January 27, 2013

Copycat (1995)
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, William McNamara, and Dylan McDermott Dermot Mulroney

Comments:    In late September of 1995, two movies about cops chasing serial killers were released almost one on top of the other one.  Seven (Se7en) came out on September 22nd, and then four weeks later Copycat came out on October 27th.  

Seven, of course, turned out to be one of the most notorious movies of the 1990's.   Filled with graphic images, brutal murders, a bleak feeling of hopelessness and despair, and a shocking twist at the end of the movie (not to mention a fantastic performance by Kevin Spacey as the bad guy), Seven is widely considered by many people to be one of the scariest movies of the past 20 years.  It is one of those movies that people still talk about in hushed and reverent tones, almost like it is sacred.  It is also the type of movie that I would never dream of putting on a list like "200 Movies That Deserve More Love."  It is simply way too popular, it is simply way too well liked.  There is no way that anyone in their right mind could argue that Seven is underrated.

Oh, and then there is Copycat.   You know, the "other" serial killer movie from 1995.  The one that came out four weeks later and that nobody ever talks about.  In fact when most people talk about Copycat (if they talk about it at all), the only thing they ever remember about it is "Hey isn't that the movie that wasn't as good as Seven?  Oh, and hey wasn't Seven amazing?"

Well to end the suspense let me give my opinion on this right now.  Copycat is better than Seven.  Copycat has ALWAYS been better than Seven.  I felt that way in 1995, I felt that way in 2000, and I still feel that way in 2013.  In fact I just rewatched Copycat a couple of days ago and, twenty years later, it is still a fantastic movie.

So we need to end this rumor right now.  Seven was NOT the only good serial killer movie that came out in 1995.  Copycat is just as good as Seven (if not better), and the only reason it got penalized was because it came out four weeks later.  That's it.  Oh and because Seven has an amazing twist ending that makes people think it is more fun to watch than it actually is.

Seven might be creepy, but Copycat is no slouch in the creepy department either.  Hi I'm Harry Connick Jr.  And I will be your strangler tonight.

Copycat is the story of a man named Peter Foley.  He is just your average ordinary every day guy.  Oh, except for the fact that he kills people.

Peter Foley is played by William McNamara, and hands down he is one of my favorite villains in any serial killer movie ever.  And the reason I love him is because he isn't really all that outwardly creepy.  He isn't a monster like Hannibal Lecter.  He isn't a psychopath like Kevin Spacey.  He isn't a random odd nutball like Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill).  No, Peter Foley is just a regular ordinary guy who works in a lab.  And who looks like a Boy Scout.  In fact if you take one look at him, you don't see anything frightening at all.


Peter Foley, bringer of death

What I love about the way they portray the killer in this movie (as opposed to most serial killer movies) is the fact that THIS IS WHAT MOST SERIAL KILLERS ARE ACTUALLY LIKE.  The guys who are successful at getting away with murder over a long period of time aren't these suave urbane aristocrat types like Hannibal Lecter.  And they aren't these creepy oddballs like Buffalo Bill.  No, if you look at guys like Ted Bundy or Gary Ridgway or John Wayne Gacy (aka real life serial killers), this is what they are like.  They are average ordinary guys who look like everyone else and who don't do anything strange.  And this is EXACTLY what makes them so dangerous.  

True sociopaths are so dangerous because nobody ever suspects them.  They look and act just like everyone else.  This is how Gary Ridgway (The Green River Killer) could get women to climb into his car and could kill them for 20+ years, despite the fact that everyone knew there was a serial killer around and that you shouldn't get in anyone's car.  Yet they trusted Ridgway because he looked like some average guy who painted trucks for a living.  Which is exactly what he did.

Trust me on this one.  I studied criminal psychology in college and I very nearly went into criminal justice afterwards because I have always been fascinated by this subject.  I have read pretty much every true crime book that has ever been written.  The guys who get away with serial murder (and who get away with it for years) are the guys who look like your next door neighbor.

Sigourney Weaver with two serial killers.  Guess which one is more dangerous?

So anyway, Peter Foley is a serial killer.  Only he isn't your average ordinary serial killer.  No, he isn't the type of guy who follows any sort of a pattern, or who has any sort of a visible M.O.  No, Peter Foley is a guy who looks at his crime scenes are more of a work of art.  In other words, he doesn't really enjoy the act of killing like most sociopaths do.  No, what Peter is more interested in is the performance.  He loves to stage his crime scenes so that they look like other more famous crime scenes.

And that is how the movie gets its name.  Copycat.

Peter Foley's murders are all homages to other famous serial killers in the past.  

In other words, he doesn't have a gimmick.  He just steals everyone else's gimmick.

