Not Quite Horror: “G.I. Joe: The Movie” (1987)

Not Quite Horror contains reviews of films not traditionally considered horror films. By analyzing them as horror films (identifying the monster, discussing the shared worry for the audience and the main characters, and understanding the depth of horror available to the viewer), who knows? There more than one way to watch a movie.

G.I. Joe: The Movie (1987)

The Monster: The new villains facing the forces of G.I., the Cobra-La, provide new faces and new toys to be sold to fans of the show. Their leader has the lower body of a snake, their strongest warrior has wings, and their foot soldiers have axes larger than their torsos. They were barely more monstrous than Cobra’s evil soldiers.

Their plan for global domination involves using one of the Joe’s many techno-toys to spread evil spores across the world, mutating all of the innocent civilians of the planet.

The Horror: In the midst of the show’s regular laser-light show of combat and bravado, a truly terrifying narrative emerges in the unlikeliest of places.

Cobra Commander, arch enemy to the heroic Joes, is ousted from his position of power and forcibly infected with the Cobra-La’s spores. During his escape, he devolves into a mutant snake that can’t stop hissing about how he used to be a man.

The Shared Fate: G.I. Joe: The Movie was released during the Cold War and marketed at adolescents.

These adolescents grew up believing in the threat of mutation and mutilation at the hands of the Evil Empire. However, the one who suffers the most in the movie is Cobra Commander, the enemy they used to fear. It’s not unrealistic to assume adolescents would identify with Cobra Commander’s plight, as they themselves worry about being betrayed by their growing social connections.

The horrifying moral of Cobra Commander’s story? Your friends will abandon you and you’ll suffer, then die alone. G.I. Joe had weapons, but when the credits on the film rolled, they couldn’t fight that fear of isolation and abandonment.

— I am indebted to Noel Carroll’s The Philosophy of Horror for his ideas on defining horror, as well as John Skipp and Craig Spector’s article “Death’s Rich Pageantry, or Skipp & Spector’s Handy-Dandy Splatterpunk Guide to the Horrors of Non-horror Film” in Cut! Horror Writers on Horror Film for a similar idea.–

–Axel Kohagen