Hero and the Terror

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I’ve heard said that back in the 80’s Cannon Films would divide the potential action scripts into two piles depending on which “Chuck” they were best suited for…Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris. Well, our film today is one that ended up in the Norris stack, apparently. As usual, the film is not terribly heavy on dialogue for Norris, well-known for being a man of few words. That’s okay though, since his nemesis, embodied by Superman II’s Jack O’Halloran, doesn’t even have a single line of dialogue in the whole film. Have a go at guessing which actor is which title character in 1988’s Hero and the Terror.

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Norris plays Danny O’Brien, a cop who three years ago managed to capture a hulkish serial killer named Simon Moon (O’Halloran). For this achievement, many of Danny’s brothers in blue began referring to him as “Hero.” Capturing Moon came with a cost, though. Danny was haunted by nightmares, for which he sought counselling. The bright side, though, is that he fell in love with his shrink, Kay (Brynn Thayer), and they are now expecting their first child. Things seem good for Danny, but then the nightmares start to come back. Oh, and did I mention that Simon Moon recently made a prison escape which ended in a van going off the side of a cliff. Everyone assumes “the Terror” is dead, but Danny has a different feeling.

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Of course, Moon is really alive and has taken up residence inside the attic of a recently restored Hollywood theater. His knew reign of terror begins when he kills a young starlet attending a movie premiere at the theater. The bodies keep stacking up, with only Danny believing that Moon is alive and hiding out in the theater. Even one of Danny’s cop buddies (Steve James) ends up on the victim list one night while scoping out the theater. Soon, Danny decides he needs to take matters into his own hands, quickly leaving after the birth of his daughter to hunt down Moon in the theater.

Though this script ended up in the Norris pile, I dare say it feels a bit more like the films that Bronson was turning out in his Cannon days. It’s got that ugliness that I associate with much of Bronson’s 80’s efforts. This is probably because much of the film consumes itself with just letting the villain go from one murder to the next. You could possibly make the case for this being a slasher film dressed up as a cop thriller. The only thing missing is some variety when it comes to the kills. Simon Moon, though, seems to be partial to a quick twist of the neck to dispatch with his victims. Still, even without much bloodshed, his stalking and murdering of mostly female victims for the pure enjoyment of it is, like I said, ugly. This does succeed, though, in creating a villain that we the viewers are anxious to see get taken down.

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Norris is, of course, more than up to the task. He brings the normal steely gaze and minimal dialogue, but at the same time he brings a lot of heart to this role. So help me I found the guy to be a pretty sympathetic character this time. He’s a good cop and he’s working hard to be a good husband (though his gf isn’t on board with marriage yet) and a good father. It’s just that for him those things can only happen in a world without Simon Moon. I can’t say I blame him for that since Moon truly is a “Terror,” perfectly embodies by Jack O’Halloran. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for this wall of an actor after his roles in Superman II and Dragnet. Though he’s mainly tasked with lumbering around, looking evil, and twisting a few necks, he does succeed in giving us an imposing bad guy. Almost scarier than this crazed serial killer, though, is the fact that his prison psychiatrist is played by another frequent Cannon nasty, Billy Drago. Seriously folks, would you feel comfortable with Billy Drago as your psychiatrist? Me neither.

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The film does have a few cool moments sprinkled throughout. The moment in which Simon Moon drives a van off a cliff, causing it to crumple up like a candy bar wrapper, is a great scene. Somehow the character survives…perhaps O’Halloran truly does have some Kryptonian blood in him. The final showdown between Norris and O’Halloran in the belfrys of the theater is also an exciting sequence.

For a grimey little Cannon film about a cop going after a Frankenstein-like serial killer, Hero and the Terror is way better than it has any right to be. It delivers in the good smacking down evil category and also manages to do it with a little charm and a lot of heart.

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