Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Movies

The Death Tour


While Copycat and Se7en are often cited as being among the best films about serial murder, the latter in particular is more literary than realistic, bringing the killer's rituals in a circular fashion back to his own sins.  Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play two detectives looking for a killer who selects victims he believes have committed one of the seven deadly sins.  Like Jigsaw, this serial killer has a moral agenda that involves elaborate planning and access to victims.  He likes to read, apparently, and the police consider him intelligent and also insane.  In Copycat, an agoraphobic psychologist (Sigourney Weaver) who is an expert on serial killers psychologist and is asked to come out of seclusion to solve a series of murders.  While both movies have their merits as thrillers, the crimes are too cleanly calculated to reflect what serial killers are like.


More typical is the killer depicted in Kalifornia (1993), although this movie, too, has its literary agenda.  When a psychology graduate student, Brian Kessler, and photographer, Carrie Laughlin, decide to document infamous murder scenes across the country, they look for companions to share their expenses.  Enter Early Grayce, played by Brad Pitt, with his girlfriend, Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis). 

Early has just killed his landlord and torched their trailer, and needs to put his foul deeds behind him.  (In Psycho Paths, Simpson says he's a "marginally more socialized version of Leatherface.") He clearly has bad manners and no sense of cleanliness and protocol, but there's something else about him that bothers Carrie (Michelle Forbes).  Early eyes her, especially as she takes clandestine photographs of him having sex with Adele, and finally decides he wants her.  Adele is now dispensable.

Treating Brian (David Duchovny) to a real taste of violence, Grayce shows his true colors, killing a man, shooting Adele, and threatening to kill the others.  Along the way, he has challenged Brian, the so-called serial killer aficionado, with just how he's going to write a book about murder when he's never killed anyone and therefore knows nothing about it.  Brian has no response, but Early Grayce still fascinates him.

Brian does learn that he's more than a little naïve about killers and after Early brutalizes him, shoots Adele, and kidnaps Carrie, Brian comes to realize that murder is immediate and terrible. 

Images of death subliminally support the film.  The "Kali" in Kalifornia refers to the Hindu goddess of sacrifice and blood.  She's a figure of unremitting annihilation, a demanding mother figure whose color is black. The four characters also ride to the West Coast in a four-door convertible similar to the one in which President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. 

Brian and Carrie survive, but the ordeal has deeply affected them.  Brian indicates that despite all his research, he still does not understand what inspires men like Early Grayce to kill, but he says that he has learned the "difference between them and us": they have no remorse, no confrontation of conscience.

Early is clearly evil, but he has his qualities.  At one point, Adele tells Carrie that she's been brutalized by others but with Early she feels safe.  In fact, she thinks he has the eyes of an angel.  That's not unlike people who encountered another infamous killer who inspired several films.


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