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Serial Killer / Film

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  • M, starring Peter Lorre as the bizarrely sympathetic child killer Hans Beckert, is one of the first film portrayals of a serial killer. Since many of these tropes had not taken effect yet, the climax was actually about saving him from a furious lynch mob.
  • M was inspired by the case of Fritz Haarmann (aka "the Butcher of Hanover"), which also inspired two other movies: Tenderness of the Wolves in 1973, a fictionalized account of Haarmann's killing spree, and The Deathmaker in 1995, an account of Haarmann's psychological examination, based on the actual transcripts of his interrogation.
  • Several Alfred Hitchcock films feature these:
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    • Norman Bates, in Psycho, who kills girls who stay over at his inn. Because he has a split personality patterned after his abusive mother, who wants him to stay with her.
    • Uncle Charlie, in Shadow of a Doubt, who is The Bluebeard and kills women out of a combination of greed and pathology. Unfortunately for his niece who discovers this, everyone thinks he's the nicest guy you could possibly meet.
    • Bob Rusk, in Frenzy. Another killer with female victims, although of a sexual predator, Jack the Ripoff variety.
    • The Avenger, in The Lodger; however, the killer himself never actually appears in the film, as the plot centers around an innocent man wrongly suspected of being said killer.
  • Peeping Tom is about a deranged amateur filmmaker who kills women while filming them (specifically their faces).
  • The main antagonist in the time-travel movie, Frequency, specializes in killing nurses.
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  • David Allen Griffin in The Watcher, whose main purpose of doing this is so he can continually meet FBI Agent Joel.
  • The other classic cinema example is Preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) in The Night of the Hunter, who famously has "Love" and "Hate" tattooed across his knuckles.
  • Johnathan Doe from Se7en is possibly the most disturbing one on this list. He is a serial killer who is obsessed with sin and punishment, and models his unimaginably cruel murders after the Seven Deadly Sins. The most disturbing thing about him is not only his intelligence and sadism, but that everything goes according to his plan and he is victorious in the end.
  • Mitch Leary from In the Line of Fire. John goddamn Malkovich.
  • 10 Rillington Place is the horrifying Real Life story of John Christie (see Real Life section below).
  • Richard from Dead Man's Shoes, though his motive makes him more sympathetic than most examples.
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    • Technically, Richard is a spree killer since all of his killings are implied to occur in under thirty days.
  • Rare female example: Erica Bain from The Brave One. Doubles as a Vigilante Woman.
  • Jigsaw of the Saw movies arguably fits here, though he is fairly sporting — he gives his victims a (very slim) chance to escape, and apparently wants them to escape, on the hope that their life will be improved by the experience. He claims that he is not a murderer and in fact despises murderers, and some people agree with him.
    • As for his apprentices Amanda Young and (eventual successor) Mark Hoffman, well... Not so much.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who murdered his customers and sent them down the chute, where his partner Mrs. Lovett baked them into pies. His initial motive is revenge for what happened to him and his wife at the hands of the corrupt Judge Turpin, and his first killing is a man who recognized him from his days as Benjamin Barker and tried to blackmail him, but after "Epiphany", he starts committing the murders that would make him infamous.
  • The Stepfather series of films involves an unnamed serial killer (he only ever uses aliases) obsessed with finding the perfect family to become a part of. Things are all smiles and sunshine for a while, but if the family doesn't reach expectations and becomes too hard to handle, he moves on to another, murdering his current one (and anyone else in the way) in a vicious cycle, being incapable of believing that there is no such thing as "the perfect family". One of the most memorable scenes in the original is of the killer losing his composure in the basement, thrashing around and muttering nearly incomprehensibly, unknowingly in front of his stepdaughter. Also, the "Family Killer", as he's called in the third film was apparently based off real life killer John List.
  • Before becoming a dream-stalking ghost via demons, Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street fame was a serial killer by the name of the "Springwood Slasher", who would prey on young children (and, if an old newspaper in the fifth film is any indication, he'd do more than just butcher them). The sixth film reveals that he had a secret room in his house filled with trophies of his kills (and various implements of torture), and the opening of Freddy vs. Jason also at one point had him flipping through a scrapbook of his victims while chuckling to himself.
