killed by the van is so fucking brutal.

That police sketch of roided out Matt Damon is hilarious, but it is a good likeness.

Of course Cobra wears leather gloves while doing research.

The whole hospital attack and the aftermath is so confusing, location-wise. Cobra talks to his superiors and leaves the room, and then it cuts back to the hospital so abruptly it seems as if they are in the same building.

Also, why is there a giant Pepsi neon sign outside his apartment? I get the product placement, but that's some serious Kenny Roger's Roasters outside of Kramer's apartment shit.

The forced humor stuff is pretty lame: the constant food jokes with Gonzales, Cobra playing with a bobblehead, too much ketchup on the fries, etc. I wish they would have just stuck with a deadly serious tone.

What's with the “The” with the Crossroads Motel? Is another Crossroads Motel, and this one is pointing out that they are the original, kind of like a Famous and Original Famous Ray's or something?

Aside from a van driving someone into a wall, the violence is actually pretty tame. The majority of it consists of shots of Stallone firing a gun followed by shots of people falling off motorcycles.

As someone who works in a factory, I find it hilarious that when action movies end up in factories, there is usually almost no one there. It's not like it's an abandoned factory. It's the middle of the day, and there was a security guard! Where is everyone?

As a kid, I just remember this as that one Stallone movie with the bitchin' knife and how much the villain said, “Pig!”

So the cult was just about the strong killing the weak? Why did so many people buy into that, exactly? Are we supposed to believe it's because society with all its laws created this murderous subgroup? It just seems like there should have been a bit more incentive for people to join this cult. There were guys in suits at the beginning! So one day it just occurred to some business dudes that they should join a cult whose only goal was to murder “weak” people? There's no drug or financial aspect to it?

That ending music is way too upbeat. Is no one else worried that a cult of dozens of murderers existed with almost no detection for weeks?