Black Cobra (1987)
Today, I will be reviewing the lameass Italian "action" movie Black Cobra, a screaming rip-off of Sylvester Stallone's career-maker Cobra from 1986. This is fairly typical of the European-style of action movies, which blend popular American themes with unique Continental traits. The inclusion of a B-level American actor in the lead role is also fairly common, and made getting an American distributor much easier.
And now on to our show...
Our film takes place in New York City, in the borough that suspiciously looks a lot like Naples, Italy despite the stock footage of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Twin Towers. We open on a sunny but cold day, a day when three bank robbers have botched a job at the Johnson City First National Bank and have fled to a private health club and taken prisoners. The cops have them surrounded, the robbers have just shot some poor dude hostage in the back, and things are looking bad. Who you gonna call? You call Malone.
NYPD Homicide Detective Robert Malone is played by 49-year old American-born Fred "The Hammer" Williamson. Once a pretty good NFL player, Williamson made the switch to low-budget action movies, most of them similar to our show, once his football career ended. He's still acting today, with a handful of movies coming out in 2007 (all crappy, I'm sure). He's not a bad actor here, certainly better than I was anticipating, though he seems to interact better with cats than other humans.
Malone is called in to negotiate, but instead pulls a Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element and pretty much just walks in and starts shooting. He's got a pistol-grip shotgun hidden under his black leather coat and a .45 automatic pistol in his pocket to go with his amazing shoot-from-the-hip accuracy. Three shots, three dead robbers.
Of note, after just the second pistol shot, the receiver clearly slides back, indicating the weapon is empty now. Williamson even glances down at the prop gun with a quizzical look before putting it back in his pocket, but the cameras keep rolling and this makes it into the final cut. Not a big thing really, but an indication of the quickness of the shoot and the lack of attention to detail in the rush to get it to theaters. They could have easilly reshot this three-second insert, but they chose not to, despite the obvious flub.
"This never happend to Eastwood..."
When asked why he shot the men, Malone sneers, "They're the disease, and I'm the...wait, I think that one is already taken. Hmmm...how about..." (dramatic pause) "They are scum, human garbage." (grimaces ruefully) "Damn, how come Stallone gets all the good lines? Maybe I need his agent, mine seems to be behind the curve getting me gigs. Oh, well, they treat me like a God over here in Italy and the pay is good, so I shouldn't complain. Besides, I'm taking the script girl home tonight, and she's got big hooters."
Ok, that over, we learn that NYC is currently in the grip of a crime spree. A gang of violent killer bikers has been roaring around the city terrorizing innocent civilians and avoiding the police. We go and meet these bikers now, holed up in a large abandoned train station somewhere. There are six of them, and it seems like they have real jobs in the daytime, and only get together at night and on the weekends to drive around and commit crimes.
The gang has six members, all young twentysomething men who dress in metal-studded riding leathers and jeans. They seem like a middleclass lot, judging by their vehicles and their nearly-identical dirtbikes. Yes, dirtbikes, not choppers or Harleys, but unmodified Yamaha and Suzuki dirtbikes. These are not cheap, mind you, suggesting a certain level of income here (though I guess they could have bought them with the proceeds of their crimes). They also diligently pay their registration and property taxes, as the license plates on the bikes suggest.
Whee! We're a biker gang!
They are led by a surprisingly slim man, with huge John Elway-esque teeth and a penchant for shotguns, olive drab t-shirts, and mirrored sunglasses, and he just reeks of evil. He's played by Karl Landgren, alias of Bruno Bilotta (who has had some bit parts in a few fairly good movies like The Order and Titus, but mostly just sucked up a paycheck). This man just screams Eurotrash villain, with his oily black hair and ultra-macho swagger. He's not given a name in this movie, but I'll call him Drago, because he looks a bit like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV (though strangely, he looks more like Stallone's character from Cobra, but since he was the hero, it's hard to make a comparison). I'll just call him "Drago" since he's never given a name.
To let us know how mean and evil they are, we go now out to a deserted beach (deserted beach? In New York City? What the hell do Italians think the city looks like?) where a young couple are out having fun. She's cooking some steaks on a grill as he's out in the water surf board sailing.