Peter staging a crime scene so that it looks exactly like a Hillside Strangler crime scene

So that is the premise of the movie.  Peter Foley taunts the police by imitating other infamous serial killers from the past.  From David Berkowitz (the son of Sam) to Jeffrey Dahmer to Ted Bundy to the Boston Strangler, he is trying to imitate them all.  And it is race against time to catch him before he can finish his list.

And the only two people who realize what he is up to are Sigourney Weaver (a serial killer expert) and Holly Hunter (a cop).

Our heroes

Copycat is a very tense cat and mouse game between three really good actors, and it is one of those movies that I am shocked has always been so overlooked.  Every time I watch it, I am amazed that Seven turned out to be the bigger of the two movies.  Because this one really has it all.  I mean, it has suspense.  It has great music.  It is intelligently written.  It has a memorable villain.  It has some memorable scenes.  It is creepy.  It has a couple of twists.  It's not Silence of the Lambs, but honestly how many serial killer movies ARE Silence of the Lambs.  Copycat might not be quite that good, but I would easily rank it right up there right behind Lambs.  It is easily one of the top two or three serial killer movies I have ever seen in my life.

By the way, I should point out three important things about Copycat that explain why I like it so much more than Seven.

The first thing that is notable about this movie is that it really isn't all that gory.  I mean of course there is SOME blood in it, it is afterall a serial killer movie.  But it really isn't all that gratuitous.  It certainly doesn't go for shocking and disgusting like Seven does.  I know this is a weird thing to say about a serial killer movie, but somehow Copycat manages to pull off "restrained" and "tasteful."  There aren't many serial killer movies that can say that and still somehow manage to be creepy.

Like this, for instance

The second thing that is notable about Copycat is that the two leads in the movie are both females.  That's right, there is no heroic male cop in this movie who can swoop in and save the day.  In this one it is just two women teaming up to catch a killer.  It is an interesting dynamic that you don't see in most movies like this, and it is something that a lot of critics have pointed out (and praised) about Copycat over the years.  Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter are both great actors and they have both been great actors for many years.  And they are both at the top of their game in Copycat.

They also work really really well off of each other.

By the way, fun fact about this movie.

Sigourney Weaver is so tall in real life (5'11") and Holly Hunter is so short (5'2") that you will almost never see them standing next to each other at any point in the movie.  Every time they are in a scene together, Sigourney Weaver is usually sitting down so they are closer in height.  You will see the height difference below in one of the few scenes where Sigourney actually gets to stand up.

Okay and lastly, here is the third thing I would like to point out about Copycat.  And why I think it is better than Seven.

The reason I like Copycat so much more is because it is fun.  I mean, yeah it's a scary movie, and yeah it works really well, but in the end it isn't all that unpleasant to watch.  It is one of those movies that creeps you out for a while, and you get into the story, and then afterwards you go home and you think wow that was a pretty good movie.

Seven, on the other hand, well watching Seven is flat out unpleasant.  It isn't the type of movie you will want to go watch again in a couple of months.  I would say that Seven is something you would only want to watch maybe once a decade.  I mean, yeah it is scary.  And yeah it is a technical masterpiece.  And yeah that ending is cool.  But do you really want to go watch the "Sloth" scene again any time soon?  I didn't think so.

Copycat, on the other hand, is not really all that unpleasant at all.  Yeah, it doesn't break any new ground like Seven tried to do.  But it also doesn't try to sicken you or gross you out either. And in the end that is why I think Copycat is a movie that I would recommend more.

Although the creepy emails in Copycat are REALLY creepy

Copycat.  A movie that has been buried behind Seven (and Silence of the Lambs) for nearly twenty years now, and which needs to finally be brought out into the spotlight.  Oh and before you think that this is just some random favorite and I am the only person who likes it, go read some reviews of Copycat some day.  Critics liked this movie a lot when it came out.  In fact it still has a 70%+ fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  That is pretty impressive for a movie that is usually just considered a ripoff of Silence of the Lambs.

Hates fava beans

Great actors.  Great characters.  A memorable villain.  A cameo by a Police song.  A cool ending.  And Harry Connick Jr.  What's not to like?

If you like suspense movies, this is one of the best ones I can recommend to you.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Copycat:

A masterpiece that takes you inside the mind of a serial killer... - 28 January 1999
It all starts with Dr. Helen Hudson(Weaver) giving a lecture on serial killers, little knowing that she's about to have an encounter with one. After her lecture is over she visits the restroom, and is attacked by one Daryll Lee Cullum(Connick). Flash forward 13 months. We see Hudson yet again, but this time she's confined to her apartment. You see, she's now an agoraphobic, having retired after that fateful day. At the local police precinct detectives M.J. Monahan(Hunter) and Ruben Goetz(Mulroney) are tracking a killer of their own, played by William McNamara. He appears to be mimicing the MO's of various famous serial killers. Hudson hears about this over the radio and calls the precinct with some information. She speaks to Monahan, who thinks it's a crank call. Monahan and Goetz pay a little visit to Hudson's residence, carrying with them photographs of the recent crime scenes. Hudson determines the killer is indeed copying other serial killers. A while later, an unseen visitor breaks into her apartment, leaving the dress she was wearing the day she was attacked by Cullum neatly spread out on her bed. Her home is no longer safe. Monahan and Goetz have dragged her back into the world she tried to leave behind. Now Hudson must help the detectives catch the copycat before she becomes the next victim.

