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Film / Cobra

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"Crime is a disease. Meet the cure."
Original movie tagline

Cobra is a 1986 action film starring Sylvester Stallone, produced by Warner Bros. in association with The Cannon Group.

Stallone stars as police Lieutenant Marion "Cobra" Cobretti, an intense, no-nonsense LA cop from the "Zombie Squad", who has to deal with a string of murders by a man known to police only as the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson), while also dealing with various murderous nuts spouting nonsense about a "New Order". As it turns out, the Night Slasher is actually the leader of this "New Order" cult. Model Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen) drives past one of their murders and sees the Night Slasher's face, making her the gang's prime target. She enters police custody for her own protection, under the watchful eye of Lt. Cobretti and his partner, the junk food-loving Sgt. Gonzales (Reni Santoni). Eventually, Cobra will have to use Ingrid as bait to draw out the Night Slasher and put an end to his menace once and for all.

Based (very very loosely) on Paula Gosling's novel Fair Game. Oddly enough, most of this movie came from ideas Stallone bandied about during the development of Beverly Hills Cop. Stallone was originally cast as protagonist Axel Foley, but back then Sly's strength was in action acting, not comedy. Stallone kept putting in more and more suggestions to put more action in Cop, but the suggestions got more and more expensive and outlandish, and kept pulling it away from the original tone as a cop comedy. Eventually the producers got the hint that Stallone wasn't a good fit, and recast an actual comedian, but by then Stallone had enough material (along with the novel's basic idea) to weave together the script to Cobra. Sly also got the bright idea to re-release the novel Fair Game, but with Stallone's ideas woven in, and all Gosling had to do was agree to give Sly co-author credit. Oddly enough, she declined. It would be nine years later when another adaptation under that title starring William Baldwin and Cindy Crawford (in, roughly, the roles Stallone and Nielsen are in this movie) would make it to theaters. All three versions bear very little resemblance to each other.

