J.C.X. Simon, one of the men convicted of murder in San Francisco’s infamous “Zebra Killer” crimes of the 1970’s, was found dead in his prison cell. The cause of death is unknown pending an autopsy. Along with Larry Green, Manuel Moore and Jessie Lee Cooks, Simon contributed in killing random victims between 1973 and 1976.
The sensation of this crime meant that, of course, low-budget exploitation filmmakers with moneybags in their eyes took notice. Enter William Girdler, director of such amazing 70s films as Sheba, Baby, Abby and The Manitou. While the murder cases were still open, Girdler went to work filling grindhouse movie seats with one of the most outrageous urban crime dramas ever made.
Known primarily as The Zebra Killer (although it’s also been released under the titles The Get-Man and Combat Cops), this movie starred Girdler regular James Pickett as an insane killer committing his crimes in blackface!
This causes confusion with the police, who have a tough time determining the race of the perp, even though it’s quite apparent the killer looks like he just walked off a minstrel show. To make matters worse, the black cop leading this investigation, Lt. Frank Savage (played by Austin Stoker), really should be investigated by internal affairs. He gets drunk on duty, has suspects written up on false charges and spends his time on the clock knocking back a few at the bar or at home doing a horizontal wiggle with his old lady. In an attempt to make Savage look like a badass, Girdler succeeds in only making him bad, thus making the movie more racist than was probably intended.
Still, this is a film that’s worth watching as a mid-70’s action curio. It’s really too bad that Girdler died in a helicopter accident at age 44, a victim of the wild and woolly era of 1970’s Filipino exploitation moviemaking. He held the promise of creating even more unbelievable grindhouse fare.
Here’s the trailer for the movie under the title Combat Cops. Notice how the race factor of the film is deemphasized in favor of ballistics: