Dec 2, 2011
Call me anti-Guido but I have never been particularly allured by the mostly cheap scent of stereotypically gritty Italian giallo flicks. Of course, I love such giallo classics as Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Lucio Fulci’s odd Catholic-guilt themed work Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) but I generally rather re-watch a Hitchcock classic than put blind faith in an obscure film from the Italian horror-crime-mystery subgenre. Recently, I took a chance on the criminally underrated giallo Copkiller (1983) aka The Order of Death aka Corrupt aka Bad Cop Chronicles #2 aka Corrupt Lieutenant directed by Robert Faenza and featuring Harvey Keitel and John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten (of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd) in his only starring role. In Copkiller, Keitel and Lydon play a cryptic gay game of back-and-forth homoerotic, sadomasochistic master and slave. Leo Smith (played by Lydon) is a spoiled little boy with nothing to do but confess to Lt. Fred O’Connor (played by Keitel) that he is the sole culprit in a recent string of vehement cop-killings; the most serious and personal offense when it comes to dealing with the men in blue. Immediately upon hearing Smith’s confession, O’Connor finds such claims to be nothing short of dubious and intrinsically ludicrous. After all, Smith looks and acts like a relatively harmless Mick fairy from outer-space, thus O’Connor prematurely concludes that the ladylike lad lacks the testicular fortitude to commit such suicidal cop-antagonizing deeds. O’Connor is more concerned by the fact that Smith has been stalking him and has found his secret “Bad Lt.” apartment that he shares with his fellow crooked “police partner.” After questioning him and bitterly shoving his head in a fully-functional and running oven a couple times, O’Connor decides to imprison Smith in his bathroom and keep him as a barely-clothed personal pet. Naturally, O'Connor is not a totally mean kidnapper as he provides Smith with food via a dog bowl and sympathetically acknowledges to his captive that it is a shame that such a "good looking guy like you, locked-up in a bathroom." To say that Keitel and Lydon have an idiosyncratic, prowling yet strangely affectionate kind of relationship throughout Copkiller would be a gross and naive understatement. The sort of unnatural chemistry the two leads in the film have is the kind that leads to genocide and gang warfare. Simply put, Copkiller may be one of the strangest “buddy flicks” ever assembled.
Right from the beginning, Copkiller is a wonderful filmic present that is quite pleasurable to unravel for those cinephiles that love surprise gifts. Not only does one discover who purported copkiller Leo Smiths is but one also discovers that Fred O’Connor is simply not a corrupt cop with a rough exterior. From the get go, one gets the impression that little midge O’Connor is a posturing brute of sorts, but, as recognized by Leo Smith, the lunatic lieutenant has a 'maternal' Achilles heel. Although seeming like a weak and harmless pervert, it is quite apparent that limey Leo has something much starker lurking beyond his physically and mentally sickly yet strangely charismatic persona. Initially, it seems as if smiley Smith’s aim is to be gang-raped by a precinct of police but his true conspiratorial agenda is not completely revealed until the remaining minutes of Copkiller. Indeed, the film has a couple notable deaths and the killer looks most daft yet delightful in his cop uniform and matching black ski-mask but the real delicious "red meat" of Copkiller is the thoroughly jovial and equally sadistic psychological power-play between Smith and O’Connor. Throughout the film, one is kept wondering who is the craziest partner of this truly odd couple. Of course, stoic O’Connor is the man in the relationship as he personifies the ad hominem-based, cultural marxist “authoritarian personality” type and Smith is surely more effeminate and conspiring in his constantly unpredictable, passive girlish behavior in the sense outlined by Otto Weininger. In other words, whereas O'Connor is a stern 'man-of-action', Smith is a cold and calculating conniver. Like O’Connor, the viewer unravels who Smith really is as Copkiller progresses yet the more one learns about this truly loco sod, the more confusing his true agenda seems. That being said, Copkiller deserves recognition amongst the greatest of giallo films, but it is also entitled to notoriety as a work that totally transcends the restricting and stereotyped subgenre.
One of the most obvious aspects of Copkiller that makes it stand proudly alone (and relatively unknown) amongst most giallo films is its all-star international cast and New York City setting. Of course, there are some other giallo films that take place in NYC (i.e. Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper) but Copkiller – unlike any other film of the subgenre – truly manages to capture the violent zeitgeist of the city at that time as if it was directed by Abel Ferrara’s homo-serial-killer cousin. If it were not for Copkiller director Robert Faenza’s fondness for Marxism, it is doubtful the film would have ever been made as the director was forced to work in the good ol’ free USA after his Italian Communist Party-sympathetic work Si salvi chi vuole (1980) was deemed politically incorrect in his homeland. Featuring a musical score by legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, Copkiller permeates a distinct atmosphere that one can only find in the great gritty NYC crime films of the early 1980s, but, at the same time, the film is secluded in a unique "ghetto" all of its own. In a sense, Copkiller is also a “thinking man’s slasher film” as one gets to deeply penetrate the hopelessly tainted mind of a coldblooded, psychopathic killer in a most personal way. Although I am sure many cinephiles see Copkiller as an primer and/or unofficial sequel/prequel (as some greedy fellows later tried to market as) to Abel Ferrara’s more successful work Bad Lieutenant (1992) starring Harvey Keitel, the film stands fairly well on its own two feet as an unconventional anti-giallo that twists and wonderfully warps all of the rules of the subgenre it barely belongs to. Like William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), Copkiller defiantly (yet more subtlety) enters an area of the gay-world that is most certainly off limits to modern politically correct filmmakers. Although seemingly different, Leo Smith and Lt. Fred O’Connor share a vice that is for them, more naughty than nice, henceforth Copkiller is a work that most significantly enters into the deplorable and forbidden realms of the psyche than the less disturbing physical world of a corrupt cop's secret apartment. If I had to guess John Wayne Gacy's or Jeffrey Dahmer's favorite film, Copkiller would undoubtedly be at the top of the list. Unfortunately, like many Americans, I seriously doubt these two upstanding U.S. citizens had the grand opportunity to watch this lovely piece of cinematic Americana.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:30 PM
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