Cobra provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Detective Monte, who spends the entire movie belittling Cobra's approach to psycho killers, is played by Andrew Robinson, who played Scorpio in Dirty Harry. Dirty Harry is the modern Ur-Example of Cowboy Cop films like Cobra. And Scorpio was the Ur-Example of psycho killer villains in them.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: It isn't really brought up, but the film takes place around Christmas and copious amounts of ass is indeed kicked, mostly by Cobra.
  • Anti-Hero: Cobretti. He hates discipline, leaving him constantly at odds with his boss.
  • Asshole Victim: Ingrid's boss sexually harasses her, only to get killed by members of the New Order cult.
  • Award-Bait Song: The movie has two, though neither is played in the credits: Loving On Borrowed Time by Gladys Knight & Bill Medley; and Two Into One also sung by Bill Medley, but this time featuring Carmen Twillie.
  • Ax-Crazy: The New Order, particularly the Night Slasher. Literally as they like clanging axes too. The New Order members who go to Cobra's home to try and kill him also storm in with fire axes and hatchets instead of firearms, which quickly turns into Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight.
  • Badass Boast:
    • "I don't deal with psychos. I put 'em away." The supermarket thug discovers the hard way the kind of "putting away" Cobra specializes in, and this is just his first boast.
    • "This is where the laws stops...and I start" also shows up in the finale.
  • Badass Longcoat: Cobretti wears one.
  • Big Bad: The Night Slasher, an Ax-Crazy serial killer leading a cult of fellow murderers.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Happens by accident when the Night Slasher fires his shotgun at Cobretti and hits Nancy Stalk, his police accomplice, who's just jumped on Cobretti.
  • Cassandra Truth: Cobretti is the first to (correctly) deduce they're up against not a single killer, but an army of them. Of course, none of his superiors believe him.
  • Car Chase: Plenty to go around!
  • Car Fu: A security guard gets crushed by the cult's van.
  • Commander Contrarian: Detective Monte spends the entire film belittling the usefulness of Cobra as a law enforcement officer and doesn't see what good there is in the Zombie Squad existing, let alone allowing one of its members to help in the Night Slasher investigation in any capacity. He doesn't appreciate Cobra's methods at any point of the film, with his final line being a backhanded compliment of Cobra almost single-handedly killing the Slasher and his army of fanatical psychos that took over a town, sneering that he would have found a more "subtle" solution to that.
  • Cool Car: Cobretti's customized 1950 Mercury, complete with nitro boosters. Bonus points for being Sly's real-life car, though stunt-doubles were used in the chases.
  • Cool Shades: Cobretti's Ray-Ban RB3030 Outdoorsman I aviator sunglasses.
  • Cowboy Cop: The film tries to sell Cobra as one. Apparently the Zombie Squad is an entire crew of Cowboy Cops, though we only ever see Cobretti and Gonzales. A closer look will reveal Cobra is never shown actually using excessive force: Everyone he kills in the movie ranges from "active shooter" to "charging at him with melee weapons". Other characters see him as a Cowboy Cop nonetheless, because all action hero cops must be ones.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The Night Slasher is beaten, impaled on a metal hook through his spine then slowly roasted alive inside the smelting plant. Can't say he didn't deserve it though.
  • Cult: The "New Order". Their only unifying creed seems to be that they all think murder is awesome and would like to do it as often as possible.
  • Da Chief: Captain Sears. Unusual for this trope (at least on a Cowboy Cop production done during The '80s), he's perfectly reasonable and even friendly to Cobretti, and explicitly orders him to find the Slasher and "do what he does best". It's his subordinate Detective Monte that does the majority of the shouting about collateral damage and belittling of Cobretti's usefulness.
  • Detective Mole: One of the police officers protecting Ingrid is a member of the New Order.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: It rarely snows in Los Angeles, and even when Cobra takes Ingrid up north, there's still nary a cloud in the sky, let alone snow. But the movie takes place at Christmas, which is hinted at by some of the grocery store's window dressing, the Christmas lights arranged in a diner where one of the Night Slasher's victims works, and a full-length Toys R Us Christmas ad plays before the news in Cobretti's apartment.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In order to silence one witness who saw them, the Night Slasher's New Order goes on a week-long explosive rampage in two cities, in broad daylight and in full view of hundreds of new witnesses. Of course, it doesn't really matter in the end, since Cobra happens to be one of those witnesses.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: The thug in the grocery store really likes racking the slide on his shotgun.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: The Night Slasher wants to create a nihilistic dog-eat-dog world with his homicidal cult where sadistic murderers kill off the weak and people are indiscriminately hacked up and gunned down on the streets on a daily basis.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Lt. Cobretti's first name is Marion. He jokes about it, too, and admits he would have preferred to grow up with something tougher-sounding... like "Alice".
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: All kinds of people are in New Order, from common street thugs to balding businessmen. They seem to welcome all races and possibly nationalities, too.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: During the car chase, Cobretti fires a couple of bursts at a pursuing station wagon which explodes and flips over in pieces. A burst fired at the car holding the Night Slasher doesn't even slow it down. In turn the Night Slasher blows up a couple of fuel trailers with a single shotgun shell each.
  • Evil Is Bigger: The Night Slasher stands at a towering 6'4 compared to the 5'10 Cobra.
  • Evil Is Hammy: The Night Slasher. Brian Thompson is likely still finding scenery in his teeth decades later.
  • Evil Is Petty: The supermarket thug parks in a handicapped space on his way to continue his killing spree.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: There are two kinds of women in Cobra: intended targets of the Night Slasher's Order, and its treacherous accomplices. Guess which ones are attractive.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The Night Slasher whose voice sounds borderline demonic at times. Comes with being played by Brian Thompson.
