Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Movies

Montage

The Summer of Sam
The Summer of Sam

A number of serial killers have inspired movies either about their murder sprees or about the events surrounding them. The Summer of Sam (1999) depicted the terror in New York during the series of murders for which David Berkowitz was convicted, and the Happy Face Killer (1999) featured a couple who took credit for one of the murders committed by trucker Keith Jesperson in the pacific Northwest. For some bizarre reason, a woman (played by Ann-Margret) fingered her much-younger boyfriend and said she was involved as well. The film stars Marg Helgenberger ("Catherine" on C.S.I.) as a police officer investigating the woman's claims, as she keeps changing her story. While this film is presented as fictional, it's fairly close to what actually occurred. The couple went to prison while Jesperson, incensed that someone else was taking credit for his crimes, started sending notes signed with happy faces.

The Boston Strangler
The Boston Strangler

Possibly one of the most sensational depictions was Tony Curtis's portrayal of Albert DeSalvo as the Boston Strangler. Adapted from the book by Gerold Frank, The Boston Strangler, released in 1968, and directed by Richard Fleischer, the film bore little resemblance to the actual events or to DeSalvo himself. Nevertheless, it gripped the country and set the image of a serial murderer who entered homes and raped thirteen women. (In recent years, although DeSalvo confessed, evidence has come out that he may not have been the Strangler after all.)

While the City Sleeps
While the City Sleeps

William Heirens, the infamous "Lipstick Killer" who terrorized Chicago during the 1940s, killing three before he was caught, is portrayed in While the City Sleeps (1956). Fritz Lang, of M, also directed this one, although it focuses largely on the struggles of a city newspaper.

A recent attempt by First Look Pictures to put out a series of movie-like biopics about individual (or team) serial killers, which one can find in any video store, fails in part because several are inaccurate or fictionalize certain incidents. The series includes Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Richard Ramirez, among others. This attempt is disappointing largely because there's no need to report the facts erroneously. The true stories are dramatic and gruesome in their own right. One gets the impression that the directors are trying to leave their own artistic mark, but most people who know the cases will steer clear, even if some, like Ed Gein, prove to be capable renditions. While the actors tend to resemble the people they play, helping to affirm the documentary "feel," the series generally fails to live up to its promise.

Besides lone killers, teams have become fodder for depictions of serial/spree murder.

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