Realistic in just about every aspect, Copycat is right up there with Silence of the Lambs. Comparisons to Seven are not unwarrented, but the plot here is more believable. A very good cast, with Weaver giving one of the best perfomances of her career. Hunter and Mulroney are also excellent. The film is provided a very tense and terrifying atmosphere, thanks to director Jon Amiel. It doesn't need to wallow in needless violence and gore, because it has what every great Thriller needs: suspense on an epic scale. The violence is kept to a minimum, but what it contains can be a bit unsettling, if for no other reason than because we get to know how the killer thinks. Along the same lines, Weaver's portrayal of an agoraphobic is perfect. You don't have to imagine what Weaver is feeling when she steps out of her apartment, or what the killer is feeling while he murders his victims. You feel every bit of it, which is why this film succeeds so masterfully.

Copycat is that rare film that comes along every other year or so that has the ability to pull you into it. It takes you on a most terrifying journey into the mind of a serial killer and the doctor that understands him. I can't say anything more, except that I love this film. Hitchcock would've been proud.

Freaky, Frightining, Thrill Ride - 22 May 1999
This is the kind of movie that you just can't take your eyes off. It grabs you in from the beginning and just won't let you go. Harry Connick Jr. plays a scary as hell convicted serial killer, and William McNamara has his role down solid as an obsessive, amateur serial killer.

Outstanding preformance by Sigourney Weaver (what an actress) as a house bound, post trumatic psychologist specializing in serial killers. But when a string of murders begin to happen, she's forced to face her fears and her past by assisting a detective on the case (Holly Hunter).

The killer leaves clues and short little movies (some of the scariest scenes) through computers, which I thought was very cool. (What else is a house bound person to do? Reading can get exciting for only so long).

Expect a few jumpy scenes and the use of sound to throw you off. This is a definite KEEPER, and a must for those nights you wanna see a scary movie. Or even if you don't.

So turn down those lights, turn up the volume, and get ready for one great thriller.

Nice Kitty... - 27 August 2005
"Copycat" was one of the best films about a serial killer that I have ever seen. It was so good because it was different from the others, where in many other films the serial killer has only one way or style of killing people, and that is solely what the movie is about. In this film, however, the serial killer has his own style, but he is killing people based on the kinds of murders real-life serial killers committed in the past.

The film stars Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Helen Hudson, a criminal profiler/psychologist who helps inspectors Holly Hunter and Dermot Mulroney capture the killer, but not after a series of brutal murders.

It was an original film, and it definitely included some very suspenseful situations that can classify this as a 'thriller' as opposed to just a 'crime drama.' As it goes along, the film manages to pull you into the serial killer's mind where you know where he's coming from and, sometimes, even what he's thinking! It's unpleasant, but still somewhat interesting to see how truly sick some people can be which, in turn, just adds to the film's creepiness.

Serial Killing as Art? - 18 February 2002
Definitely a film that will have you on the edge of your seat, if not hugging it as closely as possible. Copycat tells the story of a serial killer psychologist(wonderfully played by Sigourney Weaver), slowly working her way from phobias due to an attack from a serial killer, working with the law(serviceably played by a cute Holly Hunter) in search of a serial killer that kills in the previous styles of former serial killers. The murderer uses old photos and the books of Weaver to recapture the "essence" of each brutal killing. Murders are done ala Albert DeSalvo, Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and others. The film is very fascinating and yet very twisted too. The killer is played with such conviction by William McNamara. Another killer in prison(the one that attacked Weaver) is played with unusual repulsivenes by Harry Connick Jr. The real star here is the script which has unusual intelligence for such subject matter. There is a good deal of violence, yet a subtle humour pervades much of the discussion between the cops and even Weaver and Hunter in a few scenes. But the thrill aspect of the film...the raw suspense...steers the picture from beginning to end. Hunter and Weaver(particularly) do incredible jobs in their roles, and I was impressed with the film as a whole.

Much under-rated psychological/stalker/serial killer-thriller. - 3 October 2003
This movie presents excellent direction, a cleverly-written screenplay and possibly some of the best acting of Sigourney Weaver's career.

This is another movie I've watched over and over for the sheer entertainment quality. I highly enjoy its marvelous character development and the tense feeling this whole production generates.

