The following article is the third and final part of a three-part list of films featuring serial killers. I’ve deliberately avoided movies concerning ‘spree killers’, ‘obsessed fan’ films, and movies that contain supernatural elements. It is not intended to be a complete list nor terribly insightful, but a simple rundown of the best, worst and most interesting serial killer titles to be found, and I thank both Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database for assisting my research. I will gladly respond as soon as possible to any comments, questions and suggestions readers may have.
PEEPING TOM (1960), directed by Michael Powell and written by World War Two cryptographer Leo Marks, revolves around around a serial killer (Carl Boehm) who murders women while using a portable movie camera to record their dying expressions of terror. This obsession dates from the time when, as a child, he served as the subject of some cold-blooded experiments in the psychology of terror conducted by his own scientist father. Its controversial subject and the extremely harsh reception by critics effectively destroyed Powell’s career as a director in the United Kingdom. However, it attracted a cult following, and in later years, it has been re-evaluated and is now considered a masterpiece.
PENNY DREADFUL (2006), directed by Richard Brandes, centres on a young woman named Penny (Rachel Miner) who has a phobia of cars and ends up stalked by a maniac hitchhiker (Liz Davies) preying on her fear. Unexpected events find her in a nightmarish situation where her worst fears come true.
PERFUME (2008) subtitled THE STORY OF A MURDERER, directed by Tom Tykwer and based on the novel by Patrick Suskind, focuses on Jean-Baptiste (Ben Whishaw), a perfume apprentice in eighteenth century France who, born with no body scent himself, begins to stalk and murder virgins in search of the ‘perfect scent’ which he finds in a young woman named Laura (Rachel Hurd-Wood), whom his acute sense of smell finds in a secluded private garden. The film explores the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meaning that scents may carry. Above all this is a story of identity, communication and the morality of the human spirit.
PHENOMENA (1985) aka CREEPERS, directed by Italian auteur Dario Argento, stars Jennifer Connelly as a young girl who arrives at a Swiss boarding school where the students are being butchered by a serial killer. With the help of a wheelchair-bound forensics entomologist (Donald Pleasance) she investigates further. In the basement of her schoolteacher’s house she discovers a vicious child (Davide Marotta) with a hideously deformed face. He chases Jennifer onto a motorboat and attempts to kill her, but she is saved by a swarm of flies that attack him.
PHOBIA (1980), directed by John Huston, stars Paul Michael Glaser as psychiatrist Peter Ross who uses radical techniques to cure his patients of various kinds of phobias by forcing to watch them on a large screen. The result is that each patient is driven to commit violent acts, and each is killed by what they fear most. Doctor Ross becomes terrified when someone starts murdering his subjects one at a time.
PROM NIGHT (1980), directed by Paul Lynch and starring Jamie Lee Curtis and a very straight-faced Leslie Nielsen, concerns a group of high school seniors who are targeted by an unknown killer in revenge for their culpability in the accidental death of a young girl. The anniversary of the incident falls on their high school’s prom night. The older sister of the dead girl is being crowned prom queen, and her brother is the disc jockey at the event. The film proved so popular it spawned three sequels – HELLO MARY LOU (1987), THE LAST KISS (1990), DELIVER US FROM EVIL (1992) – and a rather poor remake in 2008.
THE PROWLER (1981), directed by Joseph Zito, has been praised by horror fans for its brutality and realistic gore created by makeup maestro Tom Savini. In 1945 on the night of the Graduation Dance in Avalon Bay, young couple Roy and Frances are murdered, penetrated by a rake, the killer never found. Exactly thirty-five years later a new Graduation Dance is organised by the students since Major Chatham, who is now unwell and wheelchair-bound, has prohibited any celebration since 1945. Sheriff Fraser has ‘gone fishing’ and deputy Mark London is in charge of the security of the location. When a serial killer starts attacking students, two of them begin to seek out his hiding place.
PSYCHO COP (1989), directed by Wallace Potts, is very similar to MANIAC COP (1988) except, in this case, the titular character (Robert R. Schafer) is not a mutilated monster but a serial killer of six college students on their weekend vacation. This attracted lots of official criticism for what was considered an unrealistic portrayal of police officers. Nevertheless the film spawned a sequel in 1993.
PSYCHO (1960), directed by maestro Alfred Hitchc**k, is considered by many to be the ultimate serial killer movie. The screenplay by Joseph Stefano was based on the novel by Robert Bloch which, in turn, was loosely inspired by real-life Wisconsin serial killer and grave robber Ed Gein. The film depicts the encounter between a secretary named Marion (Janet Leigh), hiding at a secluded motel after embezzling money from her employer, the motel’s disturbed owner and manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and the aftermath of their encounter.
