The Horror Of RoboCop
RoboCop is one of the defining movies of the 1980s. It’s gore-filled brutality tied in with its commentary on society make it one of the few movies that almost never holds back, and hits you hard in a way that few films do.
In my personal opinion it is a horror movie. The gore alone puts it into that category but the true horror is what our protagonist, Officer Alex Murphy/RoboCop, goes through during the course of the movie.
He is firstly gunned down on his first day in a new precinct with a gleeful brutality by Clarence Boddicker and his gang, with one final shot to his head. This doesn’t kill him straight away and he is air-lifted to hospital where he does die, only to wake up as a cyborg. He has no memory of what was before. Just what has been since he was turned on.
By this point we’ve seen the gore of officer Murphy’s murder, and that of an OCP executive, but this is where we start slipping into the true horror of the movie. There are two distinct moments. One where RoboCop catches one of his murderers robbing a gas station. This triggers memories that OCP thought they had erased. Then after a nightmare reliving elements of Murphy’s death he comes into contact with Officer Anne Lewis, who’d been his partner when he’d been killed. She told him his name. This adds to RoboCop’s confusion and he goes on a journey of discovery as he solves his own murder.
The final tipping point for him is when he goes to arrest Dick Jones, a OCP Executive, after he has arrested all of the Boddicker gang, including Clarence. This violates one of his Prime Directives and he all but shuts down. He then has a confrontation with an ED-209 android which is Jones’ project at OCP and flees to an underground carpark where he is set upon by S.W.A.T. and his fellow officers, despite his colleagues objections. For the second time he is gunned down, but this time it’s by the police, who are owned by OCP. He is saved by Lewis who get’s him to an abandoned industrial space.
There is a little bonding between him and Lewis, and he takes his helmet off for the first time, and asks about his wife and son, but refers to Murphy like he is someone else.
The police are on strike by this point and Boddicker and his gang have been sent to eliminate RoboCop by Dick Jones. Who has supplied weapons with a little more firepower than Boddicker has access to.
The sequence that follows is fantastic. It’s beautiful set up, played out, and concluded. I won’t talk too much about it here, go and watch the movie, but it’s one of my favourite sequences in cinema.
The movie ends with RoboCop going to OCP and confronting Dick Jones, while there is a board meeting going on. RoboCop reveals his evidence but states that his programming won’t allow him to act against an officer of the company. Jones, having seen the evidence that he himself gave to RoboCop takes the CEO (known only as ‘The Old Man’), hostage at gunpoint (I’ve no idea why there is a gun there after the death at the start of the movie). The Old Man sacks Jones, elbows him in the gut and RoboCop shoots him, leading him to fall out a window and plummet to his death.
The movie ends with The Old Man asking the officers name, and RoboCop replies with a smile and one word ‘Murphy’.
Peter Weller absolutely smashes it as both Alex Murphy and RoboCop. As Murphy he is charming, competent, capable, and seems like the type of police officer you want protecting you. Early on with Lewis he mentions his son and Weller has such an electricity in his eyes and smile that you can see how much he loves his son, and later in flashbacks you see just how much he loved his wife as well. Murphy is presented as a proper family man which Weller makes real.
His integrity and bravery is shown when he is captured by The Boddicker gang. There is no compromising, he knows he’s gonna die and he doesn’t crumple.
As RoboCop Weller takes everything that made Murphy likeable, and locks it away. There is no emotion, no charm, no passion. There’s a strange confidence to RoboCop, but I suspect that is just a ghost of who he had been before his brain was rewired. A little hint that a brain might be able to be rewired, but that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent act.
He doesn’t show any form of emotion until he confronts one of his murderers, Emil Antonowsky, as he’s robbing a gas station. The way Weller responds is spot on. He discovers his own police record, which lists him as deceased, and the no reaction Weller gives is harrowing. He then goes to his old home that is empty and up for sale. He walks through, having more flashbacks, his emotional energy rising as he moves through this empty house until he gets to an automated realtor thats on a TV screen. Which he punches.
He arrests another member of the Boddicker gang before going after Clarence and the remaining members while they’re negotiating a drug deal, in a cocaine factory. This is a scene of epic proportions. Apparently Peter Weller was listening to Red Rain by Peter Gabriel as he was shooting the scene and it’s bloody beautiful! The scene ends with Clarence Boddicker being strangled by RoboCop after he’s been through through a lot of glass windows and is pretty beat up. This is the big moment where we see conflict in RoboCop. This is the man who took the first and last shots as Alex Murhpy was gunned down. It’s only when Boddicker says that RoboCop is in fact a cop that he stops strangling him.
The scene where RoboCop has taken his helmet off to reveal Alex Murphy is a little hard to watch as Murphy processes what he actually is. Along with the information of his wife and son moving away Weller plays the grief he’s feeling very subtly, there’s a resignation to him, but afterwards we see more of the human than the machine.
