It’s inexplicable. Perhaps it’s the result of a lack of availability, but the 1995 thriller Copycat should be enjoying a massive resurgence in the golden era of true crime podcasts and docuseries. Yet, this forgotten gem wallows in obscurity. I will have none of it.
I’m a longtime fan of this movie, and even I don’t own a respectable dedicated copy. Instead, my Copycat DVD came bundled in a Warner Brothers four-pack alongside Diabolique, The Crush, and Pacific Heights.
This means every time I want to watch Copycat , I insert a double-sided disc into my Playstation, realize it’s on the Diabolique side, and have to flip it over. This doesn’t really make for the most dignified cinematic experience.
Please join me in demanding the Criterion Collection edition of Copycat where the music director discusses the diegetic incorporation of The Police’s “Murder by Numbers.” Give me a director commentary track from Jon Amiel where he details all the Dutch angles in this thing.
But we’re talking old media. I’m here to wrestle an undersung ’90s crime thriller into the modern era. My argument? Out of all of cinema’s greatest killers, Copycat’s serial fanatic would have the best podcast.
If you’ve never seen the movie, Copycat’s broader premise is that authorities must track down a murderer who expertly recreates the crimes conducted by America’s most famous serial killers. It’s basically a true-crime mixtape. He’s the Girl Talk of death.
Having witnessed the rise of podcasts, reality television, and the nation’s obsession with orchestrated death, I can’t understand why Copycat isn’t in everyone’s regular rotation.
The film is centered around Dr. Helen Hudson, an expert profiler who has descended into agoraphobia and substance abuse after nearly being murdered by one of the serial killers who idolize her. Hudson is played by Sigourney Weaver, who brings a great deal of reserve to the role. With a lesser actor, the character could have easily been an over-the-top caricature of a CSI Norma Desmond.
An interesting contradiction that the movie quickly works past is that Dr. Hudson mythologizes serial killers with her writing, while simultaneously adding to the body of work that would lead to their arrest. The film even incorporates a scene where a man falsely confesses to a murder because these things draw people in for some unknowable reason that melds fascination and disgust.
Another aspect of Copycat that serves both a dramatic and thematic purpose is that all of our non-murderous characters are allowed to express a realistic level of romantic interest in one another. By that I mean our protagonists all have a bit of the horn.
As a shut-in, Dr. Hudson expresses the physical loneliness that her character experiences. This bit of characterization continues through the film as she flirts with the detective played by Dermot Mulroney, whose affections are split between the good doctor and his partner, played by Holly Hunter. This is subtle and makes sense in the universe of the film, but it also serves another purpose when juxtaposed with the lack of affection displayed by the film’s antagonist.
Copycat’s copycat killer is played against type by the boyish and handsome William McNamara. He’s distant from his wife, but our killer isn’t some asocial oddball. This makes sense because serial killers are generally charismatic. This is partly why I think he would be at least as good at podcasting as he is at doing that thing that makes him feel like God.
First off, he’s very skilled at computers and digital image manipulations. He could probably mock up a click-heavy thumbnail to drive traffic. That could always be the deciding factor between him and the dense field of true crime podcasts.
Of course, Copycat was released in 1995 when computers and the internet were portrayed on film like some sort of strange alchemy. Incredibly, our killer manages to create an animated .gif, which at the time was the technological equivalent of Avatar.
In the movie Copycat , the killer manages to expertly replicate the crimes of the Boston Strangler, Hillside Strangler, Son of Sam, and Jeffrey Dahmer. He falls just short at replicating Ted Bundy. This level of episodic research and propagation is exactly what you’d need for a top-tiered podcast. Too often with fledgling podcasts, you have a lack of long-term planning and follow through. No such problem here.
Our killer also has a dedicated workspace in his basement, which must be soundproofed since the neighbors seem not to notice any pained screams from his victims.
But more important than any technical acumen and recording space, Copycat’s killer has the two things that are most necessary to becoming a great podcaster or serial killer: a profound desire for notoriety and the desperate need to be perceived as an artist.
Now, I’m not saying that podcasters and serial killers are the same. I would never be that critical of murderers.
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