Tag Archives: Jonathan Demme

Thrill of the Hunt: Nate’s Top Ten Cop Vs Serial Killer Films

An obsessed, tormented renegade detective tracks down a disturbed, lone wolf maniac who kills innocent citizens for pleasure, compulsion and perhaps to agitate his pursuer and deliberately instigate a game of cat and mouse. This is an ages old motif that has permeated the thriller genre of Hollywood and beyond for eons, providing complex villains, self destructive protagonists, keen Agency profilers, blustery police captains, angsty mayors and no shortage of chases and carnage. Here are my personal top ten favourites!

10. Eye See You aka D Tox

This is commonly known as ‘that one shitty Sylvester Stallone film that no one saw, and I’ll be the first to admit it has its issues. However, I still enjoy it greatly, I love putting it on on a lazy rainy weekend day. Stallone plays a distraught big city FBI Agent whose girlfriend (Dina Meyer) was slaughtered by a vicious serial killer. After heading north into the mountains to a remote rehab facility for damaged cops (run by Kris Kristofferson no less) he soon begins to realize that the killer may have followed him there when people begin to turn up dead. This is a slightly cheesy, predictable thing but I really like the snowy Agatha Christie vibe and the cast is absolutely stacked with interesting talent including Tom Berenger, Robert Patrick, Jeffrey Wright, Stephen Lang, Charles Dutton, Sean Patrick Flanery, Robert Prosky, Chris Fulford, Polly Walker and more. But which one is the killer?

9. Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground

Another snowy one, yay! This fantastic film follows Alaska State trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) as he hunts down nasty real life killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack, chilling) who abducted and killed countless girls back in the 80’s. This film is overlooked and works as a thriller, stern police procedural and affecting interpersonal drama. An eclectic supporting cast surrounds Cage and Cusack but the heart of the film for me is Vanessa Hudgens in a brilliant performance as a wayward teenage prostitute who winds up in Hansen’s crosshairs and eventually Halcombe’s protection.

8. Bruce Robinson’s Jennifer 8

There’s a killer loose in an eerie Pacific Northwest town and its up to big city detective Andy Garcia and local sheriff Lance Henriksen to stop them. This is one of Uma Thurman’s first roles as a blind girl who may be next on the killer’s list. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s tense, freaky and the rainy setting provides lots of dark groves and ominous alcoves where anyone might be hiding. Also John Malkovich shows up for like five minutes as some weirdo FBI interrogator and chews more scenery than the rest of his collective career combined.

7. E. Elias Merhige’s Suspect Zero

Not one you’d find on many top ten lists, but my aim with these blog posts is to shed light on unfairly maligned films or hidden gems that need a good dose of re-evaluation. Ben Kingsley plays a mysterious serial killer who is praying on other killers for murky reasons that relate to an ages old FBI program that tried to harness the power of clairvoyants. Aaron Eckhart and Carrie Ann Moss pursue him while stylistically fascinating filmmaker Merhige (remember Begotten?) gives an otherwise routine tale some stark, elemental visual horror elements that chill the spine, and Clint Mansell’s nervous score warbles on in the fringes of our awareness.

6. Harold Becker’s Sea Of Love

Al Pacino investigates a series of murders and gets into a sweaty affair with mysterious Ellen Barkin, who may have an involvement in the crimes. The killer here uses unique MO in luring people in via the personals section of the newspaper, which gives Pacino and partner John Goodman some hilarious ‘hands on’ stakeout opportunities. This is sexy stuff but the real danger lurking throughout is never smothered by too many steamy encounters, there’s always balance and when the killer does finally show up in person they’re played by a reliably scary familiar face.

5. Jonathan Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs

This made waves upon release and holds up wonderfully to this day. Anthony Hopkins’s articulate, sophisticated Hannibal Lecter and Ted Levine’s perverse nut-job Buffalo Bill are still one of the most terrifying duo of killers to ever grace the same film with their collective presence. Jodie Foster ultimately steals the show as Agent Clarice Starling though and hers is a performance you get more out of each time you view the film, full of hidden hurt, dutiful observation and a keen survivor’s instinct.

4. David Fincher’s Seven

Kevin Spacey plays maybe the most heinous killer on this list and at least the most prolific and inventive in ways you’ll wish you didn’t see or hear. Weary veteran cop Morgan Freeman and eager rookie Brad Pitt are assigned to track him down, the hellish investigation inevitably leaking over into their personal lives. Atmosphere is key here and although Fincher never specifies where the bleak, rained out and despairingly lived-in city is located, one gets a darkly ardent sense of place all the same. Sheets of rain pour down, body after body is unearthed, each slain in increasingly gruesome ways and the uncanny feeling that the killer is just steps away haunts every scene like the constant darkness in the visual palette.

3. Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen

The killer isn’t quite human in this noir and supernatural tinged horror flick that finds homicide detective Denzel Washington searching for a killer who has resurfaced to strike again after being executed. Or has he? Or is it a copycat? It’s a conundrum that causes Denzel to question everything he knows and begins to wonder if this monster is something from another world. It’s a brilliant piece with burnished, gothic cinematography and lively supporting work from John Goodman, James Gandolfini, Embeth Davidtz, Donald Sutherland and a terrifying Elias Koteas.

2. David Fincher’s Zodiac

Score two for Fincher! Good on him, this is a sprawling, hyper realistic, meticulous examination of the murders that sent cops, journalists and civilians alike into a panic back in 70’s San Francisco. The film is constructed to follow the real life events as closely as possible and, as most already know, they never caught this guy which makes for a an eerie, dread soaked trip into paranoia and unease. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo play the dogged, determined professionals who work tirelessly to snag this monster while Fincher expertly crafts some of the most flat out suspenseful, terrifyingly tense scenes ever put to film.

1. Sean Penn’s The Pledge

Jack Nicholson’s ex cop Jerry Black sits alone at a run down, remote Northwest gas station. There’s a haunted air about him as he rambles on to himself and if you’d just been led on the chase of a lifetime by an extremely elusive killer of young girls and then arrived at the excruciatingly unsatisfying conclusion he has, you might be a might frazzled too. Penn’s discomforting, unearthly film is a haunting meditation on obsession, what it does to a person, their choices and mental state when the ultimate result of a quest like this is essentially failure. Many were frustrated by the narrative but that’s where the real beauty lies for me. Penn beautifully illustrates a dark, oblique tale, Nicholson takes on one of his most challenging roles and wins the day, Hans Zimmer creates moody, atmospheric bliss with his score and the cast is peppered with exceptional talent including Benicio Del Toro, Robin Wright, Aaron Eckhart, Sam Shepard, Helen Mirren, Tom Noonan, Lois Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Costas Mandylor, Patricia Clarkson, Dale Dickey, Harry Dean Stanton and a sensational cameo from Mickey Rourke in one of his very best roles.

Thanks for reading! Please share your favourites in this interesting genre as well!

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-Nate Hill

PTS Presents The Gary Young Special Episode 1: Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER and Jonathan Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Our first monthly series with screenwriter Gary Young, where we discuss Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER and Jonathan Demme’s SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  We also get into the television series HANNIBAL as well as Ridley Scott’s HANNIBAL and we briefly touch upon Brett Ratner’s RED DRAGON.