As parents we like to tell our children that monsters don’t exist. They live within books, and films, but they don’t actually climb residential lattices and slaughter our kids in bed. No one really expects a serial killer slipping through their window, do they?
But when we tell our children that, we know good and well that we’re lying. We’re trying to preserve the young of our offspring. We don’t want them to fear the monsters of the world. We want to keep them safe… we want them to truly feel safe.
The problem is, there are so many real monsters it’s just about impossible to keep up with them. The prolific killers tend to wind up behind bars, but to believe that every serial killer, or mass murderer has been locked away is nothing more than a fairytale wish.
Monsters are real. And these days, Hollywood has no qualms in pumping out films that tell the stories of those monsters. That’s a sad statement (when you’re thinking of the kind of monsters I’m thinking about), but we’re about to provide you with proof that this is indeed a fact… sometimes, a glorified fact.
Take a look at 10 prolific serial killers whose repulsive stories were transferred to celluloid.
Victim Count: 17
Jeffrey Dahmer was the kind of man that breathes nightmares. He kidnapped the vulnerable, lured them to his home, drugged, raped and eventually murdered them. Dismemberment seemed to float Dahmer’s boat, but so did necrophilia, as astonishing as that sounds. Dahmer stored bodies and body parts in his residence up until the point in which he was apprehended on July 22nd, 1991.
Back in 2002 a relative unknown by the name of Jeremy Renner stepped in front of the camera to portray Jeffrey Dahmer. His look, his mannerisms and the script from which he worked left a major mark on viewers, as Renner pulled off Dahmer like few could imagine. The film is more biopic than anything, but it’s worth a look and you can bet, there’s plenty of horror here!
Aileen Carol Wuornos
Victim Count: 7
Born into a hellish reality that included frequent beatings and sexual abuse, Aileen Carol Wuornos never had much of a chance to become a productive member of society. She turned to prostitution at an early age, and as her time in the scandalous profession grew, so did her desire to murder the johns she was frequently picked up by. Her weapon of choice was a handgun, and more than a half dozen men found that out the hardest way possible.
The critically acclaimed Monster homed in on Wuornos’ lifestyle and eventual victims. A beautifully written script helped to allow the film into our hearts, where it soon began to rot, feelings of disgust coursing through the audience as they absorbed the sadistic nature of Wuornos’ victims. A completely transformed Charlize Theron would tackle the role, which earned her an Oscar for her unforgiving work and unfathomable change in physical appearance.
John Wayne Gacy
Victim Count: 33-34
John Wayne Gacy may very well be the worst kind of serial killer the world has ever seen. He was the friendly neighbor next door. He has warm relationships with those in his community. And he dressed up like a clown, only to lure and murder a string of teenage boys and young men into his home where he strangled and stabbed them before burying them beneath the floorboards of his very own home. If you’ve never found clowns particularly frightening, you may want to read into Gacy’s story.
13 years ago Clive Saunders directed a film called Gacy. It remains one of the more unsettling films of its kind, and it isn’t just because the topic at hand was horrifying. Mark Holton, who played Gacy, really, really became the character. He looked like a damn near replica of the man and his fluctuating mood swings are something to behold. When you realize that this performer is also the same man who portrayed Francis in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, your head may very well explode.
Victim Count: Unverified
While there was enough evidence to implicate Gein in two murders, the vast array of skeletal pieces – including human skulls – left it nearly impossible to determine how many people Gein had killed, and how many bodies he’s personally exhumed from a nearby graveyard. Gein was said to have a fetish for the undead and frequently collected the remnants of bodies long deceased. Ultimately he was convicted of two murders.
Film: Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, We’ve seen countless films based on Gein’s story. The few that stand out in the minds of fans are Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deranged. All three of these features borrow freely from the man’s story. In Psycho the potentially romantic interest between Norman and his deceased mother is illuminated; in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the penchant to save skeletal remains – skulls included – is brought to the forefront, and in Deranged, perhaps the most accurate portrayal of Gein’s life, follows the man as he launches into murderous ways, robs graves and keeps remains as an odd form of home décor. All three films, it should be said, are certainly worthy of a look.
Victim Count: 13
Albert DeSalvo had a charm that enabled him to gain welcomed access into a number of womens’ apartments. Those decisions to allow the man inside would prove fatal, as DeSalvo typically exercised his modus operandi, strangling his victims with belts and stockings. Sexual assault also played a heavy factor in his crimes. His inexhaustible desire to murder ultimately led to his capture and the city of Boston was finally able to rest when The Boston Strangler was eventually captured. It is known the precise day that DeSalvo was apprehended.
Film: The Boston Strangler
In 1968 Richard Fleischer released a film that would chronicle the terrors that Boston residents faced between 1962 and 1964. The picture featured a stellar cast, with Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda claiming top bill. Though tame by today’s standards the movie still delivers quite the punch, as knowing the heinous acts on screen were indeed committed just a few years prior. All the same The Boston Strangler is one of the more refined films to focus on a serial killer; it eventually earned a Golden Globe award.