THE PUMPKIN KARVER (2006), written and directed by Robert Mann, begins with Jonathan (Michael Zara) stabbing a young man to death during a Halloween prank gone terribly wrong. Twelve months later at a Halloween party, it seems the dead man has returned to brutally butcher six people. The victims faces are carved and mutilated beyond recognition. The crime remains unsolved and is still under investigation until the film’s conclusion, when it is revealed that Jonathan was the killer all the time, brought on by a personality disorder which traumatised him when he killed his sister’s boyfriend the year before.
RAISING CAIN (1992), directed by Brian DePalma, is concerned with Doctor Carter Nix (John Lithgow), a respected child psychologist. His wife becomes concerned that Carter is obsessively studying their daughter, regarding her like a scientist tracking the development of his creation. It is discovered that Carter actually suffers from multiple personality disorder which includes characters like streetwise hustler Cain, traumatised little boy Josh and a middle-aged mother named Margo. Cain is methodically killing young mothers to procure their children for his psychiatric experiments.
RAMPAGE (1987), directed by William Friedkin, is concerned with Charles (Alex McArthur), a serial killer who commits a number of brutal mutilation-slayings in order to drink blood as a result of paranoid delusions, but Charles is soon captured. Most of the movie revolves around the trial and the prosecutor’s attempts to have Charles found sane and given the death penalty, while defence argues that the defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity. Charles is eventually found sane and given the death penalty, then later found to be insane by a brain-scan for mental illness. Shortly after this discovery, Charles kills himself overdosing on antipsychotics.
REPULSION (1965), directed by Roman Polanski, concerns a young Belgian girl named Carol (Catherine Deneuve) who works as a manicurist at a London beauty salon. She shares a flat with her sister Helen. Her sister’s married lover, Michael, brings out her dislike of men which she cannot explain or vocalise. Left alone in the flat, Carol’s moments of catalepsy and hallucinations increase and deepen into murderous madness.
RESURRECTION (1999), directed by Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy, is about a Cajun police detective named Prudhomme (Christopher Lambert) assigned to Chicago to investigate the savage murder of a man who has bled to death from a severed arm. The message ‘He Is Coming’ is written in blood on the victim’s window. After two more victims with missing body parts are discovered, Prudhomme surmises he is on the trail of a serial killer who is using the missing body parts to reconstruct the body of Jesus Christ just in time for Easter.
SAW (2004), directed by James Wan, is about two men who wake up with a dead body laying between them, in the secure lair of a serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). The men must follow various rules and objectives if they wish to survive and win the deadly game set for them. The simple yet frightening format proved popular enough to warrant at least six sequels to feature Jigsaw aka John Kramer, a civil engineer dying from an inoperable brain tumor. Kramer sets out to force others through deadly trials to help them appreciate their own lives by testing their will to live through self-sacrifice. The tests were typically symbolic of what Jigsaw perceived as a flaw in each person’s moral character or life. The Jigsaw name was given by the media for his practice of cutting puzzle pieces out of the flesh of those who failed their ordeals and perished due to their lack of survival instincts.
SCAR (2008), directed by Jed Weintrob, involves Joan (Angela Bettis) returning to her hometown to attend her niece’s high school graduation, but finds herself confronted by her past. Before the graduation, a young couple goes missing and within a few days a mutilated body is found in the water during a town fishing festival. This initiates flashbacks in which Joan’s dark past is learned: When Joan was sixteen, she and a friend were kidnapped and tortured by a serial killer named Bishop (Ben Cotton). Bishop bound Joan and her friend to an autopsy table where one girl was tortured while the other had the power to make it stop simply by demanding the death of the friend. Joan was able to escape and kill her captor, but was left with a scar on her cheek. Has Bishop evaded death or has a new copycat killer arisen?
SCHIZOID (1980), written and directed by David Paulsen, involves advice columnist Julie (Marianna Hill) who begins receives anonymous notes threatening murder. Meanwhile, female members of the group therapy session she attends are being stabbed one-by-one by an unknown assailant. At first, everyone assures her that the notes are probably unrelated hoaxes, but it soon becomes apparent that someone close to her is responsible. Is it her therapist, Pieter (Klaus Kinski), who has sex with his patients just before they are murdered? Or Pieter’s daughter (Donna Wilkes), who resents Julie’s romantic involvement with Pieter? Or maybe Gilbert (Christopher Lloyd), the eccentric building maintenance man?