The bikers are tooling along the road, out for a nice Sunday drive along the seashore, when they spy the couple's Blazer parked in a seclude spot. We see what's going to happen here, don't we? The bikers rape and kill the girl, Drago shoots the boy in the back with a shotgun, and they steal their 1983 Chevy Blazer and go four-wheeling through the surf. Thankfully, the rape scene is more implied than seen, I'm not a fan of those.
Cute chick about to meet her untimely demise.
Ok, we go now to another part of the city where we meet a young photographer named Elys Trumbo. Elys Trumbo is played by 26-year old Eva Grimaldi (star of Dear Goddamned Friends, Bride of Violence 2, and Crazy Underwear). Grimaldi is one of those hot Italian chicks who collected nice checks for doing unspeakable things on camera in exploitation films. In our movie, Elys is the posterchild for 1980s fashion excess, with massive, Detroit Lion's style shoulder pads, Chic acid-washed jeans, calf-length fringed boots, ten-pound hanging bangle earrings, and huge overly-done hair, held tight as superglue by gallons of ozone-killing Aquanet.
Elys is heading home in her cute little VW Cabrio convertible when she happens upon those biker thugs robbing and killing an older couple who lives near her. It's sheer dumb luck that she's out in the dark at this minute, and this bit of bad timing is what drives the rest of our movie's plot.
Drago surprises Elys and moves to kill her with a big knife. Elys lifts her camera and holds the shutter down, the flash popping brightly in the darkness. Drago is momentarily blinded by the flashes, allowing Elys the chance to run to her car and race off.
Elys roars down the surprisingly deserted streets (what part of NYC is this again?) with the biker boys in hot pursuit in their early 1980s Chevy pick-up (the classic ride for rednecks and criminals, even so today). The car chase is interesting, with the vastly more nimble VW taking corners that the truck has to bounce over curbs to make, and the truck's big V-8 allowing it to catch up on the straights. Seriously, where is all the traffic? Where are all the parked cars? This is so not NYC.
Eventually, Elys runs across a police cruiser on patrol and the bad guys wisely depart. But, remember that she took numerous photos of Drago as she was escaping, and he needs to get them back at all costs.
So, the photographer Elys is at the hospital under guard, recovering from her ordeal. Malone is told to go there and take over her protection. He's not too happy about this, but he gets in his beat up Ford Galaxie sedan and heads off through the stock footage streets of New York City. Why is it that all gruff loose-cannon cops have to drive junky cars to match their personalities? I guess he'd look pretty dumb in a Chevy Citation or a little Toyota Corolla station wagon or something.
So, Drago knows that the girl is at the hospital and makes plans to go and kill her there. I guess he reads the papers? So he and two of his henchmen ride up to the hospital at night, through totally deserted streets (this is NYC?) and pull up outside.
They see a guy (maybe Elys' boyfriend, unclear) leaving and getting into a car. Drago cruises up beside him, wraps a chain around his neck and speeds off (!), dragging the poor guy out the car window and down the street to his death. They then smear the guy's blood on one of the bikers' face and act like he's hurt to get into the hospital. The lobby is completely deserted except for a single nurse (seriously, is this really NYC, because it looks more like Frozen Monkey, West Virginia on a slow Tuesday than a big city).
Coming into the deserted lobby, dragging the "wounded" biker between them, they confront the lone desk nurse (a pretty blond girl). The nurse immediately suspects something is amiss and starts to back up. The scene ends before we see anything, but we know that they punked her and checked the logbook to see what room Elys is in.
Cute nurse, also near her end.
So they go upstairs and see the lone NYPD cop outside the girl's door, looking bored and disinterested in the completely empty hallway. The three bikers bum rush him with one in a wheel chair hiding a shotgun under his arm. The poor cop goes down hard, fountaining blood.
Meanwhile, Malone has arrived in the lobby and found the injured nurse. Giving a way-too-cursory glance at the log book, he rushes for the elevator. Note that he seems to step over the wounded nurse (whose moaning softly from her wounds) and barely gives her a look. This is the first of several times in this movie that Malone walks away from an injured person to chase some bad guy. I'm not sure what NYPD protocol is for this sort of thing, but you'd think he'd maybe try and call another nurse or something instead of just letting the girl lie there and bleed to death.