  • Eye Scream: The Night Slasher wants to do this to Cobretti during their final showdown.
    Night Slasher: I want your eyes, pig! I want 'em!
  • Expy: The Night Slasher's New Order is a murderous comune of psycho killers of varied social and cultural backgrounds who kill to bring forth "a new world". It sounds familiar.
  • Generic Doomsday Villain: While the Night Slasher reveals himself to be The Social Darwinist near the end, we never learn why his New Order is motivated to do so much for a serial killer. They might as well exist just to be an army of psychotic mooks for the hero to kill to get to the bad guy.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: The New Order are said to be indiscriminate in their killings, targeting people from all backgrounds, demographics and walks of life.
  • Hate Sink: Detective Monte. Considering every single scene he's in he's mouthing off to Cobra and the other characters and being a "holier-than-thou-because-I-believe-in-following-the-book" jerkass, he deserves the punch Cobretti gives him at the finale.
    Gonzales: You know what I'm going to do once we're done with this (capturing the Night Slasher)? I'm gonna celebrate by kicking his (Monte's) teeth in.
  • He Knows Too Much: The Ax-Crazy cult is after Ingrid's blood because she's the only one who knows what the Night Slasher looks like.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Cobretti drives a custom 1950 Mercury.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • During the car chase, the guy driving the Night Slasher's car says of Cobretti: "He's crazy, he's crazy!" This coming from someone working for a serial killer.
    • Gonzalez had appeared to be the "good cop" to Cobretti's "bad cop" so far on the film, with Cobra even taking a moment in the middle of the Batman Cold Open to sip down some Coors beer and later eating God-only-knows-how-old cold pizza that has stiffened so much that he needed to cut a slice off with scissors. When Gonzalez says he wants to celebrate taking down the Night Slasher by kicking Monte's teeth in after hearing him sneer at them once again, Cobretti tells him that he's got an attitude problem and he probably should try to eat more healthy to see if that fixes it.
  • Idiot Ball: The store thug. Big time. When a cop has just proved he's incredibly quick and doesn't fuck around by chucking a knife into you whilst you are armed with guns, you drop the guns when he tells you to, you don't slowly raise the shotgun to his level with one arm whilst he has a pistol on you. Though given he was a maniac and implied to have been part of the cult, it's none too surprising.
  • IKEA Weaponry: As the cult members are shown moving towards the town where he's protecting a witness, Sylvester Stallone assembles his Laser Sight-equipped Jati submachine gun, which he carries stripped down in a suitcase.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The Steel Mill fight ends with The Night Slasher impaled on an industrial hook, and being set on fire.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: Director Cosmatos had the Night Slasher's bizarre knife custom-made, his only reasoning being that he wanted "a knife the audience would never forget". He certainly got his wish, to such an extent that actual working replicas of the knife are now being made. Never mind the fact that the only realistic way of carrying and pulling out a knife with a giant, almost-double blade and a handle full of sharp spikes without tearing one's clothes to shreds every time would be to velcro it to the outside of the garments.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Cobra takes a moment during the opening supermarket battle to take a sip from a nearby Coors can.
  • Internal Affairs: Detective Monte, who's always on Cobretti's case for his Cowboy Cop behavior.
  • Jerkass: Det. Monte spends literally every second of screentime he has antagonizing Cobretti. Watching Cobretti sock him in the face at the end is very satisfying.
  • Kick the Dog: Lampshaded by Cobra.
    Cobra: You wasted a kid, for nothing. Now I think it's time to waste you.
  • Kill and Replace: The Night Slasher murders a janitor at the hospital and takes his place.
  • Kill It with Fire: Cobra ruthlessly dispatches a villain by pouring gasoline on him and lighting it on fire with a match.
  • Large and in Charge: The Night Slasher is the leader of a vicious cult and stands at 6'4 and is quite broad, towering over every other character in the film.
  • Laser Sight: While in a factory, Cobretti uses the sight to distract some mooks by detaching it and leaving it switched on in a dark room. While the mooks are sneaking up on where they think Cobretti is, he jumps them from behind.
    • Cobra's laser sight is an actual laser sight; when he assembles his Jaki and tests it, it's a proper tiny red dot, instead of a long visible beam. Still a rarity in action movies.
  • Man on Fire: At least two mooks are dispatched by being set alight by Cobretti in the final battle, one who gets roasted alive when standing too near a furnace Cobretti turns on, and another having a lit match dropped beside his feet while standing in the middle of gasoline.
  • The Mole: Officer Nancy Stalk, a cop who is secretly the Night Slasher's Dragon
  • More Dakka: Okay, cops have been known to use submachine guns, but hand grenades?
  • Montage: "Angel of the City", which is a "Shake-down-punks-for-information-while-a-Knife-Nut-killer-stalks-a-model-doing-a-photoshoot montage"
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Eating frozen pizza with scissors has never been so badass looking.
  • Nitro Boost: Cobretti's car has one.
  • No Seatbelts:
    • Averted; the moment the car chase starts, Cobretti and Ingrid are shown buckling up in race car harness, which is just as well as the chase ends with Cobretti crashing the car.
    • However during a short chase in the climatic battle, Cobretti is standing in the back of a pickup shooting at the bad guys, and goes flying off the back when the pickup crashes (though he's unharmed thanks to a Necessary Combat Roll).
  • Nothing Good Ever Happens In A Parking Garage: The first attack on Knudsen by the cult.
  • Oh, Crap!: Cobra and Gonzales share a moment of this over the phone when they realize they've been tricked into leaving Ingrid alone unguarded at the hospital.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Night Slasher.
  • One-Man Army: Cobra, enough to make Rambo proud.
  • Opening Monologue / Sylvester Stallone Is About To Shoot You
