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The Washington Independent

Most Popular 10 Serial Killer Movies Based On True Stories & Imaginary Characters

Most Popular 10 Serial Killer Movies Based On True Stories & Imaginary Characters

Sometimes the terror in a horror film comes in the form of paranormal activity, demons, or clowns, but more often than not, it is the evil that exists inside people that is the most terrifying. Just the sort of terrible dread that movies about serial murderers generate in the audience.

Ceri Sinclair
Culture
Last updated: Oct 13, 2021 | Oct 10, 2021

Table of Contents

Sometimes the terror in a horror film comes in the form of paranormal activity, demons, or clowns, but more often than not, it is the evil that exists inside people that is the most terrifying. Just the sort of terrible dread that movies about serial murderers generate in the audience. The good news is that if that's the sort of cinematic thrill you're searching for, the serial killer movie is a very popular and profitable horror sub-genre, and there are plenty of great and frightening films about serial killers to choose from.

 There are a variety of choices available, ranging from films on real-life bad men, such as the Zodiac murderer and the Golden State Killer, to entirely fictitious portrayals of the inner workings of the serial killer’s mind, such as any film based on the fictional psychopath Hannibal Lecter. The serial killer sub-genre has something to offer everyone, whether you're looking for a psychologically compelling drama or a good, old-fashioned nightmare-inducing horror film.

Murderers operating in the shadows have long been a macabre fascination for both film filmmakers and moviegoers. The problem is that there are a lot (and we mean a lot) of slashers that aren't up to standard in terms of quality. And so we decided to do the hard work for you by compiling an exhaustive list of the greatest serial killer films ever produced.

Sometimes the terror in a horror film comes in the form of paranormal activity, demons, or clowns, but more often than not, it is the evil that exists inside people that is the most terrifying. Just the sort of terrible dread that movies about serial murderers generate in the audience.

Pieces 1982

When it comes to early 1980s slashers, Pieces is the kind of ridiculous, head-scratching farce where it's impossible to tell if the filmmaker is attempting to subtly mock the genre or really believes in what he's doing. An ax murderer who murdered his mother with an ax as a kid because she reprimanded him for constructing an adult jigsaw puzzle is the subject of the wonderfully dumb film Pieces, which is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

He has grown up and now follows ladies on a college campus, sawing off "pieces" in order to construct a real-life jigsaw lady from scratch. The film's individual murder sequences are completely and utterly insane, with the best being a scene in which the female lead is walking down a dark alley when she is suddenly attacked by a tracksuit-wearing "kung fu professor" played by Bruce Le, who is best known for his role in the horror film "Brucesploitation."

After she renders him unconscious, he apologizes, claiming that he must have eaten "some terrible chop suey," and he waltzes out of the movie without a word. It takes less than a minute to complete the process. Aside from that, Pieces has one of the greatest film taglines ever: "Pieces: It's exactly what you think it is!" It's an underappreciated masterpiece in the world of schlock.

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Hannibal 2021

Even if someone were to argue for Hannibal above The Silence of the Lambs, it would be extremely suspicious. However, despite an apparent degradation from director Jonathan Demme's distinctive visual aesthetic, Hannibal still contains some entertaining performances that make it worth seeing in its entirety.

Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) mauls Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), leaving him alive as a unique sort of punishment. Oldman is both horrifying and hilarious in his portrayal of the disfigured Mason Verger. As Clarice Starling, Julianne Moore makes a disappointing replacement for Jodie Foster, unable to connect with the character's West Virginia origins in the manner that Foster did in Silence of the Lambs, making her both emotionally weak and exploitable by Lecter.

Nonetheless, you get a double dose of the serial killer in the film that carries his name, as Hopkins gets much more screen time in the picture than he did in Demme's film, as he lives abroad in Italy and leaves a trail of gore in his path. Hopkins portrays a guy that is simply so darn fascinating that we find ourselves wanting to spend as much time as possible watching him and his actions.

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Dirty Harry 1971

In the city of San Francisco, there is an assault by an assailant known as Scorpio, who is taking out innocent bystanders until he receives the $100,000 ransom he is seeking from the authorities.

And what is the best way to deal with a lone wolf? You send out your lone wolf, who is hired by the state. Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood, who was really at least sixth on the list to portray Callahan) is a bank robber who uses his lunch hour to thwart robberies. He carries a massive horn for his weapon of choice.

44 Magnum, and has a basic philosophy of torturing first and asking questions afterward. The picture has a fascist undertone to it when things go bad, the solution is a big, hard man with a pistol and there is no empathy between Callahan and Scorpio other than a shared hatred for the same guy who killed his brother.

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The Killer Inside Me 2010

The Killer Inside Me follows the premise that serial murderers are irredeemably wicked, in contrast to other films in the category that plays with your sympathies, such as those featuring cult figure Patrick Bateman.

This Michael Winterbottom film, which is based on the 1952 Jim Thompson book of the same name, was released the same year as The Trip, but the two films have seldom been confused. Casey Affleck portrays Lou Ford, a Texan deputy sheriff who also happens to be a psychopath who falls in with Jessica Alba's prostitute character, Joyce Lakeland, in the movie.

In addition to being stylishly filmed and unflinchingly gruesome, a version of this picture has been associated with Marilyn Monroe, Quentin Tarantino, and Tom Cruise at various points in time.

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Summer Of Sam 1999

Though technically about the Son of Sam killer, who terrorized New York City during the summer of 1977 with his weapon of choice, a 44-caliber handgun, The Summer of Sam is a return for director Spike Lee to explore the irreversible damage that unfounded paranoia and unchecked prejudice can inflict on neighborhoods, friendships, and interpersonal relationships.

