Starting a new job is never easy, but the men and women of the cinematic justice system seem to get it extra hard. Despite years of focused training, nothing seems to quite prepare these fictional officers for what inevitably comes their way. Years of sleepy normalcy magically dissipates in the glow of a fresh new badge. Crazed killers seem to smell fresh blue blood and respond in dramatic fashion. Long dormant evils awaken with the crisp click of a gun snapping into a holster for the very first time. And while you would think these rookie’s superior officers would offer guidance and support, most of the time they stir up nothing but trouble.
As it is Cops ‘N’ Killers Month here at Nightmare on Film Street, let’s take a look at 10 killer examples of genre rookies that got in way over their heads.
10. Deputy Rick Cologne – Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Tagline: Nothing this evil ever dies.
It can be tough as a young cop in Crystal Lake *ahem* Forest Green. Not only do you have a steady stream of teenagers consistently ruffling feathers and instigating mischief, you’ve also got a nasty reputation to contend with. Good thing all that Jason Voorhees nonsense is definitively buried up on the hill…right? Despite the small town’s dark past, things seemed to be going just fine for poor ol’ Deputy Rick Cologne (Vincent Guastaferro). That is, they were until Tommy Jarvis came back into town. In the end, stubbornness, arrogance and blind faith in his superior officer wind up costing Cologne more than just his badge.
9. Deputy – The Last House on the Left (1972)
Tagline: To avoid fainting, keep repeating: “It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…
If films have taught us anything, it’s that good police work heavily relies on keen observational skills, diligent investigation and a healthy dose of procedural skepticism. Unfortunately for Mari Collingwood‘s parents, their local sheriff and deputy (Martin Kove) initially fall on the more unfavorable side of quality police work. Rather than sharing the Collingwood‘s concern over their daughter’s disappearance (and the recently escaped violent criminals), these officer’s fail to see the clues parked along the side of the road. However, once the evidence literally piles up in support of the Collingwood‘s concerns, this young officer will certainly never underestimate a situation again.
8. Officer Carter – Nightmare Cinema (2018)
Tagline: When the lights go down, your time is up!
In this recent anthology coordinated by the iconic Mick Garris, Alejandro Brugués (Into the Dark: Pooka Lives) directs a segment titled ‘The Thing in the Woods.’ With its nod to 80s slashers and sci-fi films on full display, it makes perfect sense that the segment would contain a lovable, but incompetent young rookie cop. Poor young Officer Carter (Jared Gertner) truly does just want to do a good job. After all, this is his chance to finally prove himself to all the people he grew up with! Unfortunately, the police academy didn’t quite prepare him for a situation quite like this and his innocence and uncertainty wind up costing him his future.
7. Paul McAnn – 10 to Midnight (1983)
Tagline: A cop. A killer. A deadline.
When it comes to careers like the police force, politics seem to be as important as procedure. At first, things were looking bright for rookie Paul McAnn (Andrew Stevens). It’s not everyday a young officer gets partnered up with a highly decorated officer like Leo Kessler (Charles Bronson). With his years of service and experience, Leo would certainly have insight in spades. Quickly the two wind up on the tail of a serial killer who murders his victims while naked. And just as quickly, young McAnn realizes just how far his partner will go in pursuit of justice. While McAnn knew this high profile case would test his professional skill, he soon finds his loyalty, life and principles in jeopardy as well.
6. Jack Forrest – Maniac Cop (1988)
Tagline: He Prefers To Kill, Instead Of Protect
Young Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) is certainly no angel. He’s a young cop, in a young marriage with very real problems. While Jack knew that his infidelity and lack of commitment to his marriage could cause real domestic issues, he certainly had no idea they would lead his wife being murdered. And then, on top of that, getting framed for it! Quickly, things begin to spiral for Jack as he becomes the main target in the city’s Maniac Cop investigation. Along the way we see his friendships, work relationships, investigative abilities and personal resolve tested in dramatically critical ways. It’s not just his life that’s on the line this time, and Jack refuses to go down easy.
5. Jessica Loren – Last Shift (2014)
Tagline: Fear the Ones Left Behind.
You know…had young Jessica Loren (Juliana Harkavy) seen 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, she may have hesitated at babysitting a transitioning police station. However, when you’re a rookie cop just starting out and hoping to impress, declining an assignment is not generally a smart move. She’s just waiting on another team to remove some material right? How bad could the night be? Unfortunately for Jessica, nothing (not even her police training) could quite prepare her for what the building has in store for her. Ghosts, cults, secrets and more test Jessica in a truly terrifying first night alone on the job.
4. Megan Turner – Blue Steel (1990)
Tagline: For a rookie cop, there’s one thing more dangerous than uncovering a killer’s fantasy. Becoming it.
Everyone’s favorite scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis stars as rookie cop Megan Turner in this 90s crime drama directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Near Dark). After killing a criminal in the midst of a supermarket hold-up on her very first day, Megan unknowingly becomes the target of a obsessively psychotic by-stander. As events begin to unfold, Megan‘s professional and personal life become entwined in a series of dark and twisted murders. Quickly Megan realizes it’s one thing to hunt a killer, but it’s a whole other thing to simultaneously have that same killer hunting you in return.
3. Steve Burns – Cruising (1980)
Tagline: Al Pacino is Cruising for a killer.
The pressure to perform and impress within the police force is a very real thing. Opportunities for advancement often rely on performance and chances to demonstrate one’s full capabilities don’t come easily. Perhaps that’s why young cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) accepted the chance to go undercover to catch a killer prowling the underground gay S & M subculture scene of New York City. While young Steve knew the assignment would test his relationship, skills and reputation, he had no idea just how far the assignment would push him. In the end, not only does Steve find his career on the line, but his identity, personal safety and world outlook as well.
2. Deputy Dewey Riley – Scream (1996)
Tagline: Someone Is Playing A Deadly Game, Someone Who Has Seen Way Too Many Scary Movies.
Oh Dewey. Out of all the bumbling, incompetent rookie police officers in films, it’s fairly safe to say that he would win as crowd favorite. David Arquette’s natural likability contributes beautifully to the endearing awkwardness of Dewey‘s character in spades. Despite his determined resolve and positive attitude, Dewey quickly finds himself out of his depth as the mysterious Ghostface picks off both friends and family. However, in classic underdog style, Dewey somehow manages to hold his own against the masked murderer time and time again.
1. Clarice Starling – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Tagline: To enter the mind of a killer she must challenge the mind of a madman.
While many of her rookie counterparts fall short in either competence or luck, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) stands as the pinnacle of rookie potential. What starts as a simple, but unique opportunity quickly spirals into an intense scenario with lives very much on the line. Despite other more seasoned agents failing to penetrate the good graces of the iconic Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), Clarice endears herself to the serial killer with her sincerity, intelligence and vulnerability. Quickly, she finds herself in the middle of a case far outranking her professional experience. And yet, where others may have pulled back, hesitant to embark on such a dangerous journey, Clarice bravely exhibits her abilities, intellect and potential. Adversaries don’t come much more intimidating than Buffalo Bill or Hannibal Lecter, and yet Clarice Starling competently stood head-to-head with both. Rookie sure, but brilliantly capable as well.