    In America, there's a burglary every 11 seconds, an armed robbery every 65 seconds, a violent crime every 25 seconds, a murder every 24 minutes and 250 rapes a day.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: Cobretti practices this with his handgun, most notably after blowing away the supermarket killer so we can see the cobra painted on its grip.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner:
    Mook: I'm a hero of the new world!
    Cobra: You're a disease... and I'm the cure.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    Cobra: You have the right to remain silent. [lights a villain on fire]
  • Product Placement: There is plenty of Pepsi to be seen.
    • And everything else owned by Pepsi. There are cases full of Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Free... Five minutes in, Cobra relaxes next to a huge stack of fresh 7-Up. In fact, he likes Pepsi so much that he has a giant Pepsi neon on a wall outside of his (really spacious and expensive-looking) home.
    • In one scene with Gonzales takes a long swig of a can with his hands placed in a way so you can clearly see he's enjoying the refreshing taste of Coca-Cola Classic.
    • There are also more subtle ones, such as Cobra taking a drink of Coors beer.
    • Ford also gets a lot of placement with the pick-up trucks all having FORD printed on the back and they also make tractors apparently.
    • A Coincidental Broadcast gets a full-length commercial prelude courtesy of Toys-R-Us.
  • Protagonist Title: "Cobra" is the main character's nickname.
  • Psycho Knife Nut: The Night Slasher. Even in his dying moments he still clutched on to his spike-knuckled trench knife. He also uses a double-barreled Sawn-Off Shotgun.
  • Railing Kill: One of the mooks at Cobra's apartment gets shot and falls over a staircase railing.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Various members of the Night Slasher's cult carry a revolver as a sidearm.
  • The Quiet One / Silent Antagonist: The Night Slasher barely says a word during most of the movie. Practically the only time he talks is during his final fight with Cobra.
  • Shout-Out: Cobra has a partner named Gonzales who is played by Reni Santoni.
    • Cobra's real first name is Marion, a reference to John Wayne whose real name was Marion Morrison.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: The Night Slasher and majority of his cult members carry shotguns.
    • The Night Slasher favors a sawed off double barrel shotgun that he uses in the car chase.
    • The supermarket shooter wields a Remington 870 pump action in the opening scene.
    • Stalk wields an Ithaca 37 in the climax.
  • Snarking Thanks: Detective Monte's last line of the film, even after finding out the hard way that the Serial Killer "the Night Slasher" had an entire army of fanatical followers, one of which was The Mole within the LAPD, which Cobra killed almost single-handedly, is to sneer about how he would have found a more "subtle" way of dealing with the aforementioned fanatical cultist army after saying that Cobretti did some good work today.
  • The Social Darwinist: The Night Slasher boasts that he murders people because he wants to kill off the weak, reasoning that this means everyone who can't fight off one of his attacks. This apparently includes children.
  • Spree Killer: The supermarket slayer of the prologue is one of these. The Night Slasher is classified In-Universe as a Serial Killer, but it's also noted that he has acquired an insanely high body count in a short period of time and that he's rather indiscriminate about his targets (such as a sexually-abused child and the elderly). The Night Slasher reveals in his final speech that he kills people he considers "weak" and the fact that it's a whole group also leaves unknown how many Slasher kills were made by the Slasher.
  • Starter Villain: The supermarket maniac that Cobra has to take down in the intro.
  • Stealing the Handicapped Spot: The supermarket crook does this with his motorcycle.
  • Straw Nihilist: Some of the Night Slasher's followers.
  • Strawman News Media: The whiny, liberal reporters who hassle Cobra after he guns down a criminal during a standoff. None of the journalists seem to care that said criminal had taken hostages, was threatening to kill them all with a bomb, and had already murdered several people both before and after taking over the store.
  • Sweet Tooth: Gonzalez really likes his sweets and junk food in general. Upon being taken in after being shot, his only request is for Cobra to bring him some gummy bears.
  • Sword and Gun: The Night Slasher spends part of the final confrontation running around with a Sawed-Off Shotgun in one hand and his knife in the other. Unfortunately, he never gets to use either on the same target.
  • Taking Over the Town: The cult do this because the protagonists are staying the night in the town, even though this would only create hundreds of new witnesses, and a member of their own cult is one of her bodyguards. Still, given that their goal is to create mass fear and chaos, perhaps it was done as much for religious reasons.
  • Terrorists Without a Cause: The New Order movement is based entirely around murder and torture for its own sake (with some social darwinistic rhetoric thrown in), yet seems to attract a surprisingly large member base.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Ingrid is noticeably taller than Cobretti.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Sgt. Gonzales loves his junk food.
  • Vanity License Plate: Cobretti's Cool Car, which sports the license plate "AWSOM 50".
  • Watch the Paint Job: Cobretti's Cool Car gets wrecked in the Chase Scene.
  • We Are Everywhere: The Night Slasher's speech at the end follows this trope to the letter, but it's more of a crazed final rant than an accurate estimate of his actual following. Nevertheless his cult is shown to have members from all levels of society, including at least one police officer.
  • Weapon-Based Characterization:
    • Cobra carries a custom 9mm conversion M1911 pistol as his duty sidearm, while he also has a SMG and a few grenades for his final showdown with the cult. Plenty of evidence that he is a Cowboy Cop.
    • The cult members mainly carry bladed weapons like knives or axes for the majority of their murders, while occasionally carrying firearms such as shotguns or revolvers.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Night Slasher is mentioned as having murdered at least one child.
  • You're Insane!: One of the crazed psycho killers exclaims, "He's crazy!" regarding Cobra during the car chase.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Fair Game


MatPat Explains Dueling Works

During one of his theories on the film industry, he educates the audience on how studios back in the day would release movies with similar premises, citing two pairs as examples.

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