In some ways, Summer of Sam functions as a mini-retread of Do the Right Thing, concentrating less explicitly on race and more on how society marginalizes individuals who, for whatever reason, are different from others. After returning home to his traditional Italian neighborhood dressed and behaving like a proud member of a British punk band, Richie's (Adrian Brody) former pals immediately assume he is a freak and that he is responsible for the killings that have been plaguing the community.

With Son of Sam's adventures being treated as a subplot, Summer of Sam serves to heighten the visceral shock of the film's killings: "Summer of Sam may seem bloated and overlong, in fact, with too many characters and sub-plots," Lee writes in the film. In contrast to more bizarrely macabre sequences, such as the killer having a conversation with a dog, the death scenes lack the usual suspense of a standard serial killer film, so that when the killer casually approaches his victims and empties his gun, the violence begins and ends abruptly, allowing us to contemplate its matter-of-factness.

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The Hitcher 1986

The ruthless and unstoppable murderer whose sole goal is to destroy innocent life with nihilistic, almost supernatural zeal is one of the most appealing characters in horror films. Part of the reason the original Halloween is still so terrifying is the film's chillingly easy ability to portray Michael Myers as a symbol of death itself: there is no rhyme or reason to his actions, and he will not stop until you cease breathing yourself.

As with the original, the simplicity of the premise about a couple (C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays both the top and bottom halves of her body) who are being pursued by a murderous maniac hitchhiker (Rutger Hauer) takes full advantage of the unresolved mystery surrounding the killer's motivations. The original The Hitcher is a crime drama directed by John Landis and releastoLeen 1988. Alternatively, you may transform the truck from Duel into Rutger Hauer's and get The Hitcher.

The atmosphere created by director Robert Harmon's film is appropriately icky and low-grade, perfectly matching the killer's philosophical point-of-view. This is an aesthetic approach that eluded the makers of the ill-fated 2007 remake, which appeared too glossy to work on a visceral level and was ultimately a failure. Also, with all due respect to Sean Bean, he is not Rutger Hauer in terms of acting ability.

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Eyes Without A Face 1960

Christiane managed to escape a vehicle accident, but she was severely scarred as a result of it. Consequently, Christiane's father tries to assist her in the only manner he knows how: by killing young women and attempting to steal their faces in the hopes of providing Christiane with another chance at redemption.

This is a more serious and downright frightening take on the mad scientist genre that delves into the desire for physical perfection and the fixation with youth in about equal proportion. It is haunting and lyrical in roughly equal measure.

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Cruising 1980

When it was originally aired, William Friedkin's police thriller, in which Al Pacino's detective Steve Burns goes undercover in the homosexual S&M scene in San Francisco to capture a serial murderer preying on guys picked up in clubs, sparked a great deal of debate.

The filming was disrupted by homosexual rights activists, and Friedkin had to fudge the script to obtain an R rating, which was panned by reviewers and audiences alike. Since then, though, it has been given a fresh look, and it has emerged as an intensely atmospheric and thrilling journey.

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Hot Fuzz 2007

The fact that Hot Fuzz is about a serial murderer prowling the Somerset badlands is easy to overlook even though you've probably seen it a thousand times.

Even if it's obvious that it's an homage to the classic buddy cop action film, and even if it turns out not to be a serial killer, in the end, it's easy to overlook how seamlessly and intelligently it borrows elements from the best slashers of the 1980s to propel the action forward and give the hooded murderer an authentically threatening edge.

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The Clovehitch Killer 2018

When someone grows up in small-town Christian America, their individuality and energy may be sucked away by the system, which then replaces any sense of self with improved living via dogma. This bait-and-switch technique is replicated in The Clovehitch Killer by filmmaker Duncan Skiles, who uses cinematographer Luke McCoubrey's camera to accomplish this.

The film is filmed in a stock-still style, with the camera remaining more or less stationary from one scene to the next, as though the film's location of Somewhere, Kentucky is influenced by the feeling of regularity buzzing throughout. Almost none of the people we encounter in the film have a spark; they are drones charged with preserving the hive's integrity against intruders who, heaven forbid, try to pretend to be someone they don't know. Tyler (Charlie Plummer), who is awkward, timid, and shy, is the son of Don (Dylan McDermott), a handyman and Scout troop leader, which causes Tyler, who is a Scout himself, a great deal of unexpressed concern as a result of this relationship.

Underneath it all, Don seems and behaves like an automaton as well, with occasional glimmers of humor and tenderness in his roles as father and Scoutmaster, respectively. What he is below is something else, at least according to Tyler: the Clovehitch Murderer, a serial killer who once terrorized their community with a terrible murder spree that has long since been finished. Perhaps Don has a genuine kink fetish and keeps a length of rope around for amusement in the bedroom. In any case, dads aren't always who or what they seem to be on the outside.

In horror films, the squirm is everything; it's the tense, nerve-wracking build-up of tension over time that, when done correctly, has audiences crawling out of their skin with dread as they watch. In The Clovehitch Killer, this feeling is achieved completely via the use of craft rather than special effects. That damned camera, immobile and unmoving, is always content to record whatever is in front of it, never panning around to get different perspectives on the action. At first look, everything seems to be as it should be, yet what you see may be much more horrific than you can bear to contemplate. This is a diabolical picture that does what horror films are intended to do instill dread in us beautifully and effectively, using the most deceptively basic of methods. 

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Ceri Sinclair | I promote contact between clients, consumers, and companies in order to complete projects. I have over 10 years of experience in management consulting, team building, professional development, strategic execution, and business engagement in both the public and private sectors. I've worked on projects for TechPoint International, Cyberry, and Induster.

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