Face-Off: 10 to Midnight vs. Cobra

I always find it to be cool when an action star strays close to, or into, the horror genre. Arnold Schwarzenegger has done his fair share of genre work, he even fought the devil. Chuck Norris has movies like SILENT RAGE and THE HERO AND THE TERROR. Dolph Lundgren has taken on zombies and demons. And Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone have both taken on slashers. Those last two are the focus of this week's Face-Off, with Bronson setting out to stop a serial killer in J. Lee Thompson's 1983 film 10 TO MIDNIGHT and Stallone battling a slasher - actually, an entire cult of slashers - in 1986's COBRA, which reunited him with his RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II director George P. Cosmatos. Which of these tough guy actors did a better job of taking on horror style villains?
Having been on the police force for more than twenty years, Charles Bronson's Leo Kessler is the GRUMPY OLD MEN of cops, the sort of guy who can go to a buffet and end up with quiche, which he hates, because he thought it was pie, and coleslaw, which makes him sick, because... well, who knows why he picked the coleslaw? Kessler shares Harry Callahan's belief that violent offenders are handled too gently by the system, and when a serial killer starts causing trouble in his daughter's circle of friends he demonstrates a willingness to break the law in the name of justice, planting evidence on the man he knows to be guilty. Leo Kessler isn't the most badass movie cop out there, but he's a lot of fun to watch and he does whatever is necessary to get the job done.
Sylvester Stallone plays COBRA himself, Marion Cobretti, a '50s throwback who wears sunglasses, chews toothpicks, and as a member of the Zombie Squad takes the jobs no one else on the police force wants. Cobra alternates between being a stoic ass-kicker and bantering with friends, delivering lines that feel like they were improvised. Stallone was also the writer, so I guess improvising counts as a rewrite. When he's fighting villains and dealing with rude citizens, he comes off as being super cool, but at other times he's a bit too preoccupied with other people's eating habits - and he rations his own pizza eating by cutting up slices with scissors. Cobra is a little awkward, but he is one Stallone character I wish we had seen more of. Cobra deserved sequels.
Gene Davis delivers an awesome performance as serial killer Warren Stacy, and it's astounding that he didn't go on to have a much bigger career than he did. Bronson is great, but it's Davis who makes 10 TO MIDNIGHT what it is - effectively getting across the depth of Warren's insanity while also being hilarious in the role thanks to the lines he speaks. As is said more than once in the film, Warren is a creep, and he is driven to kill the women he's sexually interested in. He'll also kill anyone who might cause him to pay for his crimes, like potential witnesses and determined old detectives.
Cobra has an entire cult of killers to contend with, but the primary villain in the film is Brian Thompson as a man known only as the Night Slasher... and Thompson is super creepy in the role, a hulking brute who's dripping with sleaze and sweat. With his customized knife in hand, the Night Slasher is on a bloodthirsty mission to wipe the weak off the face of the earth so that he and his fellow cultists, "the hunters", can take over and establish a New World Order. He's a very intimidating character who has made the ill-advised decision to go up against a cop who is definitely not one of the weak.
Something unforgettable about the murder sequences in this film is that Warren strips completely nude for them, wearing nothing but a pair of latex gloves. That establishes a major exploitation movie vibe that is enhanced by the fact that his victims tend to be scantily clad or naked women. The first murder sequence in the movie involves a completely nude Warren pursuing a completely nude women through the woods. Some of the deaths are pretty intense, especially in a scene inspired by the real life Richard Speck murders: Warren invades an apartment inhabited by several nurses and proceeds to kill most of them.
The murders committed by the Night Slasher and his hunters are presented like something straight out of a slasher movie, as these sharp-implement-wielding maniacs pick victims at random and bash through any obstacle to get to them. People are stabbed and slashed with the Night Slasher's knife, chopped with axes, smashed into with vehicles. Some of these attack scenes are quite unnerving. When one intended victim escapes, the Night Slasher follows her to the hospital, Michael Myers-style, to finish the job, killing anyone who crosses his path as he makes his way toward her room. After he fails again, the film shifts into action mode.
Charles Bronson doesn't participate in any DEATH WISH sequel style action sequences in this one; 10 TO MIDNIGHT is a pretty straightforward thriller where the biggest moments of non-slasher action are simply foot chases. Foot chases bookend the film, the first before the aforementioned nude run through the woods and the climactic chase involving Warren (completely naked, of course) chasing Kessler's daughter down the middle of a city street. In the build-up to that chase, Kessler is following Warren around the city and desperately trying to stop him before he claims another victim - and he fails, as Warren kills three more people before Kessler gets there. It's exciting, but it's not action in the way that COBRA has action.
Stallone and his RAMBO director did not disappoint in the action department. The film could have been as simple as "Cobra vs. the Night Slasher", but by making the villain a cult member Stallone was able to add in large scale action sequences... and increase the body count. Cobra kills a few dozen bad guys in sequences like a supermarket shooting spree (which is even more disturbing now than it was in 1986), an attack on his own apartment, a vehicular chase through the streets and alleys of Los Angeles, another destructive chase sequence later in the film that feels like Stallone's take on RACE WITH THE DEVIL, and a final confrontation with the remaining cultists in a foundry complete with sparks, open flames, and molten metal.
10 TO MIDNIGHT is packed with memorable quotes, and sometimes it's not even the quality of the line that makes them memorable but rather the delivery. Like the way Bronson says "morphine" and "TV", the way Davis screams "No!" and describes himself as sick, or Geoffrey Lewis talking about the killer being able to "walk out of a crazy house alive". The obscene phone calls Warren makes to Kessler's daughter are pure gold, and Bronson gets one of the best lines right up front in the first scene, when he describes himself as a "mean, selfish son of a bitch."
There's not a lot of dialogue in COBRA, but Cobra does tend to drop one-liners to show how cool he is under pressure. If a bad guy threatens to blow up a store, he'll say "Go ahead, I don't shop here." If they have too much ego, he'll tell them "You're a disease and I'm the cure." He tells another who thinks the flawed system will take it easy on them that "This is where the law stops and I start." Cobra isn't the only one with memorable lines - the amount of times the Night Slasher refers to him as "pig" during their final confrontation is pretty memorable, too.
This turned out to be a really tough Face-Off to figure out a winner for. COBRA goes into it with an edge against the more obscure 10 TO MIDNIGHT, because I grew up watching COBRA and view it with nostalgia-tinted glasses, while 10 TO MIDNIGHT is a film I only discovered within the last few years. The Bronson film put up a hell of a fight, though.

In the categories where I called a winner, I feel those are clear wins. COBRA does have the better lead character and the better action, 10 TO MIDNIGHT does have the better killer and more memorable quotes. But I can't call a winner in the Slashing category, both films have great slasher scenes... and because of that, I have to call this one a tie.

Would you be able to call a winner in this Face-Off? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. If you'd like to send in suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].



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