Hey, might want to call someone.
Malone arrives on the ward just after the cop is shot and in time to stop them from getting to the girl. A furious shootout develops in the empty hospital (all those gunshots don't bring anyone out of their rooms or even any hospital staff, though there doesn't appear to be anyone employed at this hospital except a single nurse at the lobby desk). Malone has his pistol and Drago has his shotgun, but the other two bikers appear to be armed only with knives.
The resulting gunfight is brisk and bloody, and four pistol shots and three shotgun blasts later, ends with two bikers dead and Malone very pissed. Drago escapes out a window and rides off to lick his wounds. Elys, for her part, proves to be one of those movie women who just sits there and screams and holds her hands to her face as the bad guy approaches her with a knife, making no attempt to run away or to fight back at all, and is only saved when the hero shoots the bad guy in the back. I hate women like that, what ever happened to the "fight or flight" reaction?
The shooting and the killing and the screaming all over now, the Chief shows up with some other cops. He berates Malone for all the gunplay in the hospital, but Malone (rightly) asserts that his job was to protect the girl and that's just what he did. He then insists on taking the girl back to his apartment where he can hide her. How has Malone retained his job all these years if this is his attitude towards his superiors and the general public?
On the ride over to his place we see that Elys has recovered enough to make small talk with Malone, who isn't biting. In fact, Malone is quite the bastard here, insulting her, snapping at her and generally treating her like scum. And yet, you can just see Elys' eyes glisten with attraction for him. What the hell is it with women being hot for men who treat them badly?
A bit after this scene, we get a short intro to Malone's partner, a youngish career cop with an easy-going attitude to counter Malone's gruff insolence. He's played by Vassili Karis (star of Apocalypse Mercenaries, Cindy's Love Games, and SS Girls). He also had a bit part in Cosmos: War of the Planets, which sucked ass.
When we first meet the partner (he never gets a name onscreen so I'll just call him that), Malone has just called early Sunday morning and woken him up. He wants him to go down to the station and bring the mug shot books to Malone's place so the photographer can look at them. The partner grouses, but complies. Note here that his girlfriend is in bed with him, and as he gets out we get quick shots of both his flabby nekkid man-butt (ick) and her perfectly-shaped and perky nekkid booby (nice).
The sole nekkid chick of the entire movie, enjoy it while you can.
So, Malone and his partner show the mug shots to the photographer chick, who doesn't recognize anyone in them. Hey, I sure hope they have copies of this mug shot book, you'd think they wouldn't take the only one out of the station. Oh, yeah, the photos she took of Drago turned out bad, too much flash. Malone growls that they shouldn't tell the press this, as the bad guy still think they have good picture of him and this might cause him to make a mistake (it already has, the hospital attempt on her life).
So, since Elys has been wearing the same clothes all movie, she has Malone drive her back to her house to get some clothes and stuff. Malone comes inside with her and roots around in her fridge as she goes upstairs. The background music for this scene is an instrumental version of Billy Joel's New York State of Mind, which just sounds awful. And note that Malone is wearing his favorite gray Charlie Brown sweater, the same sweater he wears for about 95% of the movie, regardless of the day (just how long was his shooting schedule, did he wrap all his scenes in a day or two?).
Malone's keen eye then notices the muddy footprints from the busted-open back window to the staircase and knows that Elys is in trouble. Pulling his gun, he creeps upstairs, motioning to Elys to get under cover. We see here Elys standing with her back to us, showing a panty-covered butt for a brief second. This is the closest she comes to nudity this entire movie, and I wonder if Eva Grimaldi had a no-nudity clause in her contract.
That's the extent of Ely's "nude scene".
And yes, one of the bikers is here, having been sent by Drago to keep watch on the house in case Elys returned. The man is hiding in a bedroom with a Mini-Uzi (!), which he unloads on Malone, who dodges out of the way. Malone then empties his gun into the door of the bedroom, hoping to hit the biker behind it (not smart, running out of bullets before knowing if the bad guy is down). The biker isn't hit, and they end up grappling and punching and biting and kicking their way down the stairs and into the living room. The biker stabs Malone in the left upper arm with a switchblade (!) but is then tossed through the plate glass window into the street, where it seems like he's dead.
