As a youngling, and to this very day, Stallone’s Rocky character was and is my goddamn hero. The message of the Rocky films, and the character itself is so powerful- which is why it remains such a time-honored classic. Never give up, chase your dreams, and be the best you, you can be. A solid lesson in life any adult or child should take and run with. As a kid, I was both obsessed with these movies (I still totally am) because of the exuberant heart this franchise lays on the line.
OK, the sweet-ass montages might play a part in this as well. Warning: Watching this video may cause a sudden sprout of chest hairs.
Now, by the time Rocky IV came around in 1985, our Italian Stallion seemed to be on top of the world. He’s the undisputed champion, gained a best friend in his two-time opponent Apollo Creed, and has more money than I think he knows how to spend- I mean, the guy is buying robot slaves for people’s birthdays’. Must be nice, eh? Seems like things are exactly where they should be in Roc’s life, and seriously, nobody deserves it more than him.
But that’s how most horror movies start out, isn’t it?
An up and coming Russian boxer, Ivan Drago, invades into the US with his Olympic Gold-medalist wife, and his evil as Hell political posse looking to pick a fight with Balboa. They figure he’s the best, so why not go straight for it. However, Creed who is a bit past his prime opts to fight in an exhibition match with the silent blonde giant in what seems like the result of both a little jealousy, and the fact he needs to prove he’s still got it as a fighter.
BIG MISTAKE THERE BUDDY- IT AIN’T ALL IN THE HIPS.
The sequence we see before the actual match between Drago and Creed, scared the literal crap out of me as a kid. I mean, his silent stance and glaring eyes are intimidating enough. His character really doesn’t need any extra help to look like a goddamn murderer waiting to snap. But hey, enter composing score genius Vince DiCola, and everyone is about to shit their pants.
Then what happens? Drago KILLS Creed. Completly pulverizes this man’s face and bashes his brain in until Apollo is left twitching on the mat. All as his poor wife looks on in horror. As a kid seeing this for the first time, I just sat there and cried my damn eyeballs out. I couldn’t believe this shit. This monster, glaring into Rocky’s eyes, while wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielson) is sitting at her table smoking and smirking like a jerkoff, expresses zero emotion with no fucks given for what he just did. Them’s are the traits of a classic serial killer folks.
“If he dies, he dies..”
What a heartless asshole.
So of course, Rocky needs to seek his vengeance. He heads to Russia (per the terms to fight Drago), grows an epic beard, and trains like a madman to face his toughest and scariest opponent to date. While an argument can be made that Drago was controlled and treated like a lab rat by his handlers, I like to think he had some sort of control of what he was doing. Towards the end of the fight with Rocky, he clearly lets the higher powers know he IS running the show. So perhaps he’s been influenced a tad, but I really don’t think they were totally to blame here.
In actuality, we really don’t know anything about Drago or his background before his fight with Creed- expect for he was a soldier. The absence of knowing what makes him tick, his tense presence, and that spine-shivering Drago Suite makes him a scary character in the world of cinema indeed. I could even go as far to compare him to Michael Myers. Oh yes, we’re going there. Everything I just said about Drago, applies to Haddonfield’s finest maniac as well. Regarding the first Halloween film, Myers was an effective and scary as hell villain because he had no rhyme or reason, no background explanation, and John Carpenter’s chilling score made him all that much more frightening.
So yeah, as a child and fearing for the life of my beloved hero at the hands of a soulless, steroid-infused boxer was quite terrifying by any means. I’m not going to lie, hearing that DiCola theme still gives me a bit of the skeevies. So here’s to you Ivan Drago: the unnamed horror icon hiding in plain sight inside the Rocky franchise.
I swear to everything holy about Mighty Mick’s Gym if they play this theme in Creed 2 to introduce Drago once again, I’m going to have to have both all the happy and horrified heart-attacks.