Hero and the Terror (1988)
“Heroes hit hardest.”
Director: William Tannen
Cast: Chuck Norris, Brynn Thayer, Steve James
Synopsis: Danny O’Brien is back in action fighting the notorious Simon Moon, also known as The Terror.
The nickname of Hero bestowed upon Chuck Norris’s character Danny O’Brien is a largely undeserved one judging from the nightmare he’s having at the beginning of Hero and the Terror. It looks to me like O’Brien was having the crap beaten out of him by Simon Moon (Jack O’Halloran), a huge, hulking brute of a man who, we later learn, had murdered more than 20 young women and kept them in his lair under a pier to play with at his leisure. During a moment of inattention by Moon, whose exploits have earned him the nickname of The Terror, O’Brien manages to whack him across the head with a stone which, considering he’s lying on his back in a couple of inches of water at the time, should have done no more damage than to give The Terror a nasty bruise on the side of his head at most. The blow sends The Terror flying, and O’Brien sensibly takes advantage of the opportunity to run away bravely. The Terror gives chase, but his weight snaps the rotting treads of the vertical steps on which he’s standing as he pulls on O’Brien’s ankle and his chin shatters every remaining step on the way down to the ground and unconsciousness.
The title Hero and the Terror could have a double meaning, I suppose, given the fact, three years after the event, O’Brien’s still having nightmares about it. Perhaps there’s an element of guilt mixed in there as well; O’Brien’s hated nickname of Hero probably serves as a constant reminder of how it was lucky circumstance, rather than heroic courage that saved him from becoming another of The Terror’s victims. Nevertheless, every cloud has a silver lining, and O’Brien at least got to bump uglies with Kay (Brynn Thayer), the psychotherapist who was assigned to guide him through his trauma. I’m not sure sexual intercourse was the type of therapy O’Brien’s employers thought they were paying for, but Kay’s unorthodox treatment appears to have done the job because, apart from those nightmares, O’Brien seems fairly well-adjusted, and Kay is now heavily pregnant. The trouble is, the re-occurrence of O’Brien’s nightmares and Kay’s due date roughly coincide with The Terror’s escape from a high security mental facility…
Hero and the Terror is probably one of the least typical Chuck Norris movies out there. For a start he performs very few of his trademark martial arts, and makes a rather ham-fisted attempt at portraying a thoughtful, sensitive type. He’s not helped in this endeavour by Dennis Shryack’s writing, which, when Kay complains about feeling fat and ugly has him uttering in all sincerity the classic line, ‘You’re pregnant, honey, you’re supposed to be fat.’ Priceless. To be honest, the movie devotes almost as much time following O’Brien’s domestic situation — which isn’t exactly compelling — as to the hunt for O’Brien’s nemesis. In fact Kay comes out of the movie as the most well-written character by the end credits.
That’s more than we can say for former professional boxer Jack O’Halloran’s Simon Moon, aka The Terror, who takes up residence in a movie theatre which has recently been renovated at the behest of the City’s mayor (Ron O’Neal) and lurks around the shadows like some mute, Neanderthalian Phantom of the Opera. Every now and again he emerges from the vent in the ladies to twist some luckless lady’s neck before dragging her back to his lair high in the theatre’s roof, but other than that he’s little more than a characterless bogeyman operating, as his psychiatrist informs us, purely on instinct. I think this is supposed to build Moon up as some fearsome, unrelenting force of nature, but it just accentuates his anonymity in the worst possible way.
Those who love 1980s movies will no doubt be able to overlook the Hero and the Terror’s many failings so that they can wallow in its 80s cheesiness; it truly has everything — the cheesy music, the bad jackets, the big hairdos — that defines the era, but for the rest of us that doesn’t compensate for its mediocrity. When you see, in a scene on a roof, a skylight in the background, you just know someone will be crashing through it before the scene is over. And when someone is alone somewhere even a little bit threatening, you also know that a character who means them no harm will silently creep up behind them and grab their shoulder without first calling out to announce their arrival.
(Reviewed 15th January 2014)