  • Henry, the Villain Protagonist of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, is a brutal murderer who changes his M.O. for each kill, so the police don't know what he's up to. He eventually gets away with killing every other major character in the film, including his accomplice and his girlfriend. He's also so cold and unfeeling that he makes Dexter look like a warm, caring individual.
  • The murderous truck driver from Steven Spielberg's Made-for-TV Movie Duel is strongly hinted to be one of these, with numerous license plates mounted on his vehicle, and notches carved in the headlight rims.
  • The focus of an amusing subplot in the Steve Martin comedy The Man with Two Brains, when Martin's character accidentally stumbles across the identity of The Elevator Killer:
    Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: You. You're the elevator killer. Merv Griffin.
    The Elevator Killer: Yeah.
    Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: Why?
    The Elevator Killer: I don't know. I've always just loved to kill. I really enjoyed it. But then I got famous, and — it's just too hard for me. And so many witnesses. I mean, everybody recognized me. I couldn't even lurk anymore. I'd hear, "Who's that lurking over there? Isn't that Merv Griffin?" So I came to Europe to kill. And it's really worked out very well for me!
  • Grindhouse's Stuntman Mike: He's a stuntman. Who horribly butchers women. With his car. Yeah. Tracy Thoms, Zoë Bell, and Rosario Dawson turn the tables on the redneck lunatic.
  • The Scream series each featured a Serial Killer in costume who hunted down all the friends and family of Sidney Prescott (or the cast of the Film Within a Film in the third one). The various people who have donned the Ghostface mask are: Billy Loomis and Stu Macher in Scream (1996), Mrs. Loomis and Mickey in Scream 2, Roman Bridger in Scream 3, and Jill Roberts and Charlie Walker in Scream 4.
  • Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees: He gets even worse after getting hacked up with a machete.
    • The first and fifth films featured his mother, Pamela Voorhees and Roy Burns as the killers respectively.
  • Halloween's Michael Myers: Killing just one sister just wasn't enough for him.
  • Scorpio, in Dirty Harry. Scorpio was based on the real life Zodiac Killer who was active in San Francisco in the late 1960's, but never caught.
  • Citizen X is the story of a real one, Andrei Chikatilo, otherwise known as the Rostov Ripper.
  • Evilenko, also based on Chikatilo (though much more loosely). The serial killer main character has psychic powers now.
  • Jack in the movie Blacktop, who, as the title suggests, works driving a truck around the mid-West and uses the trailer's freezer to store the strung-up corpses of his victims. Best part is, he's played by Meat Loaf.
  • Mike and Bart in the black comedy How To Be A Serial Killer.
  • Carl Panzram in Killer: A Journal of a Murder, memorably played by James Woods. Disturbing in its way since the story is based on an actual serial killer, although the film isn't nearly as gruesome as Panzram's real career.
  • The Element of Crime subverts many of the expected associated tropes by featuring a very elusive child killer whose identity is never revealed (in fact, he may be have been dead already even before the events of the movie), and by having some of his murders actually committed by the people who pursue him, as they become crazy because of the very profiling method they're using.
  • The protagonist of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is an especially terrifying example.
  • Hugo Stiglitz of Inglourious Basterds was a serial killer that targeted Nazi officers despite being one himself. This got him immediate entry into the Basterds after they busted him out of prison.
  • Angela Baker is a mission-based one. In the original Sleepaway Camp, she killed people who had wronged her in some way, while in the next two films (Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers and Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland), she's developed an extreme set of morals, and is a puritanical killer, murdering people who personally offend her (so, the usual slasher film stereotypes). In the fifth film, she murders Alan's main tormenters.
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Leatherface. Several of his relatives also count, but in general, the dirty work is left to him.
  • Child's Play: Charles Lee Ray, better known as Chucky the Killer Doll.
  • Each installment of the Prom Night series features one. The first has Alex Hammond, the second and the third feature Mary Lou Maloney, the fourth has Father Jonas, and the 2008 remake has Richard Fenton.
