The Geek Girl What Rules’ Greatest Hits – #8 Why I Hate Serial Killer Movies

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 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.


7 thoughts on “The Geek Girl What Rules’ Greatest Hits – #8 Why I Hate Serial Killer Movies

  1. What about Seven? Varied victims, killer follows internal logic that the audience can piece together. Granted, the victims did “deserve it”, but that also comes into play with the killer’s internal logic. And how can you go wrong with Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, and R. Lee “The real star of Full Metal Jacket” Ermey, all directed by David Fincher?

  2. Wow I’m impressed that you mention Man Bites Dog ! First time I hear of someone in the States who saw it. I never considered it a serial killer movie, after all the bastard is just making a living and he sees himself as a blue collar in the murder business. So yeah it’s mostly a case of “humour noir”. It’s one of those tiny budget movies comparable to El Mariachi, in the way they became cult stuff and started a successful career for the people involved (at least Benoit Poolvoerde).

    When I say cult I’m not joking : when I’m hanging with people of my generation in France, there’s hardly a party or a night out where one doesn’t hear a quote from this movie. In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas, the French RPG (I don’t really know about the Steve Jacksons Games translation) was really a horror/fantasy variation on this movie’s atmosphere. I can’t begin to describe how much impact the movie had in many sub-culture and media in France.

    OOOps I’m very verbose 😛
    “Reviens gamin, c’etait pour rire”

  3. It had it’s US debut here at the Seattle International Film Festival, good grief, back in the late 80s early 90s. I remember because my French professor went to see it, and being the very sweetly naive person she was, was absolutely horrified by it.

    About a year later we managed to rent it, and watched it with a group of friends. The constant re-dedications of the film just totally killed me.

  4. I would like to just put in a quick word. I also dislike serial killer movies, but I did want to put in my defense of American Psycho. It isn’t really a serial killer movie. I mean, it’s about a serial killer, but it doesn’t actually belong to the genre. It’s more of a satire of 80s corporate greed culture that happened to be marketed completely wrong.

  5. Yeah, that wrong marketing thing happens a lot. The Ninth Gate is a prime example of bad marketing. The movie the commercials sold and the actual movie were completely different animals, so I get what you’re saying.

    Maybe I should give it a shot.

  6. In a lot of ways, American Psycho is a dark comedy. Very, very dark. For instance, the main character kills one of his coworkers because said coworker has better business cards. (In the scene where they compare cards, they look identical).

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