That final scene where Murphy smiles, I think is a perfect ending to the film and one that is the pay off of this character that Weller gave us.
An element this film needed was that of Kurtwood Smith’s Clarence Boddicker. In my opinion this is one of the greatest villains in cinema. When you focus on him you see that he is not just a violent psychopath, there’s a brain behind the brutality. He’s sharp and has a sophistication that is hidden beneath his brutality. There is a glee that Smith puts into Boddicker that shows how much he’s enjoying being able to play such a vile human being. I’m not familiar with Smith’s acting career but I get the impression he hadn’t had this sort of role that often. The little research I’ve done (thank you IMDB trivia) basically said Smith tended to play intellectual roles but was cast as Boddicker because director Paul Verhoeven felt he looked like Heinrich Himmlier when wearing glasses, that made him look more intelligent as well (a stereotype I loathe), but I don’t think the specs were needed as Smith’s portrayal shows Boddicker as being an incredibly smart person. I’d imagine the characters IQ is quite high.
Even though he is clearly an intelligent person he’s got no morals. He’s a character I love because Smith gave him charm and charisma when this is a murderer, a rapist, and has a long line of other convictions we only get a glimpse of when RoboCop is investigating. Boddicker literally doesn’t care about any one or thing except himself. He shows no remorse when the members of his gang are killed. He’s equally confident in dealing with drug manufacturers or senior executives of major corporations, and you get the feeling he’d kill either if they weren’t going to help him get to his goals. Even when Bob Morton is offering him money to not kill him, he doesn’t even consider it (Boddicker using his tongue to grip the grenade’s pin makes my skin crawl!). He knows Dick Jones is like him in that he’ll do anything to get what he wants, but if he thought Morton could as easily match or exceed Jones’ usefulness then I think he’d have let him live.
Apparently one of Smith’s first scenes was when he was dragged into the police station after being arrested, and it was his idea to spit a mouthful of blood onto a form and curse. This to me is beautiful, because even when he’s in a building full of cops, has been arrested for killing a cop (which RoboCop says) Boddicker still doesn’t fear where he is.
Another little note I saw on IMDB was that when Boddicker goes to see Jones after RoboCop has been gunned down the second time is the secretary he flirts with is Kurtwood Smith’s wife, Joan Pirkle. I love little nods like this.
The other villain of the piece is the beautiful arsehole that is Dick Jones. Ronny Cox plays Jones with a ruthlessness that is a sight to behold. Without Jones, Boddicker wouldn’t have reached the levels of power he has. It’s a relationship where I don’t think either of them really like the other but they know to get what they want, they need the other. Jones couldn’t have regained favour at OCP if he hadn’t had Bob Morton killed off. He wouldn’t have been able to do that without someone like Boddicker, but I suspect he would have found another way to get Morton out of the picture, maybe like Kenny at the start of the movie. It could have taken longer though and I don’t get the impression that Jones has much patience. I think Jones would abandon Boddicker as well if he thought it wasn’t profitable any more, although I suspect that Boddicker wouldn’t take it laying down.
The sound of the film is very militaristic, and there’s a sense of urgency to it. It fits the tone of the movie and I don’t think it’ll be quite the same if the production had gone a different way with it.
Nancy Allen nails the character of Ann Lewis. She played the role with a strong masculine element to it (apparently she wore mens underwear while playing the character, I think the chewing of the gum added to it too), but never is Lewis ridiculed for this. Nor is there any sexualisation of the character or an attempt to make her some sort of love interest to Murphy/RoboCop. If they had done that it would have destroyed a strong portion of Murphy’s character as he was dedicated to his wife.
Lewis is an incredibly competent officer and holds her own against these nasty male villains for the most part. Allen also has a way of taking control in her scenes. With such powerful performances from Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith in particular some actors got a little lost, thats not a critique of them. Weller and Smith really embodied their characters, and Allen holds her own against them. I think casting her was a stroke of genius because she does have the acting chops to not get lost in the background.
I like the heart she brings to the film as well. There’s a couple of scenes where we need a little softness, and Allen brings that. And then kicks arse in the next scene! It’s great!
“I’d buy that for a dollar!”
The little transitional scenes of the news reports, TV show, and adverts should be out of place, but they add to the feel of society falling the film has.
Just a quick note on Miguel Ferrer as Bob Morton. I felt for him when he died, although he should have tried to get out the house as opposed to trying to get the grenade, but I did feel for him. Yeah, he had his arsehole moments but overall he seemed like a semi-decent human being, especially for a senior corporate executive. But he had strength, drive, and wasn’t scared to rock the boat.