That over, we get a little background on Malone here, as he leaves Elys in the company of his partner as he heads back into the city to talk to the Chief. It seems Malone is such a prickly bastard due to his childhood, which was marred by his mom leaving him, his father killed in a robbery and general ugliness. He went to Vietnam and took his anger out on the NVA and then joined the police force and quickly gained a reputation for getting the job done even if the methods were a little rough. You can see Elys warming up to this mysterious man, and we have little doubt that they will be in love, sweet love by the third act. Oh, and he has a cat named Purvis.
We also get a bit of character flavor for Drago, as we go back out to the abandoned station. We learn that he's committing these crimes as a way of getting back at those who "never had to work for anything", which I assume is the privileged class of rich folk that he is not. And that's about it for Drago's motivations, just one throwaway line. We also see that there are about fifteen homeless guys here in the station with them now. It's very unclear, but it seems like Drago and his gang are feeding them (!), which suggests that they're some sort of Robin Hood band that robs the rich and feeds the poor (though Robin probably never raped and stabbed innocent women). This does add an interesting wrinkle to the Drago backstory, but we should probably continue to think of him as a nasty criminal and nothing more, we don't want to over-think this movie.
OK, let's meet Chief Max Walker, Malone's superior in the NYPD. The Chief is played by Maurice Poli (star of Return from Death: Frankenstein 2000, A Cat in the Brain, and Papaya: Love Goddess of the Cannibals). Just a 50ish guy with slicked-back hair and saggy jowls.
We go now to the Chief as he is driving his daughter somewhere late one night. His daughter is played by 24-year old Sabrina Siani (who also played Roon in the cult classic Ator, which is bitchin' cool). She's just a skanky-looking kid with massively poufy red hair and a short skirt who listens to Eurotrash techno bands like A-Ha and thinks her father doesn't understand cool. I think I'm in love...
The daughter, as seen later after being roughed up by the bikers.
Out of nowhere, they are boxed in by the gang's Chevy truck! Oh, no, what's this? The three bikers jump on the Chief's car and smash in the windows. Before the Chief can pull his gun, they haul him out of the car and beat him senseless and kidnap his daughter. Drago tells him that if he wants her back alive, he better bring the photographer chick and her film to the "old power station" tomorrow morning or else. He's supposed to come alone and "no funny stuff". Of note, during the above attack, the car's radio is still blasting, and we hear a radio call in show (a concert promotion) while the Chief is getting beat up. I don't know why I think this, but that's the best unique directorial flair in the whole movie.
Needless to say, the Chief calls in his whole department, plus the FBI and the SWAT units, and works out a coordinated plan where he goes in alone as ordered, but the entire site is surrounded by hidden police units and snipers...oh, wait, that's not what happens. No, the Chief instead just tells Malone (!) who volunteers to go in himself (plus his partner, who he also volunteers in absentia) and get his daughter back.
So, back to Malone's apartment, where he and his partner gear up for the morning. He has a standup gun safe full of weapons, and he gives his partner a pump assault shotgun to compliment with his service revolver. Malone himself takes another .45 pistol to go with the one he already has and an Uzi submachinegun (!). Note that he closes the safe up and they both leave in the same scene, and they don't take any extra ammunition for the guns. This just seems pretty stupid, I'd say, and totally out of character for Malone, who would seem to know enough to take extra ammo into an unknown situation.
I hope he has a permit for that.
Out to the old power station now, as we see the three bikers ride up on two bikes and the Chevy truck. They've brought with them a bunch of the homeless guys from the abandoned station to act as fodder (nice, so much for being Robin Hood). The gang has somehow come into a stash of Uzis and shotguns (!) and they pass these out to the ten homeless guys. The poor daughter (now with torn clothes and a bruised and scratched face, suggesting she was not well treated last night) is tied up to the front grill of the truck. And they wait.
Homeless guys with guns, great combo.