SCREAM (1996), directed by Wes Craven, follows Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a high school student who becomes the target of a mysterious killer known as Ghostface. Other main characters include Sidney’s best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan), Sidney’s boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), film fan Randy (Jamie Kennedy), deputy sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) and news reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). The film was considered unique at the time of its release for featuring characters who were aware of real world horror films and openly discussed the clichés that the film attempts to subvert. The black comedy went on to financial and critical acclaim, earning US$173 million worldwide becoming the highest-grossing serial killer film in unadjusted dollars. Scream marked a change in the genre as it cast already-established and successful actors, which helped the film to find a wider audience, including a significant female viewership.
SECRET WINDOW (2004), directed by David Koepp and based on a story by Stephen King, bears some similarities with the author’s novel The Dark Half. Mystery novelist Mort (Johnny Depp) is confronted by a mysterious stranger calling himself John Shooter (John Turturro) and claims that Mort has stolen a story from him. Mort says he can prove he wrote his first, but whilst Mort waits for the evidence to appear, Shooter starts to become more violent, killing their pet dog with a screwdriver. Mort’s ex-wife Amy (Maria Bello) arrives to find the cabin disheveled with the word ‘shooter’ carved throughout. Mort suddenly reveals himself wearing Shooter’s hat and speaking with a southern accent. He chases Amy outside, kills her new boyfriend Ted with a shovel, and then recites the ending of Shooter’s version of the story as he murders Amy.
SE7EN (1995), directed by David Fincher, introduces us to police detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) who become deeply involved in a case involving sadistic serial killings. The murders correspondence to each of the seven deadly sins: Gluttony, Envy, Lust, Pride, Sloth, Greed and Wrath. Just when you think the serial killer can’t go any further, he does. Director Fincher approached the film like a low-budget genre movie, working with cinematographer Darius Khondji and adopting a simple approach to the camerawork, which was influenced by the television show Cops and how the camera is always in the backseat or peering over shoulders. Grossing US$327 million at the box office internationally, Se7en was a commercial success, and received very positive reviews from most critics.
SEE NO EVIL (2006), directed by Gregory Dark, was the first major feature film to be produced by WWE and stars professional wrester Kane aka Glenn Jacobs. A group of delinquents are sent to clean-up the Blackwell Hotel, oblivious to the fact that reclusive psychopath Jacob Goodnight has holed away in the rotting hotel. When one of the teens is captured, those who remain – including the police officer who put a bullet in Goodnight’s head four years ago – band together to survive against the brutal killer.
SERIAL MOM (1994), a black comedy written and directed by John Waters, focuses on a picture-perfect middle-class family who are shocked to learn that one of their neighbours is receiving obscene phone calls. The mother takes slights against her family very personally, and she is indeed the one harassing the neighbours. As other slights befall her beloved family, the body count begins to increase, and the police get closer to the truth, threatening the family’s picture-perfect world. Though the beginning of the movie states that it’s based on a true story, Waters did in fact make it all up as a gag, influenced by the films of Russ Meyer, Otto Preminger, William Castle and Herschell Gordon Lewis.
SHADOWS AND FOG (1991), written and directed by Woody Allen, is an homage to German Expressionist filmmakers Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau. Kleinman (Woody Allen) is woken in the middle of the night by a vigilante mob looking for The Strangler, a serial killer who has been strangling locals to death. They tell Kleinman to get dressed and meet them downstairs in five minutes. In a flurry, he gets dressed. Before he goes down, his landlady (Julie Kavner) gives him a small paper bag with pepper in it: “If The Strangler attacks you, blow some of this in his eyes!” With a truly amazing cast headed by Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Kenneth Mars, with Donald Pleasance in a wonderful turn as a doctor with a fatal fascination for what drives men to kill.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), directed by Jonathan Demme and based on the novel by Thomas Harris, focuses on Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), a young intelligent FBI trainee who is sent to the Baltimore state hospital for the criminally insane to interview inmate Doctor Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant psychiatrist turned psychopathic serial killer. She must match wits with Lecter and trust him to give her clues in the search for another unstoppable psychopathic serial killer known only as ‘Buffalo Bill’ (Ted Levine). The first serial killer movie to win Oscars in each of the top five categories – Picture, Actress, Actor, Director and Screenplay – it is now considered culturally, historically and aesthetically significant by the US Library Of Congress and has been selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry.
