Occupational Hazards is a column that takes a look at the commonly occurring occupations presented in horror film and television, and the key part these jobs play as the story develops.
Last time on Occupational Hazards, we took a look at the many writers that have appeared in horror movies, and the rough times that they encountered because of the situations their job sucked them into.
Let’s face it, being a cop is never the safest job at the best of times, but being a cop in a horror movie pretty much guarantees that you’re going to meet a grisly end.
Even if they’re not directly involved in the horror that’s taking place, their duty to help citizens in trouble means they often get sucked into situations which mean they have to face all manner of monsters and maniacs head-on.
This list could have been a huge one, but I’ve narrowed it down to just some of my favourite horror movie cops, even if their police skills weren’t exactly up to scratch when it came to defeating the bad guy.
Donald Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
I adore A Nightmare on Elm Street for many reasons, but the character of Don Thompson adds another layer of excellence to the whole thing as Nancy’s cop father. Don already has a lot to deal with in his life before the kids of Springwood start getting murdered in their sleep. The part he played in killing Freddy Krueger years previously has clearly affected him, and even caused him to divorce and have a fractured relationship with Nancy’s mother, Marge. Not only is he keeping the whole revenge-killing thing a secret to protect himself and the other parents from punishment, but as a cop himself, he obviously can’t be seen to be running about dishing out vigilante justice whenever he feels like it.
When Nancy’s friends start dying, Nancy is convinced quite early on that Freddy has something to do with it all, even though she isn’t aware of his significance in the beginning. Don has to try and calm his daughter’s fears, thinking a dead man can’t possibly be responsible for the murders, as well as hide the truth from her, and try and solve multiple murder cases at the same time. It’s a lot to handle!
Brent Marken in Cherry Falls (2000)
There’s something about horror movie cop dads having dark secrets in their past which come back to haunt their children years later, and Brent Marken in Cherry Falls is no different. And much like Don Thompson before him, Brent has to try and cover up his part in a past crime in order to allow him to continue with his job and save the teens of the town of Cherry Falls.
The aptly-named Cherry Falls starts losing its teen population, and it turns out the killer is targeting virgins. When Brent’s daughter, Jody, is attacked by the killer, she manages to pass enough details on to the police for them to create a suspect sketch, and it’s someone that Brent recognises. Back in high school, Brent and a group of his football player friends sexually assaulted a young woman called Lora Lee, and the sketch looks incredibly like her.
Again, being so involved in the case proves difficult for Brent, as he tries to investigate where Lora Lee is now without drawing police attention to her, worrying that the connection between him and Lora Lee might be discovered. He’s also trying to shield Jody from the killer, and prevent a town riot as more young people wind up dead.
Amelia Donaghy in The Bone Collector (1999)
Amelia Donaghy is a newly-recruited patrol officer in New York when she discovers vital clues at a crime scene on a train line. Her quick thinking to catalogue the evidence and prevent an oncoming train from destroying the scene leads to her impressing forensic expert Lincoln Rhyme. Lincoln is paralysed and bed-bound, and so gets Amelia to aid him in the case by visiting the crime scenes when he cannot because he trusts her skills.
Amelia is given a fantastic chance to not only work with Lincoln, who is still considered the best in his field but also to learn from him and develop her natural talent even further. It’s endearing to watch Lincoln and Amelia’s relationship grow as they become friends, even when Lincoln has to fight to keep her on the case despite it not being her speciality of police work because he can see how naturally gifted she is when it comes to the forensic side of things.
Amelia has a tough time with being thrown into such a large-scale murder case when she is still relatively inexperienced, which leads her to refuse to do things such as cut the hands off a murder victim. However, she is an amazing police officer, and while she doesn’t always believe in herself, her talent and knowledge ultimately win in the end, and she successfully kills the bad guy, saving Lincoln in the process.
Deputy So & So from Sinister (2012)
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a sweeter and more innocent cop in horror than Deputy So & So from Sinister. As a huge fan of writer Ellison Oswalt, Deputy So & So is more than happy to help Ellison out with some of his questions and queries. Ellison has recently moved into a house where the whole family was brutally murdered in the back garden, and the youngest child of the family went missing without a trace. Because Ellison wants to solve the case by himself, he tries his best to avoid involving the police, but Deputy So & So offers his help in the hopes he might be credited in Ellison’s next book.
Ellison takes full advantage of Deputy So & So’s kindness and naivety, and uses him to help track down details on cases of other family murders which he believes may link to the one in his house. Ellison may think he has the upper hand on Deputy So & So, but it’s the Deputy that figures out the final part of the demon Bughuul’s plan. Sadly, the call comes in too late to actually save Ellison and his family.
The character of Deputy So & So was so good that he went on to be the main character of the sequel, Sinister 2 (2015). While that movie wasn’t very good, especially compared to how spectacularly spooky the first movie was, it showed that Deputy So & So truly was a good person, as he tries to stop Bughuul where Ellison failed.
Claire Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Clarice Starling is just a trainee in the FBI when she gets involved with a high-profile murder case thanks to her boss, Jack Crawford. As an incredibly talented trainee with a desire to work in the Behavioural Science department, Crawford decides to test Clarice’s skills out by sending her to interview notorious murderer and cannibal, Hannibal Lector. The hope is that Lector can provide some insight into the case of Buffalo Bill, who is killing and skinning young women.