They don't have to wait long as her comes Malone's old beater sedan! His partner is alone behind the wheel and he comes racing in at high speed, bouncing over the rutted dirt road. Stomping on the brakes and fishtailing it around, the car comes to a stop in front of the bikers. The trunk pops open and out jumps Malone, Uzi blazing! Yeah, baby!
And now we have our final set-piece battle. Men run around the abandoned power station grounds and shoot at each other. Malone runs. Malone shoots. Malone swings on a rope to kick a bad guy. Malone throws a knife. In the end, nine of the homeless guys are dead, as well as two bikers. One biker and one homeless guy are captured. Drago takes that thrown knife in the back and falls into the river to die the death he richly deserved. Battle over, the field belongs to the cops!
The only lameass bit is when the director rips off Dirty Harry by making Fred Williamson growl at a biker holding a knife to the girl's throat about whether or not he has any bullets left in his gun. He even asks him if he's lucky, punk, and you can just see everyone groaning under their breaths.
What also really, really surprised me about that battle is that Malone's partner made it out alive. I was totally expecting him to take a bullet and die in Malone's arms at some point, but it never happened. I don't know whether to give the movie props for that or be mad that I got gypped out of a cliche.
So, it's over, right? The bad guys are all dead and everything is back to normal, right? Elys can go back to photographing anorexic models and buying Aquanet, Malone can go back to his cat and his gun collection, and the chief's daughter can go into years of therapy and rehab, right? Because someone, hopefully several someone's, made sure that the bodies of the slain bikers matched up to their descriptions, right? There were clearly three bikers there at the end, and they have two dead bodies of bikers in the city morgue and the third behind bars, right? Right? There is absolutely zero chance that Drago somehow survived that knife in the back and somehow escaped and is now plotting his revenge on Malone, right?
Lookin' sharp, Drago.
So, Malone and Elys are out to dinner at a swank restaurant, she's eating a sprig of steamed broccoli and a two-inch cube of tofu with a soda water, and he's mowing down a pork tenderloin with extra gravy and an bottle of Milwaukee's Best. And also there, now cleaned up and dressed like a traveling encyclopedia salesman, is Drago.
Malone gets the hebegebes and starts twitching as he looks around the room. Drago steps up to them an pulls a pistol, taking a shot at Elys' back! Malone manages to shove her out of the way and a poor innocent fat guy at the next table over takes the bullet. He and Malone then exchange some gunfire as the patrons scatter and duck (so Malone brought a gun to a dinner date?).
Drago runs from the restaurant and squeals off in his rusted-out 1974 Ford Taunus sedan, followed quickly by Malone in his equally trashed Ford Galaxie. We assume that there's a wicked car chase next, but we don't see much of it until the end. We also never see any other cops or cop cars, so Malone doesn't call for back-up or anything (I wonder if he has a radio in his car).
So, for some reason only known to the scriptwriter, Drago leads Malone right back to the abandoned station that his gang was using for a hideout. Why go here is a mystery, other than some sense of familiarity and comfort. And maybe Drago has a stash of anti-tank rockets here and he's hoping to get to them in time.
The stuntmen dressed like Malone and Drago chase each other around in their cars, grinding metal and scraping fenders, until they end smashed together in a tangled mass. Both men end up in the dirt punching and choking each other in a desperate battle to end this insipid movie once and for all. Drago's down, then he's up, then he's down again, this is so ripping off The Terminator now. Finally he's dead, his head crushed by Malone's trunk lid! If I were him, I'd still put a bullet in his head just to be sure.
Make it end!
The movie ends with Malone taking a much needed vacation road trip back to his hometown (what the hell) in his partner's 1978 Chevy Camaro. Elys is there to see him off, and to assure him that she will be waiting for him when he returns. Ah, love.
Eva Grimaldi in 2007, after years of cosmetic surgery and botox injections. This is what you're going to be waking up to, Malone, so think about that before you hook up with her.
Bonus! Some statistics for you:
24: Number of people killed in this movie.
13: Number of those 24 who were killed by Malone.
5: Number of cigars smoked by Malone.
1: Number of naughty girly nipples seen.
1: Number of VW Bugs seen.
Written in April 2007 by Nathan Decker.
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