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT (1984), directed by Charles E. Sellier, focuses on a young boy who, after witnessing the brutal murder of his parents at the hands of a man clad in a Santa Claus suit on Christmas, grows up tumultuously in a Catholic orphanage and slowly emerges as a serial killer himself. The film, starring Robert Brian Wilson, Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick and Leanna Quigley, caused an uproar when released during the holiday season, and has since developed a devoted cult following.
SKINNER (1993), directed by Ivan Nagy, stars Ted Raimi as Dennis Skinner, a likable decent-looking lad driven by a disturbing childhood. He moonlights as a skid-row serial killer who tends to prey on prostitutes, although he also does away with certain co-workers whom he finds offensive, by flaying his victims to death. On his trail is Heidi, a victim who survived one of his brutal attacks and now strives for revenge. Also featured in the cast is Ricki Lake, Traci Lords and Richard Schiff.
THE SLAYER (1982) aka NIGHTMARE ISLAND, directed by J.S. Cardone, was classified in the UK as a Video Nasty upon its domestic release in the eighties. Eric (Frederick Flynn), Kay (Sarah Kendall), David (Alan McRae), Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook) and Marsh (Michael Holmes) become stranded on an island. Kay suffers from nightmares in which she is stalked and slain in a burning room by figure known only as The Slayer (Carl Kraines). She becomes sure that The Slayer is lurking on the island, biding his time until nightfall, when he will be drawn to Kay who dreams of his killings. But, then again, what’s real or make-belief? Not everything is what it seems in this place.
SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983) is a franchise consisting of six films focusing on transgender serial killer Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) and the murders she commits at various holiday camps. The first film is well-known for having a clever twist in its tale. The series developed into two separate continuities featuring the same protagonist: SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983), RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP (2008) and SLEEPAWAY CAMP REUNION (2012). The other films were decidedly comic in nature: SLEEPAWAY CAMP II UNHAPPY CAMPERS (1988), SLEEPAWAY CAMP III TEENAGE WASTELAND (1989), and SLEEPAWAY CAMP IV THE SURVIVOR (2012).
SLIVER (1993), directed by Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce and based on a novel by Ira Levin, concerns mysterious occurrences in a Manhattan block of apartments. After a major battle with censors, the filmmakers were forced to make extensive reshoots and actually change the killer’s identity! Publisher Carly (Sharon Stone) moves into the exclusive Sliver Building, only to learn that the previous tenant, who bore a great resemblance to Carly, died in a mysterious fall from the apartment balcony. When other tenants start to die in a similar fashion, Carly suspects that a serial killer may be inhabiting the building. Could it be the voyeuristic building owner Zeke (William Baldwin), or perhaps the suspicious novelist Jack (Tom Berenger)?
THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982), directed by Amy Holden Jones, was originally written as a parody of serial killer films by Rita Mae Brown, but was filmed as straightforward slasher movie. Because of this, the film contains more humour than your average body-count movie. A high school girl left at home by her parents decides to have a slumber party. There is friction between some of the invited guests and the new girl, so the new girl decides to stay at home, which is conveniently across the street from the host’s house. Meanwhile, a serial killer with a penchant for power tools is at large, and eventually makes his way to the party. There have been three sequels so far: SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II (1987), SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE III (1990) and CHEERLEADER MASSACRE (2003), as well as a documentary by Jason Paul Collum entitled SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: REVISITING THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRES (2010).
SNOWTOWN (2011), directed by Justin Kurzel, is based on a series of real-life murders that took place in Adelaide, South Australia between 1992 and 1999. Eight bodies were found in six plastic barrels in a disused bank vault, and two more bodies were found buried in a backyard. The discoveries followed a lengthy covert police investigation which concluded wit a total of four people being arrested and charged over the murders. More than 250 suppression orders prevented publication of details of the case until 2011, when the judge lifted the remaining orders in response to a request by the producers of the film Snowtown, which is told from the point-of-view of one of the perpetrators, teenage boy Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), led astray by ringleader John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), now known as Australia’s most notorious serial killer.
SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1986), directed by Carol Frank, is often criticised for being way too similar to HALLOWEEN (1978). A young boy kills his entire family except his sister, who escapes by hiding in the basement. He is committed, and she grows up with a new family, eventually going to college, where she joins a sorority. Due to a memory block, she doesn’t remember that the sorority house was her childhood home and, soon after, her brother escapes so he can finish the job he was unable to complete.
