The Scariest Things Podcast Episode 141: Police Procedural Horror

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Inspectors Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) in David Fincher’s bleak and brilliant Se7en (1995)

Detective, you are a loose cannon! Turn in your piece, your shield, and make sure to turn that ancient evil tome into evidence. Now get out of my office! The cop cliches are layered on top of a genre with plenty of our favorite tried and true horror tropes. This is the world of the thriller and the hunt of serial killers. It is time for Episode 142 and we’re talking police procedural horror.

The manhunt for a serial killer. The cop seeking revenge for his mysteriously murdered partner. The investigation of mysterious and inexplicable mutilations. The search for children abducted by a cult. When death is involved, who you gonna call? No, not them. You call the police. This is the horror border where detectives get in way over their heads. The mysteries are more inexplicable than anything a normal crime scene could explain. In cop horror movies, the danger isn’t that you might get shot: you might get eaten, dismembered, or your soul ripped from your body. Normal police stuff.

Cops show up in lots of horror movies, but for this exercise, we are focusing on movies where the central protagonists are cops. We’re not talking about cameo appearances, but cop-centric horror. It’s actually surprising how few true horror movies are cop-centric, but some of the very best horror movies of all time fit within this sub-genre. The Silence of the Lambs. Se7en. The Exorcist III. Jaws. We are drawn to the mystery and the police procedural allows us to try and solve the case right along with the protagonists, and for fans of horror movies, it means that the stakes can be supernatural, monstrous, or stomach-churning.

But, have no doubt, this sub-genre exists firmly on the border of thriller and horror. Is Zodiac a horror movie? How about Along Came a Spider? What about a siege movie like Assault on Precinct 13? If Silence of the Lambs is a Horror movie (and some debate that description) what do you make of its precedent, Manhunter? Horror or not has more candidates in this sub-genre than perhaps any other.

But why quibble? We like to think that horror has a big umbrella, and we welcome scares from wherever we can get them. And, as you know, we love our tropes, and adding in the police procedural drama tropes on top of our favorite horror tropes gives us a terrific sandwich featuring lots of tasty familiar themes. They do go so well together.

So check in with your trusted contacts, take one last peek at the evidence map, and get your flashlight. It’s time to check in with the best in cop horror in Episode 141!

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