The Lucky 13: Week Nine: Serial Killers
by Brutal As Hell Staff
Intro by Marc Patterson
The summer is starting to wind its way down. I can’t believe we’re already at week nine in our summer long series celebrating some of our favorite films in horror. So far we’ve covered gore flicks, creature features, werewolves, vampires, psychological horror, and some other great sub-genres. And folks we have a lot more great selections to come. You can explore any of the ones you missed by clicking on that nifty banner in the sidebar. Week nine finds us in the cross-hairs of a truly visceral sub-genre that belongs to the most lunatic and demented of villains, and that is the serial killer.
I’ve always found the serial killer film to be an interesting one. There’s something incredibly real and frightening about this sub-genre. Many serial killer films are based on real life killers, which makes them that much more frightening. This isn’t Jason chasing you down. This is someone real, and something human. The serial killer genre exemplifies the worst of our humanity, in sometimes the best of ways. Let’s take a look at some of our personal favorites…
And when you’re done make sure to check out the selections from our buddies over at The Vault of Horror, with whom we’ve teamed up with to bring you this summer long series!
Britt Hayes on Seven
Inevitably there would be two David Fincher films on this list. Prior to making movies about Facebook and Benjamin Button, Fincher captivated audiences with his incredible vision of the darker side of humanity. While we see what appears to be a glimpse of that in the upcoming The Social Network, I pine for early Fincher. The man who cultivated such dark and moody thrillers as Fight Club, Zodiac, and my favorite serial killer film…Seven. Like Marc and Annie, I also love American Psycho and Zodiac, but Seven holds a special place in my brain. The first time I saw it was with my parents in our living room in the quiet suburbs. Going to the movie theater was something we didn’t do as often as I would have liked, so naturally we rented the film. Seven is notorious for probably being the first film to give me anxiety (aside from a bizarre encounter with Edward Scissorhands as a child, where I was so terrified about him dying that I had nightmares for a week).
In Seven, rookie Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) teams up with senior Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). Mills is impatient and short-tempered, lacking the patience and rationale of a seasoned detective like Somerset – a man on the verge of retiring, and working what should be a simple, final case. But the two soon realize that they are on the trail of a cunning, sadistic serial killer who taunts them with riddles using his victims as set pieces. It becomes clear that this serial killer is using the Seven Deadly Sins as inspiration for his “work”, and the film becomes a race against the clock to stop him before he claims more victims. Sounds typical enough, but writer Andrew Kevin Walker (Brainscan, 8MM) and Fincher craft a thriller that is not only suspenseful, but completely repulsive. Every murder is more visceral and startling than the last (an accomplishment, considering the first murder is an obese man who was force-fed until he burst and made me dry-heave upon first viewing), but almost takes a backseat to the mystery and detective work in the best way possible. Seven is a compelling thriller that wraps you up in the enigma of the serial killer, and instead of playing it safe with a clean climax and capture at the end, continues to play with you until the last heartbreaking scene.
Fincher has an immense talent for taking on the darker side of life and creating something beautiful, in a sick, filthy sense of the word. Seven isn’t a film made for shock value. The victims are crafted to embody realistic circumstances, and only serve to further a fantastic detective story. Also at play is a meditation on the human condition and how these two men handle the worst in human nature when faced with it every day.
Add to that this incredible, stressful sequence from the end (warning: MAJOR SPOILER ahead), which gave us the great line: WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!
Marc Patterson on American Psycho
There’s no question or debate. When it comes to serial killers for me there’s none quite like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Here’s a film I would easily rank in my top ten favorite horror films. It’s artistic, beautiful, violent, elegant… quite frankly it’s fuckin’ visionary and pure sick poetry in motion. Even amongst mainstream critics, Christian Bale’s performance as a twisted psychopath proved to be one of his best.
As a Wall Street mogul caught up in his own self-delusional and inflated sense of ego, Bateman proves to be capable of some rather sadistic behavior.
“There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.”
From every angle this is a brilliant film that I can sink into time and again. Take that line in for a moment. American Psycho contains some of the most memorable moments and dialogue in horror cinema. It’s one of the few films that even when there’s no on screen violence there are some great moments. There’s the famous business card scene, where the executives compare business card types and prints like they are sizing up each other’s cocks. Then there’s the way Bateman flagrantly talks to his victims, knowing they don’t even hear a word he says…
“You’re a fucking ugly bitch. I want to stab you to death, and then play around with your blood.”
Speaking of blood… American Psycho isn’t all style and no substance. There’s plenty of the red getting splashed around. Pick your favorite kill. Was it the chrome-plated fireman’s axe to the skull? The magnificent chainsaw set-piece? How about that nail gun? Christian Bale makes sadism look easy.