RoboCop, on GameBoy
I had this, and it was hard! I don’t think I got very far in it. I vaguely remember persisting but I think I got to a part and couldn’t get past it. One thing that really annoyed me was when you were dealing with the man holding the woman hostage you couldn’t shoot him through the woman’s skirt like RoboCop does in the movie. Very disappointed by that!
Let’s get Bloody!
One of the most talked about elements of RoboCop is the violence and gore. Yes, it is incredibly graphic, but who cares? What in this movie is sugar coated? The only real moment it holds back is with the attempted rape, but even that isn’t easy to watch. I like to think the scumbag who got his crotch shot to nothing had a very painful life from there on.
The world we live in is one of pain, we can pretend it’s not, but it is. All over this planet we are committing vile acts against one another, animals, and the planet itself. So why not see it? We’re exposed to media which tells us a ‘happily ever after’ is attainable for all, which in my opinion can be incredibly detrimental. Life isn’t a bed of roses. Just look at some true crime documentaries. We are a brutal species but we don’t want to be reminded of what we are capable of.
In the gore though we see the villains, who have caused so much pain with their depravity getting their own brutal deaths. One of the most memorable ones is after Emil Antonowsky has driven into the vat of toxic waste and is stumbled about and bumps into the suave Leon Nash, played by Ray Wise, and then stumbles into the path of a speeding car drive by Boddicker. Just a little side note, Ray Wise hadn’t seen Paul McCrane (Antonowsky) in the makeup, so when Nash runs into Antonowsky, his reaction is real.
Nash’s demise is an explosive one as he’s screaming gleefully after dropping tonnes of scrap metal on RoboCop. Boddicker get a spike to his throat and has a little stumble as he beautifully dies, and Dick Jones is shot out a window. The people at the route of the violence, get violet deaths. Unfortunately this doesn’t reflect the real world very often. (I’m not encouraging violence, its just rare that some of the most horrific people get punished for their acts).
This is a brutal film, and if you don’t like heavy violence and gore, then give it a miss. If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust for their opinion. It’s not for everyone and just because life is like that, doesn’t mean you have to watch it. It’s our choice at the end of the day.
Death and Resurrection
One of my favourite sequences is Murphy being taken off the helicopter, treated, dies, and is then reborn as RoboCop. Most of it is done from his point of view, which is quite chilling because you’re looking up as these people, total strangers, are trying to save your life. What makes this part of the sequence even more harrowing is the people treating Murphy aren’t actors. They’re real life doctors and nurses. This makes the scene incredibly raw and adds a realism to it that is brutal in its coldness. They work through what they would do in that circumstance with an efficiency, professionalism, honestly, and a coldness that I don’t think actors would be able to capture.
After the medics ‘call it’ we get blackness, and then we get views from RoboCop, a few little snippets, including a party and a part where they mention his memory being erased. Then we get RoboCop’s introduction to people in suits. That’s when we get the first taste of what he looks like in the form of a tv screen showing him. Then he goes to Detroit.
The reason why I find this sequence so beautiful is it’s a great portrayal of death and resurrection, but it’s also a mind fuck in that later events show that Alex Murphy probably remembers dying, and being reborn. Can you imagine what that is like? I guess people who have died and been brought back have an insight into it, but to come back to life as not someone else, but something else. That’s one that is going to mess with the brain and just goes to show how strong mentally Alex Murphy is.
“What’s your name, son?”
RoboCop came just a few years after The Terminator, but it wasn’t trying to mimic it. The only real similarities is that they’re both cyborgs. I think there’s parts of Judge Dredd in RoboCop but RoboCop is still it’s own thing. Yes, it takes from other elements, but what doesn’t? We get a unique movie where all of the separate pieces come together to create a tight, well built, beautifully performed, directed movie.
We’re presented a world where a corporation is so powerful it doesn’t think it can buy a city, it’s going to. The Old Man’s legacy is Delta City that is to be built on Detroit. He doesn’t care who and what is bulldozed to achieve this. This is a little too on the nose in regards to corporations feeling they can do what they want. We might not have one as blatant about it as OCP but I don’t think any of us are surprised when corporations get away with, well, murder (allegedly) in some cases.
RoboCop also gives us good and bad, and a little of the in-between. We get the real world turned up to eleven and then put into a location where we don’t ever expect it to happen. There are places in the world where crime is as bold as in RoboCop but we like to think it’s not where we are.
For me the message of this film is; with enough will the person can push through whatever they’re put through. Alex Murphy is literally killed, brought back to life, has who he was gutted and put back into the world rebuilt. But the part of RoboCop that is Alex Murphy was never going to be buried.
2 thoughts on “The Horror Of RoboCop”
Excellent analysis, Peter! Both the hubster and I loved this movie.
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Thank you, I’m happy you liked it 🙂
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