Originally printed on Media Gauntlet.
I hate serial killer movies. I really do. I liked Silence of the Lambs. The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared the be-jeesus out of me when I was a teenager. But by and large, serial killer movies just leave me cold. I just have no interest in the Saw or Hostel franchises, I didn’t even SEE American Psycho. And I can give you a half hour lecture on why the premise of Touristas was absolutely laughable.
Now, let me explain to you the two reasons this is strange.
A. I am a True Crime junkie. I adore crimelibrary.com. I read and enjoy scholarly works on serial killers and sociopathic/psychopathic/antisocial personalities. I like gory, gruesome true crime stories.
B. I love horror movies. I do. From Carrie to Jeepers Creepers to Dog Soldiers (best werewolf movie ever), I am a willing participant in getting the crap scared out of me on a regular basis. I even like Andy Warhol’s horror films (Dracula and Frankenstein).
So given these two facts, that I like true crime and that I like horror movies, you might expect that I would adore the serial killer genre. Two great tastes that taste great together, right?
Wrong. And I just consciously figured out why. I’ve been on a non-fiction kick and just finished The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and yes, its got a far too “self-helpy” title for my usual tastes, but someone I respect recommended it. And in this book, Mr. de Becker hit on what really bothers me about most serial killer movies. And its something I had a hard time naming.
Real-life serial killers, serial rapists, people who regularly stalk, hurt and kill other people have a REASON for why they’re doing it. Always. And rarely, if ever, is that reason “Because I can.” But the serial killers in movies rarely have a reason. I think that’s why Silence of the Lambs worked for me, because you could see why Buffalo Bill was doing what he did. There was a rationale you could follow, twisted as it was. And in part, this is due to the character being based off of a real serial killer(s).
That’s what serial killer movies by and large get wrong. The killer does these things just “because he can” or “to prove I’m smarter than the police.” Well, you don’t have to kill people to prove you’re smarter than police, rob a bank, steal art, steal cars, take candy from babies, none of which will put you on death row. “To prove I’m smarter” is a piss-poor reason for a serial killer’s raison d’etre. And let’s face it, without that reason, these films just devolve into “People doing horrible things to other people for no real reason,” and if I wanted to see that, I’d watch reality TV.
Plus, with most serial killer movies I spend most of the film yelling, “He’s just a GUY! Pick up that two by four and beat him like a rented MULE!” This is why I am a big fan of supernatural horror and, truthfully, I don’t care how bad it is.* I’ll watch it. Tell me why the bad guy can’t be defeated by normal means, because otherwise I spend the entire movie rolling my eyes until I strain something.
Not to mention that in these movies, the victim invariably does something to “deserve” it. She’s a hooker, or promiscuous, or cheating on a spouse, or… or… or… In real life, yes, a lot of hookers wind up the victims of serial killers because they’re a marginalized segment of the population less likely to have someone report them missing, but a lot of college girls, nurses, moms, high school students, teachers and occasionally men wind up killed by serial killers, too. And not because they did anything to deserve it.
So, here’s Mickey’s Short List of Serial Kliler films I like:
Silence of the Lambs (but not any of its sequels/prequels)
Curtains (not really a serial killer flick, more of a slasher flick, but not supernatural either)
Man Bites Dog (Belgian film, available in French with English subtitles) This last one is more a dark comedy than a straight serial killer flick. But it’s awesome.
*Okay, this isn’t entirely true. There have been things even I’ve turned off. But my tolerance for bad supernatural horror is pretty epic.