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Film / Copycat

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Copycat (1995) is an American psychological thriller, starring Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney, Will Patton and Harry Connick Jr. The film was directed by Jon Amiel, with a score composed by Christopher Young.

San Francisco-based criminal profiler and psychologist Dr. Helen Hudson (Weaver) becomes entangled in the deadly mind game of a vicious copycat serial killer, Peter Foley (William McNamara). Due to the horrific attack Helen suffered in her past, she is now an agoraphobe confined to her apartment. The killer uses this against her in his murderous attempts to become a famous serial killer. Detectives M.J. Monahan (Hunter) and Reuben Goetz (Mulroney) have the challenge of trying to capture the killer before he kills again.


Copycat contains examples of:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Nicoletti very matter-of-factly tells MJ "I love you" just before she leaves for the raid on Foley's house.
  • Ax-Crazy: Both Foley and Cullum are sadistic psychopathic serial killers who get a kick out of murdering people in the most gruesome way they can.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Foley is about to stab or shoot Helen when MJ shoots him.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Foley looks and acts like a cute, quiet, unassuming lab tech—and is a psychopathic Serial Killer.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Foley kills a cop to get into Helen's apartment, but when MJ arrives, we see the other cop that he presumably killed first—a black man.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The first (and fourth), third, and second of Foley's victims, respectively.
  • Bookends: The movie starts and finishes with Helen being attacked in a bathroom.
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  • Break-In Threat/The Villain Knows Where You Live: How Foley begins terrorizing Helen. She comes out of the shower to find the suit she was wearing when she was attacked draped over the bed. The message is doubly frightening, as he's not only showing that he can get to her, he's telling her that he's going to finish the job that Cullum couldn't. Another scene has her finding a dismembered finger under her mattress.
  • Broken Bird: Helen goes from a talented and popular psychologist to a nerve-wracked agoraphobe dependent on alcohol and anti-anxiety medications following a vicious attack.
  • Bury Your Gays: Helen's gay pal ends up as one of Foley's victims. Justified in-story because Foley sought him out while copying Jeffrey Dahmer's MO, who targeted only gay men.
  • The Can Kicked Him: Two very long scenes take place in a large public bathroom. Traumatic is the word.
  • Catapult Nightmare: After the prologue, Helen awakens from yet another dream about her attack in this manner.
  • Character Name Alias: Peter Foley uses the names of serial killers as his aliases.
  • Chekhov's Classroom:
    • Helen gives a lecture on serial killers and at one point asks all the men in the audience to stand. Several of the men's faces are then projected on the screen behind her as she explains that white men of a certain age are more likely to be serial killers, and how they look just like everybody else. Naturally, the movie's villain (a serial killer himself) is one of the men projected on the screen.
    • This turns out to be just the first example of He Was Right There All Along found in this film. The serial killer in question can be found in pretty much every crowd scene in the movie, watching the cops try to find him.
    • The cops are perplexed by the killer's changing methods, until Helen and MJ recall this lecture in which Helen listed several different serial killers and they realize that the guy is following the order that Helen listed.
    • At the beginning of the movie, while at a shooting range, MJ is teaching Reuben on how to aim for a criminal's shoulder rather than his chest so as to disable but not kill him. Later in the film, she uses this very tactic on a criminal...who then uses his uninjured arm to pick up the gun and kill Reuben.
    • She learns her lesson at the very end of the film when she shoots the killer multiple times without hesitation.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Nicoletti removes his weapon while at his desk and fails to lock it. Within minutes, a gang member grabs it and takes Reuben hostage.
    • MJ dons a bulletproof vest for the raid on Foley's house. It saves her life when he shoots her later.
    • MJ opens a janitor's closet while trying to rescue Helen, causing several items to fall out. One of them is an aerosol can of disinfectant or cleaner. Helen later sprays it in Peter's eyes, enabling her to get away.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A woman is seen jogging in a park... and is soon seen dead in her bathtub. Another woman is seen dancing at a festival... and is soon found dead on a hillside. And the movie's killer is visible in the audience as early as the prologue.
  • Consulting a Convicted Killer: Helen and M.J. consult with convicted serial killer Daryll Lee Callum - the same killer who had previously attempted to kill Helen - in order to gain insight into the copycat killer's mind. In the very end it turns out that his role in the events was much more prominent than that.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Nicoletti, a fellow detective who MJ either had a relationship or Unresolved Sexual Tension with, is continuously nasty to Reuben, assuming that the two are sleeping together, even telling him, "If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her..." at one point. After Reuben is killed, he tearfully admits that there were times that he even wished for this.
  • Crazy-Prepared: When replicating Cullum's attack on Helen, Foley installs a motion detector in the hallway to warn him of MJ's approach, outright saying that he doesn't want to make the mistake that Cullum did by not anticipating the second police officer.
  • Disposable Woman: And how. The two women killed off screen before the story begins, the three women killed in the course of the film, and Foley's wife, all of whom die with barely a glimpse of them and without us ever learning anything about them.