  • A few of the main characters in Predators.
  • The murderer in Untraceable abducted and killed people in gruesome ways while broadcasting over the internet that he would spare the victim only if it didn't meet the number of viewers that he attracted; as it turns out, the people he was killing were people connected to his father's suicide.
  • Monsieur Verdoux, the Villain Protagonist of the eponymous Charlie Chaplin film, is a Bluebeard-style killer, inspired by the actual serial killer Henri Landru.
  • Changeling features Gordon Northcott, who kidnapped and murdered more than 20 young boys on a small farm in California.
  • Monster, the one with Charlize Theron (but not Charlize Theron's eyebrows) as Aileen Wuornos.
  • The Convenience Store Killer from Cornered!.
  • The murderer from Psycho Beach Party went around killing people they consider imperfect, eg. the disabled girl, a man with an extra toe, etc.
  • The Exorcist III: The Gemini Killer, a serial murderer so evil that he became a body-hopping demon after his death.
  • Some Guy Who Kills People - of the revenge variety.
  • Child killer Rustin Parr in The Blair Witch Project.
  • Zodiac is about the hunt for the real-life Zodiac Killer.
  • Ted Bundy is a film about the real guy.
  • Serial Mom is a humorous example of a Revenge Killer, in that she kills people over extremely small transgressions, like not rewinding rental videos (this was made back in the pre-DVD age), not recycling, or wearing white shoes after Labor Day.
  • Man Bites Dog: Notorious Belgian Cult Classic about a documentary crew following a serial killer during his daily activities.
  • The serial killer in The Dead Zone focuses on killing women. He turns out to be a policeman who lived with his mother in a clown-patterned bedroom.
  • The Cell deals with a new experimental technology, to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer in order to learn where he has hidden his latest kidnap victim.
  • Butch Cavendish from The Lone Ranger, who's stated to be an Indian killer and has murdered and eaten people, is a Hedonistic version.
  • In Split Second, Cowboy Cop Harley Stone is pursuing a serial killer who cuts out his victims' hearts to eat them and has a personal vendetta with Stone. Subverted in that it turns out it is actually a giant monster with unexplained motives for killing people, although presumably intelligent.
  • The protagonist of Cabin by the Lake is an obscure horror movie writer named Stanley, who murders women by kidnapping and drowning them, then writes his activities into his work.
  • Dr. Decker from Clive Barker's Nightbreed is a misanthropic serial killer who murders entire families and anyone else he comes across to 'cleanse' the world. He becomes an undead one at the end.
  • In Hellraiser: Inferno, the Engineer is an eyeless serial killer who is going after the people around Joseph and playing an extensive cat and mouse game with him.
  • Highwaymen features a crippled serial killer named Fargo who uses his customized car to go on a killing spree of women through vehicular homicide.
  • Ghost in the Machine: Karl Hochman starts out as a mundane example who finds victims from address books, until a lightning strike overloading the MRI machine he is in ends up visualizing him. He then becomes a digital ghost who travels through computer networks, overloading electronic appliances, such as turning a hairdryer into a flamethrower.
  • Running Scared (2006): Dez and Edele, a couple who kidnap children to molest them before murdering them and disposing of their bodies. When Terese arrives to rescue Oleg from them, she can barely resist throwing up when she sees that the couple has dozens of videotapes in their collection, all with the names of various children marked on them. Being a fairytale-inspired story, they're an analogue for the witch from Hansel and Gretel.
  • Fear City: The one in this film is a martial arts expert who mainly goes after strippers, toying with his prey before killing them. He apparently sees it as part of a mission to purify the world of sinners.
  • Haunter: The villain of the movie is a serial killer who continued to kill people beyond his death and used his powers as a ghost to keep the spirits of his earlier victims trapped in the house.
  • Road Games: Smith (alias Jones) is a hedonistic serial killer who rapes, strangles, and dismembers young female hitchhikers.
