7 Toughest Comebacks in Crime Film

i spit on your grave

Crime heroes and villains got it rough. They’re usually up to the gills in trouble and their genre, unlike horror, doesn’t smile on its bad-asses soaking up too many bullets.

A fortunate – or unfortunate, if you’re a “the grave’s half empty” kind of person – few manage some superhuman comebacks. Whether by the power of a psychotic episode, sheer grit or timely medical attention, these crime film characters practically pull off an Easter miracle.

Here’s our list of the grittiest mooks who managed the 7 Toughest Comebacks in Crime Film.

7. Fatal Attraction: Alex Forrest

We start our list off with a superficial softie – the sensuous and psychotic mistress, Alex Forrest. Fatal Attraction pits Alex (Glenn Close) against Michael Douglas and the family he shatters with his adultery. The whole film plays as an Academy Award-winning PSA against sleeping around. Then it hits the final act and things get like Friday the 13th.

Alex shows up at Douglas’ home and threatens the family with a kitchen knife. It’s not much of a threat. She winds up soaking up more damage than she inflicts – first getting nearly strangled to death, then slashing herself, and finally being soundly drubbed into submission. Then Douglas plunges her into a bathtub to drown her. You’d think that after a trying night of heartbreak and soft-tissue damage, she’d be down for the count. Not so. After floating in the tub until the audience enjoys a false sense of security, Alex leaps from the water like she was faking all along and takes one last stab.

She’s then put down with a medium-caliber round through the chest. Hell may have no fury like Glenn Close scorned, except maybe for American-made firepower.

6. The Sopranos: Valery

Valery majorly raises the bar over a scorned lover, by simple fact of his heritage: He’s a former Russian special forces soldier – or an interior decorator, depending on which member of The Sopranos you ask. He has no vendetta against his attackers, Paulie Walnuts and Tony Soprano’s twitchy nephew, Chris, but he doesn’t need one. They barge into Valery’s apartment, break his universal remote, then beat and strangle him into oblivion.

Then it’s “game on” for Valery.

Driven to the Pine Barrens in Paulie’s car trunk, Valery surprises the mobsters by both being alive and being hale enough to try and escape. They thrash him again, but a pistol-whipping about the skull only chills him out and gives him time to think. Walked into the snowy forest to dig his own grave, Valery turns the tables on the Soprano crew a second time, bludgeoning them with a shovel and bolting.

He catches a bullet in the head for his troubles. But Paulie and Chris, for all their firepower, don’t catch him. Valery disappears with several mortal wounds but without a trace. And as far as I’m concerned, he’s living forever in Sopranos lore.

5. I Spit On Your Grave: Jennifer Hills

This remake of the exploitation film icon, I Spit On Your Grave, takes its heroine’s endurance to a level even Bear Grylls on angel dust couldn’t dream of hitting. In the original, Jennifer Hills is an unassuming woman gang-raped and nearly killed by thugs, who uses seduction and cunning to visit gruesome revenge on them. In this 2010 remake, Jennifer Hills is changed by her savaging into a feral killing machine that makes Wolverine look like Dazzler.

The horndog hicks that assault her first rape her to bits and then beat the bejesus out of her. Jennifer escapes her attempted murder by plunging, naked and torn, into a frosty river. Drowning only pisses her off more. She vanishes into the woods where, I can only guess, she lives on berries and raw squirrels. When she finally descends on her attackers, she seems only stronger for having endured no heat, little shelter and next-to-no food while nursing injuries that would rack up a Medicare-destroying ICU bill.

So screw laughter being the best medicine. If you believe I Spit On Your Grave, rage could probably cure leukemia.

4. I Saw the Devil: Kyung-chul

A favored film among the Pacific Rim noir set, I Saw The Devil left me baffled on several levels by how ridiculous it is, and the capacity for punishment displayed by its villain, Kyung-chul, is a big part of that. Kyung-chul is a serial killing sexual sadist with a knack for disguise and a classically cool affect, but those aren’t his main talents by far. We only get a notion of what he’s really capable of after the husband of a woman he’s killed comes after him and contrives a plot to beat on Kyung-chul time and again.

I won’t go into the plot – suffice it to say that Kyung-chul’s adversary keeps beating him up and letting him go. And oh, my brothers and sisters, what beatings they are. This is Korean crime cinema, which means it has an appetite for the gruesome and for martial arts that goes right up to 11 on a 1-to-10 scale. Kyung-chul sustains more lightning punches and head kicks than Bruce Lee’s speed bag. He’s drugged, knocked through furnishings, concussed repeatedly, broken in several places and maybe even shot. Honestly, I lost track of the wounds this guy sustains.