Sigourney Weaver portrays a criminologist who specializes in serial homicide. After years of lecture tours on the subject and the serial killers themselves, she is attacked and traumatized so badly that agoraphobia takes a firm grip on her psyche. As time goes on, the intensity of her condition increases to its worst degree.

Now, more than a year later, she comes face to face with her worst nightmare: a new incarnation of Daryll Lee 'Killer' Cullum. Ripped away from everyone she can trust, everyone she has allowed even nominally close to her, she is totally alone and at the mercy of her greatest fear. As her tormentor's plot develops, you will find yourself literally on the edge of your seat.

Killer Cullum is portrayed in a startling manner by Harry Connick, Jr. His follower 'Peter Curtain Foley' is convincingly portrayed by William McNamara.

While the cinematography of this production was little more than average, the settings and scenery were creatively executed. You never get the feeling that they shot this movie in five rooms that they kept redecorating, as you do in many films of this type. The direction was very well done, and Sigourney Weaver is absolutely convincing as the 'pill-popping, juice-head, hyperventilating, agoraphobic @sshøle.' (Inspector M.J. Monahan, played by Holly Hunter)

This is a great movie, and one of my favorites.

Clever Movie....All The Way Thru... - 6 September 2012
Oh.. This is a good movie. (But probably not everyone's cup of tea). Definitely, not "family-friendly", we are drawn into the intense world of serial-killers and their nemesis, criminal psychologists.

Sigourney Fans, of which I am one, will enjoy her strong performance here. But she's well-matched by the convincingly psychotic William McNamara. In my opinion, his performance is outstanding.

Reminiscent of Hitchcock's outstanding films, Copycat takes a good, long look at the crazed motives that fuel psychopaths. There's plenty of suspense, twists and food for thought. This is an intelligent film.

The film doesn't make the mistake of being like Silence Of The Lambs, released only four years earlier. Copycat is equally well-written but here we're examining an "artist", rather than an "intellectual". Lecter is more or less a driven intellectual, affected by political factors (his sister was murdered by Nazis).

Peter Foley, on the other hand, is a pure sadist and likes to refine his techniques ... Pretty chilling... But the intellectual battle between Hudson (Weaver) and Foley here is what makes this film fascinating viewing. It all comes down to how people think...


Watch it during the day.- 23 March 2000
These sorts of films don't scare me. Silence of the Lambs was interesting, but not terrifying. Se7en was disturbing, but not particularly frightening. Copycat, however had me cringing under my blanket at the frightening hour of 10 am with the lights on and a cup of coffee in my hand.

In those other movies, I was a passive observer. Watching the creepy happenings and wondering what it would be like to talk to play mind games with a serial killer or see my wife's head in a box. Chilling stuff to be sure, but I never felt like I was the victim. I never felt the need to hide under my 'blankie' or turn off the VCR just to feel safe again.

'No, Sigourney. Just close the door and go back in and hide. There's a bad, bad man out there who wants to copy the gruesome works of another bad, bad man (who happens to be a heck of a musician) and they're gonna do bad, bad things to you. Just stay inside'

I did manage to make it through. It was a heckuva ride along the way, supported by a fine cast that had my curling my toes up on the couch and tucking my blanket nice and snug up underneath me. That way no crazy psychos could grab my feet, drag me away and do horrible things to me.

What an awesome movie!

* My favorite trivia about Copycat:

* Serial killer Peter Foley, although not yet identified to the audience, appears in two early scenes in the film. He's sitting in Dr. Hudson's lecture audience and is also in the police station after the "Boston Strangler" murder and says "Hi!" to Nicoletti.

* At one point in the movie, Sigourney Weaver actually spat in William McNamara's face without his prior knowledge from rehearsals. The reaction of anger and shock on his face is quite real due to his surprise.

* Years later, Sigourney Weaver would state that this movie had the acting she was most proud of; she worked hard to duplicate what agoraphobics experience, and she regrets that the movie was lost in a shuffle of thrillers at the time and is not better remembered.

* My favorite scene in Copycat:

The ending is great, and the email scenes are creepy as hell.  But I have to give a special shoutout to the very first scene in the movie, where Helen is giving the speech in the auitorium.  You know the scene where she asks all the young white males in the audience to stand up, and the camera pans around the room and focuses on them?  Well a lot of those people are friends of mine.  Copycat was filmed in the Bay Area (Northern California), and they put out a casting call a couple of weeks earlier than they wanted male college students from the area to be in the movie as extras.  So a bunch of my friends drove up to be in the movie (I was busy and I couldn't go that day) and a lot of people I know appear on screen during that auditorium scene.  It is pretty cool to watch it twenty years later and still recognize everyone.

Copycat at the IMDB

Copycat at Wikipedia

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