  • Nathan from Ex Machina could be interpreted as one. He repeatedly creates artificially intelligent robots which he subsequently deactivates and/or destroys. Since he thinks they are just machines, he does not consider himself a murderer.
  • Crimson Peak: The Sharpe siblings are very appropriately named, especially Lucille. Since their father lost their entire fortune, Thomas and Lucille have fallen on hard times. Unfortunately, their way of getting out of financial distress involves Thomas charming wealthy heiresses to marry him, so that Lucille can kill his wives with poison after they have signed over their fortunes.
  • Mick Taylor from Wolf Creek is a particularly terrifying example.
  • Replicant: Edward "The Torch" Garotte is named such because he beats single mothers to death, then sets their houses on fire and leaves the child inside.
  • The titular John Doe: Vigilante, who spends his nights killing child molesters/abusers, rapists, and abusive husbands/boyfriends, culminating in the man who killed his wife and daughter (the very thing that spurred his killing spree).
  • Good Neighbors: The serial killer starts as a background detail, something that Louise is obsessed with. Then, someone close to Louise dies. Then, that gives her ideas. And ultimately, the serial killer is implied to be part of the cast.
  • The leprechaun from the Leprechaun movies. He has actually killed more people than Freddy Krueger.
  • Intruders: Anna and Conrad, prior to the events of the film, kidnapped numerous perverts and either drove them to suicide or strangled them.
  • Yukio from Cold Fish is one of the Power/Control type.
  • Kyung-chul from I Saw the Devil is a particularly cruel one.
  • A very disturbing example from Memento. Leonard Shelby is one... but thanks to his memory condition, he has no idea. He's on a mission to kill the man that raped and killed his wife, but at the end, it's revealed that while his wife was raped, Leonard himself killed his wife by mistake, but convinced himself otherwise. So, he's dedicated himself hunting down his wife's rapist and alleged murderer, with the help of his "friend" Teddy... but, as revealed at the end, Leonard already killed him years prior. But since he can't remember it, Teddy's been setting him up to kill other men, letting Leonard believe they're the man he's after, until he inevitably forgets again. Teddy finds a new victim, and the cycle starts over.
  • Tragedy Girls has two of these as our protagonists. Over the course of the movie, Sadie and McKayla kill lots of people in the name of getting media attention for their true crime website. By the story's end, their body count is in the hundreds. There's also Lowell, who killed four people in the film's backstory before being captured by Sadie and McKayla.
  • In Knife for the Ladies, the Ripper is a serial killer picking off the prostitutes of the small Wild West town of Mescal.
  • Done humorously with Debbie Jellinksi from Addams Family Values. She started with killing her parents because for Christmas they gave her a Malibu Barbie doll instead of the Ballerina Barbie doll she wanted, and then grew up to be a Black Widow primarily because her husbands wouldn't buy her everything she wanted.
  • Summer Of 84 features the Cape May Slayer, known for kidnapping young boys around Ipswich, Oregon. A group of teenager believes him to be their neighbor police officer Wayne Mackey and spend the movie trying to find proof against him. To everyone's surprise, they turn out to be completely right.
  • The Clovehitch Killer features the title serial killer, loosely based on the "BTK Killer."
  • The Rawhide Killer, who is picking off citizens of Red Dog one by one, and leaving behind a strip of rawhide as a Calling Card, in The Rawhide Terror.
  • In Julia X, The Stranger is a serial killer dubbed 'The Brand Killer' by the press, because he brands each of his victims with a letter.
  • In The Butchers, a Tome of Eldritch Lore is used to raise six of history's most infamous serial killers from the dead: Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Albert Fish, the Zodiac Killer, and Jack the Ripper. JB implies that he is serial killer more prolific than any of them.
  • Victor Crowley from the Hatchet films. While not as iconic as most Slasher Movie villains, he's still in the Top 3 worst having killing or caused the deaths of sixty-four people.
  • Greta: It's strongly implied that Greta has previously lured in, imprisoned and eventually killed many other young woman, since the first time she meets Francis there is the same bumping noise that Francis later made trying to signal others to escape. What she did with the bodies is anyone's guess though.

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