Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Movies

It's All in the Mind

The Internet Movie Database lists more than 800 movies and television series associated in some way with serial killers.  By this writing, there are probably more, including the loveable "Dexter" on Showtime, a vigilante killer of serial killers.  Several films are based on actual killers, such as John Christie, Keith Jesperson, Karla Homolka, Ted Bundy, Albert DeSalvo, and Andrei Chikatilo. Others simply play off the public's fascination with this type of repetitive murder.  In fact, the intelligent, clever serial killer is so hackneyed now that movie critics complain when they see it.

American Psycho
American Psycho

Some films are made to probe the inner mind of a repetitive killer, and American Psycho (2000) may be the ultimate attempt at this goal.  Adapted from Bret Easton Ellis's novel by the same name, the movie diverges in this regard: it's most likely meant to portray a fantasy (although this remains ambiguous).  In both versions, however, the lead character, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), is clearly a narcissist obsessed with one-upping everyone else toward the goal of his won perfection.  While accomplished in his daily life, he also spends hours immersed in violent, gory fantasies of killing and mutilating people — especially when he sense he's losing ground to others.  In one scene, a reference is made to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as Bateman reveals his mastery of the details of serial killer lore.

No one knows this part of him, and it seems impossible that he could be so caught up with this violence while also retaining his decorum as a businessman.  Yet criminologists know that many serial killers are this compartmentalized.  Dennis Rader, also known as BTK, was the perfect illustration of this: he was Bateman's manifestation in the real world (although not quite as refined or successful.)

BTK, aka Dennis Rader
BTK, aka Dennis Rader

In 2005, Rader was arrested and charged with the eight BTK murders that dated as far back as the 1970s (including a family), as well as two others not officially linked with BTK at the time they were committed.  He pled guilty and recounted with obvious relish the details of his crimes in open court.  His arrest and the revelation of his background and stability added a new dimension to the typical ideas about serial killers.  While not unique for being a family man holding down a job while also killing people, that he had communicated so often early in his murder career and then let decades pass before communicating again was unprecedented.  He wanted people to know what he'd done, because in his mind, he had worked to perfect his "art."  Analysts went over and over the details in an attempt to understand his motives and psychological make-up. 

But no serial killer has commanded as much attention and inspired as many books and articles as Jack the Ripper.


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