  • Distant Prologue: The lecture Helen is giving and the subsequent attack take place 13 months before the story proper.
  • The End... Or Is It?: In the very final scene it is revealed that Darryl Lee Callum from his prison cell tries to manipulate another man into killing Helen. It is heavily implied that he communicated with Foley as well.
  • False Confession: Nicoletti is shown interviewing a man confessing to the murders. However, it soon becomes obvious that he didn't do it when he does not even know that the victim was strangled, not stabbed. This seems to be a regular practice for him, as many cops greet him by name as Nicoletti is escorting out of the station.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Daryll Lee Callum and Peter Foley are Ax-Crazy Serial Killers, but nonetheless charming towards their enemies and victims. A noticeable example is when Foley gets bumped into by someone at a club while holding drinks to seduce a victim, leading to him having an outraged expression for a few moments and slowly regaining the composure to pretend to be happy and smiling.
  • Finger in the Mail: Foley plants a severed finger under Helen's mattress as a warning/message.
  • Fingore: Helen finds a dismembered finger under her mattress.
  • Foreshadowing: Look carefully during the opening sequence and you'll notice Peter Foley among the lecture attendees. Is he already obsessed with Helen?
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Daryll Lee Callum. Peter Foley, the actual copycat of the title, is a fan of Serial Killer Callum who is committing his killings in an attempt to impress the imprisoned Callum. In the end it is heavily implied that he might have consciously instigated Foley into killing Helen.
  • Gunman with Three Names: Daryll Lee Callum.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Foley disguises himself as a dead police officer, enabling him to elude detection by MJ even as she's right next to him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Helen exploit's Foley's need for copycat perfection by letting herself hang, which interrupt's his killing of MJ and forces him to free her.
  • Hope Spot: M.J. manages to shoot the madman who's holding Reuben hostage in the hand, and he drops his gun. He then picks up the gun with his other hand and shoots Reuben dead.
  • Impairment Shot: Paired with Vertigo Effect. Any time Helen has a panic attack or is faced with going outside, we get this, with the scene tilted and swooping around dizzily.
  • Impersonating an Officer: How Foley gets into Helen's apartment and how he avoids detection by MJ.
  • It's Personal: Downplayed. While clearly devastated that her friend Andy has become one of the killer's victims, Helen's determination to catch the bastard isn't really ratcheted up in the typical way for this trope.
  • Jack the Ripoff: Peter Foley's M.O. is copying the crimes of famous serial killers.
  • Laughing Mad: Helen breaks into this upon realizing that she can't get away from Foley.
  • Lecture as Exposition: The film opens with Dr. Helen Hudson delivering a guest lecture on criminal psychology at a university in which she outlines the typical characteristics of a Serial Killer. The lecture later takes on additional significance when she realizes that the Jack the Ripoff is basing his murders on the order in which she mentioned famous serial killers in her lecture.
  • Licking the Blade: Done by both antagonist killers, though it's less licking the blade and more running the spine of the knife over their outstretched tongue.
  • Likes Older Women: Despite them being respectively 5 and 16 years his senior, Reuben is clearly attracted to MJ and Helen.
  • Meaningful Background Event: A Rewatch Bonus is to see how many times the Serial Killer is present in the crowd scenes, often mere feet from the investigators. This includes the Chekhov's Lecture at the beginning of the film, when Peter Foley is one of the audience members Helen projects on to the screen while discussing the typical attributes of a Serial Killer.
  • Mister Muffykins: Peter Foley's bedridden (and probably hypochondriac) wife as a small yappy terrier that she keeps with her even while in bed. The dog presumably perishes alongside its mistress when Peter torches the family home.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: Several times—one of a woman jogging in a park, who ends up as a victim, another of a woman dancing at a festival, who also ends up dead, one of Helen as she sits in her apartment, and an especially frightening one as he apparently stalks her through it, with her completely unaware.
  • Near-Villain Victory: Peter Foley (and by proxy also Callum) was extremely close to succesfully kill Helen. His downfall was pedantic need to perfectly recreate Callum's murder attempt, premature assuming he eliminated MJ and his love for Evil Gloating.
  • Next Stall Shenanigans: When Helen goes to the bathroom in the prologue, her bodyguard checks the other stalls and discovers that there's nobody there except another woman in the stall next door in high heels. This turns out to be escaped Serial Killer Daryll Lee, who simply put on the heels to trick the bodyguard, then ambushes and attacks Helen by putting a noose up and attaching it to the bathroom stall next door.
  • Noodle Incident: Nicoletti and MJ either had a relationship or Unresolved Sexual Tension prior to the film's story, but no other details are given.
  • The Not-Love Interest: MJ and Reuben, even though Nicoletti clearly assumes otherwise, given his nasty attitude, though a comment that Reuben makes to Hudson implies that he is romantically interested in her, he just hasn't made his move yet.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Reuben looks a bit rumpled after a night guarding Hudson, and MJ assumes they slept together. Hudson corrects the misunderstanding after Reuben gets killed.