Clarice is impressive throughout the entire film, from dealing with Lector’s twisted way of talking down to her and trying to trip her up, having to put up with Chilton’s constant advances and then anger when she rejects him, and even local police having a hard time taking orders from a woman. She takes it all in her stride, and always puts the case, and the hope of saving Catherine from Buffalo Bill’s grips, ahead of anything else.
In the end, it’s Clarice’s fantastic police work that leads to her finding Buffalo Bill’s house and saving Catherine, while the rest of the FBI is off on a wild goose chase. When she arrives at Bill’s house, she’s thrown into a situation that most experienced FBI agents would have trouble handling solo. However, the knowledge that if she dies, then Catherine will die with her, and Bill will most likely get away, is enough to push her to stay focussed while Bill is defeated by his arrogance.
Cybil Bennett in Silent Hill (2006)
It’s fair to say that in horror movies a lot of characters get dragged unwittingly into horrific situations, and that’s especially true of Cybil Bennett in the Silent Hill movie. What starts as a routine traffic stop due to Rose’s questionable behaviour, sees Cybil ending up in the foggy, nightmare world that is Silent Hill.
Due to a previous experience with a kidnapped boy who was thrown down a well to die, Cybil is particularly attentive to children who look like they may be in distress and is worried about what Rose is doing with her daughter Sharon in the car. When Rose crashes her car, both women are trapped in Silent Hill as Rose desperately searches for her missing daughter.
It’s a situation Cybil doesn’t want to be in, but she chooses to help Rose try and find Sharon, even when they are faced with the terrible creatures that inhabit Silent Hill. Cybil also ends up putting herself right in the face of danger to give Rose enough time to escape and hunt for Sharon properly. Her good cop instincts are strong, and they stay with her right until the end.
Mike Norris in Child’s Play (1988)
Police officers in horror movies are well-known for not believing the fantastical things that are going on around them. And while Mike Norris does start as a non-believer, he eventually ends up the hero of the piece.
Mike is responsible for killing the human version of Charles Lee Ray, which is how Charles finds himself hanging out in a doll body, Chucky, and set on revenge. Chucky ends up living with Andy, where he promptly murders Andy’s babysitter. Mike is assigned to investigate the case and becomes more and more involved as Chucky’s hold on Andy grows.
While Mike refuses to believe that Charles Lee Ray could be back in doll form, Chucky soon proves the whole thing is true by trying to murder Mike in his police car. It’s always incredibly handy to have a policeman on your side in a horror movie, so once Mike comes around about Chucky, he helps Andy’s mother track down her son and the killer doll, and ultimately kill Chucky.
Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz (2007)
Hot Fuzz may not be a full-on horror movie, but there’s a lot more blood, gore, and murder in it than a lot of scary films, so I’m going to count it. Nicholas Angel is a high-achieving police officer who ends up being moved from the London police force to the sleepy town of Sandford because his high arrest records are making the rest of the force look bad.
While the town seems peaceful on the face of it, it turns out its got a pretty bad murder problem going on. While the rest of the police force are keen to ignore the whole thing and write the murders off as accidents, Nicholas is an over-achiever, and he’s not going to let anything slide on his watch.
While it’s brilliant watching Nicholas being a kickass police officer, the best part of the whole story is seeing him let go of his strict and obsessive tendencies and learn to relax a little bit. He also learns to care about other people a bit more as he builds a bond with his coworker Danny. And don’t even get me started on his arse.
Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Ichabod Crane is a detective from New York who has a slightly unorthodox way of working and some fancy tools for helping him solve cases. He is asked to head to the rural town of Sleepy Hollow after they’ve had a spate of beheadings to see if he can figure out what is going on.
Ichabod quickly finds out that locals think the reason for the murders is the local legend of the Headless Horseman, which Ichabod is quick to dismiss as he doesn’t believe in anything which cannot be solved through solid police work and logic. However, an interaction with the Horseman proves that he is, in fact, real and Ichabod realises he’s going to have to change his point of view to solve this case and prevent any more heads going missing.
Ichabod’s fancy police tools, weak stomach for murder, and general disbelief at anything supernatural make him a fantastic character to follow throughout the film. It’s also lovely to watch him build a relationship with Young Masbath after his father is murdered, and fall in love with Katrina, a local white witch.
Ray Cameron in Night of the Creeps (1986)
Ray Cameron is a cop dealing with a lot of past issues, and that’s even before the town he lives in starts getting taken over by alien slugs who turn people into undead incubators. In 1959, Ray’s ex-girlfriend was murdered by an axe-wielding maniac, and Ray killed him in revenge. When the alien slugs start spreading all over town, not only do they kill plenty of new victims, but they also infect the same axe-wielding maniac from Ray’s past, bringing him back to life.
Ray is carrying a lot of guilt over his inability to save his ex, as well as the fact he took justice into his own hands and killed his ex’s killer in secret, which could have put his whole career at risk.
Let’s face it, Tom Atkins is excellent in everything, especially horror films, and Night of the Creeps is no exception. He plays a great tortured cop, he proves himself the ultimate hero in the end, and he has some of the best lines in the entire film. Thrill me!