The Bottom Line: Q.V. Hough, Jeremy Carr and Bill Arceneaux on ‘Cobra’

On May 29, Q.V. Hough, Jeremy Carr and Bill Arceneaux discussed the 1986 film Cobra in the Vague Visages Chat as part of “The Bottom Line” series about Action films.

Q.V. Hough: Welcome to the Vague Visages Chat! Thanks for joining, Bill and Jeremy! Thirty-one years ago, Cobra hit theaters over Memorial Day weekend. After re-watching, what’s your initial reaction? Give me one word! You’re up first, Bill.

Bill Arceneaux: One word — complete. Which is ironic, given that the film was cut down massively from an X Rating.

Q.V. Hough: How about you, Jeremy?

Jeremy Carr: Simply put — entertaining … which is all it really needs to be.

Q.V. Hough: Agreed. Effective. Let’s talk about that intro. What stands out the most?

Bill Arceneaux: For me, the intention and philosophy. We see a gun come into frame, as Stallone rambles stats of horrific crime in America. Then, it fires a bullet straight for the audience. Certainly, we aren’t criminals — but what of the person next to us in the theater? Will I be a statistic?

Jeremy Carr: I love the intro Bill refers to, but I’d also say it’s memorable for the contemporary relevance of an unassuming location like a grocery store suddenly becoming ground zero for a fire fight. And wasn’t it originally supposed to be in a movie theater? That would have been even more powerful.

Bill Arceneaux: It’s clear, morally, where this story stands. It’s no Death Wish 3, which is to say it’s not repugnant, but the idea of who is a criminal and what to do with them is central to this movie. And it was supposed to have more deaths. More disturbing deaths, according to Wikipedia.

Q.V. Hough: For me, it’s all about the style and mood. The credits. The boots. The color palette. It sets the mood for Cobra’s arrival. What do you think of Cobretti, the man — how does he strike you during his introduction and the subsequent scenes? Jeremy?

Jeremy Carr: He’s a study in contrasts, total hard-ass one minute, yet surprisingly, if reluctantly, tender with Ingrid. Full of quirks, which I love.

Q.V. Hough: Whaddya say, Bill?

Bill Arceneaux: Cobretti aka The Cobra, I would agree, has a sense of humor and a sense of right and wrong, clear cut. His intro is all machismo and some funny flare, as he opens beer cans and such.

Jeremy Carr: That beer can bit is great.

Bill Arceneaux: So is the Pepsi branding.

Q.V. Hough: For me, I cracked up when he arrived home. First, he’s talking smack to some street guys and rips of the guy’s shirt. Then, he’s slices a SINGLE piece of pizza with a scissors. Why not just eat it? So, he’s the hard-ass guy, but he’s also a thinking man, especially in the scenes with Nielsen. He even tells someone to “watch your mouth, you’re in public.” CODE.

Bill Arceneaux: Well, thinking only goes so far with Cobretti. His mind is already made up.

Jeremy Carr: It’s almost like he enjoys playing the tough-guy more than he really is one.

Bill Arceneaux: Yes, indeed.

Q.V. Hough: How about the dialogue throughout? There’s some hilarious bits, such as when Cobra’s talking to Ingrid about looking for someone as crazy as him. Then, he squirms while she squirts ketchup all over her fries.

Jeremy Carr: Do you have a life preserver?

Bill Arceneaux: That was just plain awkward. Like, he was genuinely disturbed by that. “I don’t deal with psychos, I just put em away.”

Jeremy Carr: “You’re a disease, and I’m the cure.” That’s my favorite.

Bill Arceneaux: That’s on the poster, I believe.

Q.V. Hough: Until yesterday, I didn’t realize that Nicolas Winding Refn was inspired by Cobra. In Drive, Driver (Ryan Gosling) has a toothpick in homage to Cobra’s matchstick. Do you see any visual similarities?

Bill Arceneaux: Perhaps in the overall feel of both films, but nothing from editorial or visual standpoints. Drive is more meditative, Cobra is more viscerally aggressive.

Q.V. Hough: Jeremy?

Jeremy Carr: Well I really like Drive, but Gosling wishes he was as cool as Stallone. There’s a similar techo-vibe to both, something inherent in Cobra given the era in which it was made, but it’s also there, albeit more self-consciously, with Drive.