  • Obvious Villain, Secret Villain: The opening scene introduces Darryl Lee Callum, a Serial Killer who tries to kill Helen but is stopped from doing so. While he causes her agoraphobia, he then behaves as just a menacing backdrop while Helen tries to find the copycat killer Peter Foley, who is revealed to the audience but not the characters. While it's vaguely implied that Callum and Foley communicated, it's never specifically answered how or why (perhaps as a Sequel Hook), leaving them as this trope.
  • Off with His Head!: When Andy's body is found, he's been decapitated.
  • Only a Flesh Wound:
    • Near the beginning of the film, MJ is seen at a shooting range with Reuben, actually lecturing him on aiming for a criminal's shoulder rather than the torso. As stated in the trope's description, this would be extremely hard for even an experienced cop to do, and it's also completely the opposite of what's taught in the police academy. To make matters worse, she suggests that he do this so as not to kill the criminal (but still disable him so that he's no longer a danger to others)—when a shot to the shoulder is almost guaranteed to hit the brachial artery, which would be fatal within minutes. It comes back to bite her in the ass later in the film when she attempts to disable a suspect this way—and he's able to use his uninjured arm to pick up a gun.
  • Pants-Positive Safety: After he murders the cop in the prologue, Callum takes the officer's gun and shoves it into the waistband of his jeans.
  • Phone-In Detective: Hudson is an agoraphobic shut-in who never leaves her apartment.
  • Rewatch Bonus: If you watch Copycat all the way through, and then start the movie from the beginning and watch carefully a second time, you'll be amazed at how many times the serial killer in question is right there all along, watching the heroes try to find him.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Whenever Peter Foley is watching his intended victims on his computer, the screen reflects off his glasses so his eyes are invisible. As he is sitting in a darkened room, in the close-ups of his face his shiny glasses are the only illumination.
  • Searching the Stalls: The officer accompanying Dr. Hudson does this before she goes to ladies room in the prologue. However, he is fooled by Daryll Lee Cullum having rolled his pants legs and wearing high heels (and seemingly having shaved his legs).
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Played with. M.J. shows off the Chekhov's Skill early in the film: shoot the hostage taker in the right place on his shoulder, the nerves go haywire, and they automatically drop the gun. Later, it's foiled when he uses his uninjured hand to pick up the gun.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Foley disguises himself as a dead/injured police officer to avoid detection, just like Hannibal Lecter did in Silence of the Lambs. Could he be so obsessed with serial killers that he'll even imitate fictional ones?
    • A killer with a nagging, invalid wife? We've seen that before. . .
  • The Shut-In: Helen is agoraphobic thanks to her ordeal. It's so bad that she can't even flee the apartment for her own safety after Peter breaks in.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Foley drugs the drink he buys for Andy in the nightclub.
  • Survival Mantra: Helen recites the names of the presidents in chronological order to give herself the courage to set one foot outside her door to retrieve her newspaper. It fails miserably when she's trying to escape from the killer.
  • Themed Aliases: Peter Foley uses the names of lesser-known serial killers as aliases.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Foley looks and acts like a cute, quiet, unassuming lab tech, a completely normal guy—and is a psychopathic Serial Killer.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailers make it appear that Daryll Lee Callum (Harry Connick, Jr.) is the Big Bad of the movie and the copycat of the title; it's even him on the poster above. In reality, aside from the prologue, Callum spends the entire movie in prison. He is the Greater-Scope Villain, though, since it turns out Foley is one of his fans. One gets the impression that they were trying to evoke Silence of the Lambs (or more likely, Red Dragon) with Callum as a Lecter-like figure.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: MJ and Nicoletti either had this or a prior relationship, and Reuben and Helen only get to flirt before he's killed.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Cullum refers to Helen's panties as "squirrel covers".
  • Villain of Another Story: Downplayed, but a Chinese suspect from another police case had tried to hold Reuben hostage to make an escape from the station, but instead kills the latter when it fails.
  • Villainous Legacy: Daryll Lee Callum is this. Peter Foley, the actual copycat of the title, is a fan of serial killer Callum who is committing his killings in an attempt to impress the imprisoned Callum.
  • Wham Shot: Foley bids goodnight to his nagging, bedridden wife, heads downstairs to the basement, whistling cheerfully all the way—-and we see that his basement is a Room Full of Crazy—he has a wall plastered with pictures of clippings about murders, a table laid out with surgical instruments clearly intended as instruments of torture, and lastly, strapped to a table, the young woman we saw dancing at a festival, thus revealing him to be the killer the cops are hunting for.
  • Working with the Ex: MJ and a fellow cop either had a relationship or Unresolved Sexual Tension prior to the film's story, as evidenced by his jealousy over her and Reuben and her rebuffing his advances.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Foley gets into Helen's apartment by forcing the other cop to laughingly ask to use the bathroom.