Victim Count: Unknown
We may never know how many, if any murders Manson actually took physical part in. Being an eccentric cult leader allowed him to order his followers to carry out gruesome murders for him. So, we’re going to go ahead and hold him accountable, whether he ever raised a threatening hand or not; if not for Manson, a series of individuals would still have their lives to live, namely Sharon Tate and a handful of her closest friends. Manson is often recognized as the vilest of vile, and that’s nothing we can refute.
Film: Helter Skelter
We’ve seen an awful lot of Manson inspired films over the years, but one that’s likely to stick to your bones is Helter Skelter. The film covers just about every despicable action that saw Manson’s involvement, and it is often times fairly informative. Just the same, we know what the summit of this film looks like, and it’s a bloody affair that sees a trial echo the devastation spurned on by a single psychotic individual.
The Zodiac Killer
Victim Count: Rumored between 20-37
The Zodiac Killer is hands down the creepiest entrant on this list. See, whoever it was that donned that chilling mask was never found, and thus, never punished. Through the years many have claimed to be the Zodiac Killer, and many have claimed to be kin to the Zodiac Killer. We’ll never know the truth beyond the facts of the case, which paint a gruesome picture of a hooded man who picked seemingly random victims, all of which he shot while prowling the streets of Northern California.
David Fincher’s riveting picture, Zodiac, is stuffed full of everything we fanatics cherish. It’s big on mystery, heavy on tension and it handles the Zodiac’s murders with a wonderful degree of class, believe it or not. Make no mistake, the flick is extremely intense, and it should certainly have you questioning peaceful picnics in the cooling summer shade. But with thespians like Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Brian Cox, you can also bank on the feature being extremely well done. As a matter of fact, movies about serial killers just should not be this amazing… and yet it is.
Victim Count: 30+
Ted Bundy utilized a double threat when ensnaring women in his fatal web. He was a handsome guy, which immediately helped him get his potential victims to lower their guards. On top of that, Bundy would often feign injuries, thus completely knocking down all of his victims’ defensive barriers. These methods gave Bundy free reign to terrorize as he felt. And his means of terror were truly revolting. Not only did he kidnap victims, he robbed, raped and ultimately beheaded a good number of the unfortunate to cross paths with the manipulative serial killer.
Film: Ted Bundy
Matthew Bright’s picture will leave viewers completely disarmed, wondering where in the hell Bright is taking the story. But make no mistake, Bright gets to the brutal material without too much hesitation, and the handsome gent (Michael Reilly Burke) portraying the titular murderer juggles emotions in a fashion that will leave any viewer a little perturbed. While the graphic violence isn’t ground breaking, it is memorable. The film has a great grindhouse look to it, and that works in a strangely ironic way, given how attractive Bundy actually was. On the technical front, Ted Bundy is an impressive picture.
Victim Count: 6 Killed, 7 Wounded
I’ve always been of the opinion that a serial killer who commits his murderous acts as a result of hearing voices in his head, is far more paralyzing than a murderer who kills for enjoyment, or revenge. There’s a chance you can talk your way out of a potentially fatal encounter with a disgruntled man with a gun, but how do you talk yourself out of the crosshairs of a gun being held by a man who has been receiving messages from his canine. That’s a scary thought, but it’s exactly what fueled David Berkowitz to embark on a killing spree from ’76 to ’77. Berkowitz’s death dealer was a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver, and he sent a great number of bullets sailing through the New York nights for a full year. His victims, it seems were completely random, which only intensifies the terror that Berkowitz created.
Film: Summer of Sam
Over the years we’ve seen more than a single film based on Berkowitz’s crimes, but the one that truly stands out is – believe it or not – not even a horror film. The brilliant Spike Lee tackled the topic in 1999 and his film – Summer of Sam was an immediate hit for the masses who find fact-based serial killer features intriguing. Just to make things perfectly clear, again, this really isn’t a genre piece that features moments of graphic gore and unnecessary violence; Summer of Sam instead places heavy focus on Berkowitz’s potential victims. The cinematic approach is genius, and getting to know innocents in fear of a lunatic made for what can only be called a superb character study.
Jack the Ripper
Victim Count: 5 canonical killings with a number of related killings that bare striking similarities to the original five murders.
Jack the Ripper’s story is so well-documented that there’s little reason to even discuss the details. But for the sake of anyone who (somehow) isn’t familiar with Jack the Ripper, I’ll say this: He was the shadowy figure who lurked the Whitechapel district of London, picking up prostitutes only to drag them into dark alleyways in order to kill them and subsequently mutilate their bodies with surgical precision. Outside of the five canonical murders, many believe Jack left the area and resumed his astonishing method of murder in other regions. To this day, through a century-plus of investigation and speculation, Jack the Ripper’s identity has never been solved.
Film: From Hell
The Hughes Brothers did a stellar job of adapting Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s pitch-perfect graphic novel, From Hell. The film focuses on the murders, obviously, but it also brings a number of history’s players to the forefront of things, generally performed by top notch A-class talent like Johnny Depp, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane and Heather Graham. The set pieces are nothing short of captivating, but the visuals ultimately fade from the mind as we soon learn that this particular telling actually identifies Jack the Ripper. And in case you were wondering, yes, the killer in this feature was indeed one of the focal suspects in the original case.
Note: The majority of this information comes courtesy of an ancient True Crimes paperback and Wikipedia.