To top it off, the killer 80’s soundtrack (pun intended) that is augmented by Bateman’s rhetorical monologues where he critiques some of the greatest music from that era makes this is a great film to watch and listen to. Seriously… it doesn’t get much better than this. Easily my favorite serial killer film. Easily one of my favorite horror films. American Psycho is an American Classic.
Those two sentences, spoken aloud on a long forgotten news show one evening, changed my life forever. You see, I was a second grade schoolgirl at the time, I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I took the bus to school and home again every day. It was also the late 70’s and the infamous Zodiac killer had not yet been caught. He never would be. And I cried and begged my mother not to make me get on the school bus the next morning for fear that the Zodiac would kill me. It was the first time I remember being frightened by a real, tangible boogeyman. He wasn’t in the closet or under the bed. He couldn’t be dispelled by light bulbs or caring moms. He was real, he was still out there, and he could very well kill me for no other reason than that he felt like it.
Time went on, I grew older and learned to fear other people: The Night Stalker, militant anti-abortionists, and that bitch in gym class who kept threatening to kick my ass after school someday. But I never forgot the Zodiac, the faceless killer who so profoundly impacted my innocence and first made me aware of my own fragile mortality.
Fortunately, Robert Graysmith never forgot him either, and his book on the case – simply entitled Zodiac – eventually hit the big screen in 2007. Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, though slightly altered in a few instances for dramatic purposes, nonetheless remains pretty damn faithful to its source material. I’d heard it described by a few as “boring” and “slow”, but a lack of car chases, sex, and explosions is always a bigger draw for me. I don’t want to be dazzled by a serial killer’s senseless rampages, I want to be horrified and disturbed, and Zodiac surpassed my expectations in both departments.
Watching the gradual disintegration of lives, families and sanity beneath the crushing weight of the unsolved murders is harrowing and well portrayed by Mark Ruffalo as the cop haunted by the unsolved murders, Robert Downey Jr. as the reporter driven to self-destruction, and Jake Gyllenhaal as the obsessive Graysmith. No slouch either is longtime Drew Carey co-conspirator John Carroll Lynch as the supremely creepy Suspect Numero Uno, Arthur Leigh Allen, a man ultimately cleared by DNA and long in his grave, but still heavily suspect nonetheless.
Watching Zodiac is – for me, anyway – like looking through my family photo albums: all washed-out sepias and “what the hell happened?” nostalgia, viewed through a filter of violence, regret and despair. Zodiac is never gory or sensationalistic, but succeeds in being one of the most distressing serial killer movies I’ve ever seen for those very reasons. Never again would I associate the word “zodiac” with the astrological wheel. For me, it will always be the name of a monster, one that might still be out there.
Bryce Holland on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Serial killers are a truly fucked up breed, but I’ll be damned if they haven’t spawned some really great movies. There are ton of awesome films that reside in this little sub-set of the horror world, from bleak, viscerally thrilling pieces of storytelling like The Hitcher, Wolf Creek, and Seven, to bonafide cinematic classics like Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs. It’s actually a little funny, and kind of disturbing, to think how many pieces of entertainment exist that are based wholly around depraved psychopaths. Kind of makes you think…
Anyway, for my money, the best serial killer centric story ever committed to celluloid is one of the most famous horror movies of all time: Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Dustin Hall on The Vanishing
Don’t confuse this with the American remake – we’re here to discuss the Dutch original from 1988, Spoorloos.
The tale is simple enough, and very similar to Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. It’s said they take their inspiration from the same French urban legend. The story revolves around Rex and Saskia (played to perfection by first-time actress Johanna ter Steege), a pair of young lovers on a cross-country vacation together. Rex goes into a nearby shop for some refreshments, and when he returns, Saskia is gone, seemingly vanished from the middle of a crowded park. Unfortunately, no one remembers having noticed the inconspicuous girl-next-door, and there are no witnesses in all of the crowd.
From this nightmare situation, you get an interesting, divergent story. Rex, over the course of years, continues a fevered search for his lost love. At the same time, we also follow the life of her kidnapper, memorable villain Raymond Lemorne. He’s a family man, a hard worker, a quiet chap with a nice country home. However, he’s also got a scientific curiosity, and he’s a borderline sociopath. He begins to wonder, can a peaceful family man become a serial killer? Would it change him? Would his wife and daughters notice? We’re given the event of the kidnapping itself, and then the results of the act on both sides: the quest for vengeance by the victims and the thrill and danger experienced by the criminal.
While this could have, and did in the US version, degenerate into a pretty typical revenge flick, this movie stayed true to its concept all the way though. At times it is blackly humorous, but at every moment it seems realistic, chilling, and bereft of hope. This is not a film for people seeking answers or retribution, as the film suggests that often in life there is no such thing. What kind of closure can you possibly find after such a horrendous experience?
The Vanishing serves as a grim reminder that the answers we seek in life are not always pleasant, and our compulsive hunt for them often leads to destruction.