Not that it slows him down, though. Kyung-chul just keeps on trucking, getting his blood-soaked, kinky kicks where he can, until the hero finally realizes what a poor idea inspiring a serial killer to go on a rampage is, and chops his impassive head off.

3. Snatch: Boris “The Blade” Yurinov

Yes, Russians make this list twice. Rightly so. Have you read accounts of the Eastern Front? Good luck trying to kill an outraged Slav with anything less than heavy artillery right through the heart. In the case of Snatch, we have Boris “The Blade” Yurinov, and given that he’s in a Guy Ritchie crime-comedy, Boris has to stomach so many zany capers that he builds up enough outrage to power the Leningrad Cowboy’s amplifiers.

Dispatched as an enforcer, Boris has a reputation as being impossible to kill. This is immediately put to the test. Boris is shot almost right out the gate, and not by people who just want him to suffer like Kyung-chul. No, he takes the lead right in center mass.

This isn’t a problem for Boris the Bullet Dodger, though. He collects himself and straps on more firepower to get some payback. On his way to even the score, he gets flattened by a car.

Again, only a minor setback. Boris gets right back up, stays steady on after his targets and barges in with guns ready to blaze.

Sadly, such is not to be. The world is robbed of a glorious beast as the Bullet Dodger catches one slug too many and is down for the count. I guess it had to be – if Boris kept on like he’d been portrayed, the entire star-studded cast would have been snuffed.

2. Sin City: Junior (“That Yellow Bastard”)

Now we hit some crime film entries that did, in fact, meet their end – only to play the Steve Majors card and rise from certain death only more bad-ass than before. Sin City has fistfuls of tough yeggs, from Marv who rides Old Sparky as many times as a kid on Space Mountain, to Hartigan, who grits his way through a medical coma. Neither hold a candle to Junior, “That Yellow Bastard.”

Junior is the pedophile son of a powerful politician in Sin City, but that doesn’t make him immune to Detective Hartigan’s service pistol. Hartigan decides the world would be better off with this socially mobile sleazebag and shoots him to pieces in the first act. He blows off Junior’s hands, legs and nads, then puts another in him for good measure.

Junior comes right back – powered by some yellow goo, apparently – and he’s nasty as ever. The closing act of Sin City sees Junior hitting back at Hartigan, until the final showdown. Hartigan gets Junior at his mercy and takes no chances, bashing this cybernetic Chester’s entire head into chicken soup.

1. Robocop: Officer Murphy

Fatal head wounds aren’t much of a problem for our final entry on our list: Officer Alex J. Murphy. Murphy kind of cheats, I grant you, for three reasons: 1) Robocop is as much a sci-fi as it is a crime film, 2) it’s a Paul Verhoeven film, which means everybody who gets hurt is going to wind up as hamburger, and 3) this was during the era when a snort of PCP or a few circuit boards were thought to be all that was needed to turn someone into a bullet-drinking death machine.

Whether you omit him for genre crossing or not, you have to give Alex Murphy points for eating more damage than anyone else in crime film and surviving. When some goons get the drop on him, they blast a couple of Buick-sized shotgun holes through his chest. That’s just the beginning of their frolic.

Toying with the cop’s torture, they then blast his hand off. Very few extremities are spared – again, Paul Verhoeven, people. Then, tiring of their game and wanting to create a cinematic visual that will haunt even a hardened viewer, they put a pistol to Murphy’s eyes and send a slug through his dome.

As everyone who’s so much as read the title knows, Murphy makes it back. He goes on to walk, talk and kick more ass than Rowdy Roddy Piper when he’s out of bubblegum. He even has enough human memories left in his bullet-spattered brains to sustain a plot or two.

But few fanboys really care about that plot. Because when you boil him down to his reinforced steel skeleton, a tough comeback is what Robocop is all about.

– originally published 4/11/2012

+Matthew Funk is a social media consultant, professional marketing copywriter and writing mentor. He is the editor of the Genre section of the critically acclaimed zine, FictionDaily and Full Stop. Winner of the Spinetingler award for Best Short Story on the Web 2010, M. C. Funk has been published at numerous sites online, indexed at his Web site, and in print with Needle Magazine, Howl, 6S and Crime Factory. He is represented by Stacia J. N. Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.