Bill Arceneaux: Agreed.

Q.V. Hough: Let’s talk about the violence. For me, it wasn’t all about blowing things up. Some of the scenes are extremely effective, in my opinion. For example, the hospital Night Slasher scene — ala The Shining — stands out, even though I kept on thinking about Jack Nicholson as it transpired. Bill, what do you think of the more violent scenes?

Bill Arceneaux: Well, it all felt like a musical. The horror and violence had a sort of jingle nature to them, undercut with overt and heightened aggression. Going for ultraviolence almost made it comical, but it settled on a rhythmic tone that produced a tune I could jive with. The 80s were weird, man.

Q.V. Hough: Well said. How about you, Jeremy?

Jeremy Carr: Nothing really struck me as being too extreme, even though some of the slasher elements were effective. I do think the killing of Night Slasher was almost hilariously over the top. Just in the fact that Cobra slams him on the hook, then sends him into the fire. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Bill Arceneaux: He literally sent him to hell. Well, not “literally.”

Q.V. Hough: In 2017, it seems like many people are criticizing films from past decades for casting issues. For a 1986 film, what do you make of Brigitte Nielsen’s character, Ingrid? She seems to jive with Cobra, and Cobra seems to jive with her.

Bill Arceneaux: They had ok chemistry. Perhaps she was too much of a model like figure for this, but I believed her when she was terrified and when she was flirty.

Jeremy Carr: I think she’s great, especially considering it was just her third film in less than two years. Their off-screen relationship certainly adds to the chemistry. And I really enjoy her classic 80s montage intro.

Q.V. Hough: We’ll wrap up in a few minutes. Decades after its release, where does Cobra rank for you amongst 80s action flicks? Bill?

Bill Arceneaux: On Twitter, I said it was “seminal.” Now, after having rewatched, that mantle may go to Commando or something. Still, Cobra will hold a special place in my heart and in my feelings towards the decade that birthed me. It ranks highly, for sure.

Q.V. Hough: Same here! Jeremy?

Jeremy Carr: It’s not one of the very best, only because there are so many great contenders (Commando, for one). But it’s basically all you could ask for. For anyone who digs this movie, though, and others like it, I would strongly suggest the Cannon Films Collection DVD set, which also has the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. These movies are in a class by themselves.

Bill Arceneaux: Thank you, Golan Globus!

Jeremy Carr: Absolutely!

Q.V. Hough Lastly, what do you think people get wrong about Cobra? And what surprises you the most…. what do you take away as a movie fan and what stands out from a critical perspective?

Bill Arceneaux: People misunderstand this as pure schlock, I think, and just that. It offers more than that. It offers more than an ego trip. It offers a time capsule of Reagan era America, and what we thought was right. I take away from this a flavor for overkill and righteousness in my macho men.

Q.V. Hough: Final thought, Jeremy?

Jeremy Carr: I agree with Bill. The biggest problem with Cobra, and other 80s action movies, is that the gun-loving, uber-macho, tough guy shtick, which was so cool then, has now been co-opted by some. You’ve gotta keep these movies in context to really enjoy them for what they are.

Q.V. Hough: Thanks for joining me, Bill and Jeremy! I’m an 80s kid and enjoyed revisiting Cobra. Let’s do this again soon!

Bill Arceneaux: Absolutely!

Jeremy Carr: Sounds good!

QV Hough: #TheBottomLine.

Q.V. Hough (@qvhough) is a freelance writer and the Founding Editor of Vague Visages. In 2004, he graduated from Concordia College (Moorhead, MN) with bachelor degrees in Communication-Mass Media and History. From 2006 to 2012, Quinn lived in Hollywood, California and now resides in Fargo, North Dakota.

Jeremy Carr (@jeremyrcarr) teaches film studies at Arizona State University and writes for the publications Vague Visages, Film International, Cineaste, Senses of Cinema, MUBI’s Notebook, Cinema Retro, Movie Mezzanine, Cut Print Film and Fandor’s Keyframe.

Bill Arceneaux (@billreviews) is an independent film critic from New Orleans, and a member of SEFCA.