I've been a film buff since childhood, and I love writing about and reviewing my favorites.
I Miss Dollar DVDs!
Whatever happened to Dollar DVDs? During the early '00s the DVD racks at my local Just-A-Buck or Wal-Mart store provided my growing junk-film addiction with an endless stream of entertainingly cheesy public-domain cartoons, obscure European B-Movies, and made-for-TV disaster flicks. Even all these years later, I still have a few dozen of these forgotten flicks on my shelf. In tonight's installment of "Dollar DVD Review," I'll be re-visiting a double feature of '80s action cheese starring faded blaxploitation legend and malt liquor pitchman Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.
"Black Cobra" (1987)
Directed by: Stelvio Massi
You almost have to admire those wacky Italian B-movie makers...because they never saw an idea they couldn't steal. In 1987's Cobra Nero (a.k.a Black Cobra), the producers obviously saw Sylvester Stallone's then-current action hit Cobra and thought, "We can do that...way cheaper!" For those of you who may not remember Cobra, Sly played a rogue cop who played by his own set of rules, protecting a fashion model from a savage cult of murderous bikers.
In Black Cobra, Fred Williamson plays a rogue cop named Bob Malone (Malone = Stallone. Coincidence? I think not!) who plays by his own set of rules, protecting a fashion photographer from a savage gang of murderous bikers. You can just imagine the pitch meeting for this one. "She's a fashion photographer, not a model. Totally different movie! Oh yeah, and OUR guy is black!"
Based on the stock footage of the Brooklyn Bridge that accompanies the opening credits, Black Cobra is apparently set in New York, but I doubt this production ever set foot in NYC. The rest of the movie was obviously shot in an Italian suburb. When we first meet our hero, Detective Malone, he's gone "Dirty Harry" on a trio of bank robbers holding a group of hostages at a swimming pool. (?) After a reprimand by his superior officer for his lethal methods, Williamson simply shrugs and snarls, "They were SCUM!"
Meanwhile, foxy fashion photographer Elys (Eva Grimaldi) witnesses a gang of bikers murdering her next door neighbor, so she snaps a picture of their ringleader -- a pretty boy with a gold tooth who looks about as threatening as Vanilla Ice. This, naturally, makes her next on the gang's hit list. Malone is assigned to protect her and they spend the rest of the movie escaping constant attempts on their lives. During a final showdown set in a junk yard, Williamson delivers a gun-point speech to one of the bad guys that's such a blatant steal from Dirty Harry's legendary "Do you feel lucky, punk?" soliloquy that Clint Eastwood probably should have sued the filmmakers into oblivion. Cobra wasn't one of Stallone's best films by any means, but compared to this Z-grade "homage" it might as well be The Royal Shakespeare Company. Williamson sleepwalks through his part with a perpetual snarl on his face and a cigar clutched in his teeth, spouting off cliche tough-guy dialogue that was obviously written by an Italian who learned English from American TV cop shows. Though I love schlock as much as the next guy, I was starting to nod off by the mid-point of this one.
"Black Cobra" trailer:
"Black Cobra 2" (1989)
Directed by: "Dan Edwards" (aka Edoardo Margheriti)
Williamson returned to the Detective Malone role two years later in this by-the-numbers sequel. While the first BC ripped off Stallone's Cobra to an astounding degree, Black Cobra 2 jumps on the Lethal Weapon buddy-cop bandwagon by saddling Detective Malone with a dorky partner played by Nicholas Hammond, who's best known for his childhood role as Friedrich von Trapp in The Sound of Music, or Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the short lived late '70s Spidey TV series.
Black Cobra 2 opens with more city-scape stock footage, and then we join Malone sitting in his car on a stake out. He chases a criminal on a motorcycle through a series of parking garages before he finally blows the perp away with the usual Dirty Harry-esque lethal force. This naturally lands him in hot water with his superiors (again), so to get him out of everyone's hair for a while they send him off to the Philippines as part of some kind of police officer foreign-exchange program with Interpol.
When Malone arrives in the Philippines, the movie turns into a travelogue about the wonders of Manila. While Malone gets a tour of the city from his nerdy Interpol host/partner, Lt. Kevin McCall (Hammond), his wallet is stolen. By the time Malone and McCall find the thief, he's been murdered. Apparently this small time pickpocket had also stolen a briefcase containing Iranian terrorist plans, and he sent evidence of their plot to his daughter, a local nightclub singer. Malone locates the man's daughter and a creepy May/December romance blossoms between the two as he protects her from the terrorists who want their plans back.
Just as I started to think to myself, "There's too much talking going on here! I thought this was an ACTION movie," Malone and Interpol Boy blow up the Iranians' headquarters real good, then they get word that the bad guys have taken over the school where McCall's young son is a student. Naturally, this is McCall's cue to lose the suit and tie, throw the rule book out the window, and learn to kick ass the Malone way. In the film's final act, the pair mount a two-man assault on the school, kick a bunch of terrorist ass and rescue the kids, then they exchange hearty handshakes as Malone heads back to the U.S. to wait for Black Cobra 3.
Black Cobra 2 was slightly better than the original film... but that's still pretty faint praise. Fans of trashy, zero-budget action should get an ironic kick out of the bad "Miami Vice"-ish synth music soundtrack and the '80s hairstyles and fashions (Malone sure looks stylin' in that Members Only jacket!). This movie is so Eighties it hurts!
"Black Cobra 2" Trailer:
The Black Cobra Strikes Again...
Fred Williamson reprised the Malone role once again in 1990's Black Cobra 3: The Manila Connection, which I have yet to see but I'm sure my completist nature and B-Movie addiction will demand that I get to it sooner or later. Legend has it that the fourth and final film in the series, Detective Malone (1991), was stitched together with footage left over from the previous three movies. The Black Cobra series has apparently fallen into the Public Domain in the U.S., which explains why the films have been released on DVD so many times by so many different low-rent labels.
Fred Williamson's place in B-Movie history is assured thanks to his roles in blaxploitation classics like Three the Hard Way, Hammer, That Man Bolt, and Hell Up in Harlem, but the Black Cobra movies certainly earned their spot in the Dollar Store!
Oh, and by the way... the malt liquor that Williamson pitched on TV for a while back in the '80s was ... King Cobra. Again... coincidence? I think not.
Fred Williamson for King Cobra Malt Liquor:
© 2018 Keith Abt
Kenna McHugh from Northern California on May 16, 2018:
You got lucky at the Dollar Store, fantastic. These movies remind me of Superfly, Dolemite, and Black Dynamite.
Tim from Los Angeles, CA on April 19, 2018:
Oh Man! Those Double Feature Dollar Store DVDs were so great! I never had the one you write about here but did have each film doubled with others. Now it seems the only DVDs the dollar stores near me carry are what appear to be Pre-viewed and rewrapped copies of Knocked Up or any one of the American Pie series.