Obsession with serial killers and their crimes have been prevalent since the 1970s. You may find yourself asking why, and you wouldn’t be alone. As it turns out, it’s not that weird. In the 1970s, media started increasing in popularity. It was a golden age of enlightenment. But like every step forward there were unexpected side effects. By popularizing and making serial killers and their crimes the focus of media attention it created a subsect of people with a psychological attraction to these larger-than-life cultural celebrities. Because of the mainstream popularity of these macabre celebs, the lines between fictional killers and their crimes and nonfiction ones became a little blurry. Many people will have the same reaction to a pretend movie killer as they will to talking about the kills of Jack the Ripper or Ted Bundy. Due to this cultural desensitization, TV shows, movies, and video games tend to glorify their sadistic trade. Movies like Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, Scream, Seven, and The Bone Collector have been immensely popular. These are artistic renditions of killers and their fantasies. Some of these movies are even award winning and have become cult-classics or horror movie favorites. You may ask yourself if there are movies you can watch about real life serial killers that tried not to veer too far off from the facts but aren’t documentaries. There is! I am going to highlight several movies that tried to stick with the facts and ended up being just what the doctor ordered for those people attracted to the dark.
Strangers (2008) is a movie starring Liv Tyler that screams slow terror. The movie is about a couple who chooses to go to a remote area enjoying an isolated vacation (because that doesn’t scream horror movie in the making) . During the course of the movie, they are terrorized by no less then three assailants, all unidentifiable due to masks including one super creepy dollface mask that is sure to give you chills. With no hope for help the couple must try to survive.
In real life, there is no case that goes exactly like the movie. Bertino’s film was in fact inspired by several real life events. The filmmaker used his own childhood experience to share terror with his audience. He recalled someone knocking on his door and asking for a name that didn’t live there during his childhood. He found out later in life that these people were using the ruse to commit robberies and home invasions. The latter part of the movie centers around a main concept of the Manson Family murders. Terrifying its audience with the notion of killers pursuing their victims with no obvious motive. Attacking in the home, a place you’re meant to feel safe, for no purpose other than murdering them is the ultimate scary factor. If you want a similar real-life story to leave you shaking in your boots you should look up Keddie Cabin Murders, a quadruple murder that took place in California in 1981 and is still unsolved.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) stars Michael Rooker as Henry. In the movie Henry, along with his roommate Otis, go on a binge of death, killing entire families and leaving no witnesses behind operating with impunity. What makes this movie a real chilling experience is the fact that you don’t actually see any of the murders (similar to why Jaws terrified so many youngsters). They use screams, echoes, shadows, lighting, and assumptions to bring your worst nightmares to life.
Henry Lee Lucas was the real life inspiration for this terrifying character. He only had three confirmed kills in his lifetime, including his own mother, but claimed responsibility for hundreds. He bragged from prison after being arrested about travelling the country with Otis (a petty thief he ran into after getting out of prison the first time) and his niece, Becky. Henry and Otis have been called one of the deadliest duos that operated in the United States. If you want to hear more about Henry Lee Lucas you can watch Confessions of a Serial Killer.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977) was directed by Wes Craven, a genius in the horror genre. It’s about a family that is traveling to California and wanders into an old abandoned Air test site. (If horror movies taught me anything, it's that abandoned places are always a no-go). While in this area, their vehicle is damaged and they are stranded. While the men go off for help the women and children set up camp. Not long after they start being terrorized by a group of inhuman-looking mutated people that didn’t live by modern standards. This movie doesn’t stop at killing. It also touches on torture, cannibalism, and terrifying moments involving a baby.
Though the fictional version takes place in American, the true events took place in Scotland. A 48-member clan run by a man named Alexander Sawney Bean was responsible for stranding over 1000 victims for the purpose of cannibalizing them. While historians still argue over the accuracy of the story, they can say for sure that the man, and his incestual family, lived in a cave system leaving at night to kidnap and murder for the purpose of eating their kill. The family was eventually hunted down, chained, imprisoned, convicted, and sentenced to death for their participation in the horrific events.
Wolf Creek (2005) is all about the dangerous lands of Australia. I’m not talking about the snakes, spiders, sharks, or any of the other wildlife that would happily murder you to protect their home. Backpackers looking to see the Wolf Crater come across a local named Mick. Mick is your stereotypical sadistic psychopath thats sets about capturing, torturing, killing, and disposing of them. It’s the typical everyone just disappears and is never heard from again scenario.
Though the entire movie isn’t based on a single killer or event in history, the character Mick is greatly inspired by a man named Ivan Milat aka the Backpack Killer. He was a serial killer operating near Sydney in the 1990’s that was responsible for kidnapping, torturing, and killing seven travelers in a state park just for the sheer enjoyment of it. Ivan was captured, tried, and found guilty of the murders. He was sentenced to seven life sentences for his crimes.
I think it is fair to say that the real life crimes are far more chilling then the Hollywood version. But to feed that psychological need for blood and violence you can watch these movies today to get a true sense of the evil that is lurking behind your neighbor's eyes.