SORORITY ROW (2009) is a remake of THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW (1983), directed by Stewart Hendler, in which a group of sorority sisters try to cover up the death of their house-sister after a prank gone horribly wrong, only to be stalked by a serial killer. The real novelty of the film is its casting which features several offspring of famous performers, including Briana Evigan (daughter of Greg Evigan), Rumer Willis (daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore), Robert Belushi (son of Jim Belushi), and Carrie Fisher (daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher).
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946), directed by Robert Siodmak, takes place in 1916 when a serial killer begins to target women with what he considers afflictions or imperfections. Beautiful young mute Helen (Dorothy McGuire) is a domestic worker for elderly Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore). Mrs. Warren’s two sons, scientist Albert (George Brent) and chauvinist Steven (Gordon Oliver), also live in the mansion. Mrs. Warren becomes concerned for Helen’s safety when a rash of serial killings involving ‘women with afflictions’ hits the neighbourhood. She implores her physician Doctor Parry (Kent Smith) to take Helen away for her own safety. When another murder occurs inside the mansion, it becomes obvious that Helen is in much danger. Based on a novel by Ethel Lina White, the film has been remade twice, once in 1975 starring Jacqueline Bisset and again in 2000 starring Nicollette Sheridan.
THE STEPFATHER (1987), directed by Joseph Ruben, is loosely based on the life of serial killer John List. Jerry (Terry O’Quinn) marries women with children in search of the perfect family but, as soon as his new family shows signs of rebellion, his dreams of domestic bliss begin to crumble, and he kills them. Then he alters his appearance, assumes a new identity, and skips to another town to begin the deadly ritual all over again. He marries Susan (Shelley Hack), who sees him as the ideal surrogate father for her teenage daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen), and he is soon up to his old tricks when she proves to be too much of a troublesome teen to handle. The film was also followed by STEPFATHER II (1989) and STEPFATHER III (1992) as well as a remake in 2009 starring Dylan Walsh.
STRANGELAND (1988), directed by John Pieplow and written by Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider, focuses on the underground culture of body modification. A schizophrenic sadistic serial killer known only as Captain Howdy (Dee Snider) lures teens through the internet into his painful traps. A detective (Kevin Gage) starts pursuing him after he captures his daughter (Elizabeth Pena). Eventually they catch up with him and send him to a mental hospital but, upon his release, the townspeople refuse to accept the new peaceful former Captain Howdy and attack him. Howdy goes nuts again and in revenge starts everything all over, only worse. Can the detective stop him?
THE STRANGERS (2008), written and directed by Bryan Bertino, revolves around a young couple terrorised by three masked assailants who break into the remote summer home in which they are staying and secure all means of escape. After two postponements and nine million dollars, the film was finally released in 2008, grossing almost US$100 million at the box-office worldwide. Although it was ambiguously marketed as being based on true events, director Bertino later stated that the film was simply inspired by a series of home invasions that occurred in his neighbourhood as a child, as well as some incidents that occurred during the Manson killings.
THE STRANGLER (1964), directed by Burt Topper and starring Victor Buono, was inspired by the real-life serial killer known as The Boston Strangler. Leo Kroll (Victor Buono), a lab technician, is responsible for the strangulation murders of several young nurses. He feels that, in some twisted way, that he is getting back at his overbearing shrew of a mother (Ellen Corby). Leo also kills the nurse who is taking care of his mother in the rest home she is staying at. As a result, Mrs. Kroll dies from a heart attack, which is enough to send Leo right over the edge.
SUMMER OF SAM (1999), directed by Spike Lee, is based around the ‘Son Of Sam’ serial killings. David Berkowitz (Michael Badalucco), whose crimes terrorised New York City from July 1976 until his arrest in August 1977, confessed to killing six people and wounding several others in the course of eight shootings, claiming that he was commanded to kill by a demon who possessed his neighbour’s dog. The film focuses on the terrified residents of an Italian-American South Bronx neighbourhood who live in fear and distrust of one another.
SUSPECT ZERO (2004), directed by Elias Merhige, centres on FBI agents Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) and Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss) who are put on the trail of Ben O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley), a serial killer who exclusively targets other serial killers. As the investigation proceeds, the agents begin to become aware of the possible existence of a super serial killer known only as Suspect Zero, responsible for hundreds of deaths across the the country and leaves no evidence to link his crimes. The agents must decide if O’Ryan is the key that will allow them to catch Suspect Zero, or if he is Suspect Zero himself.
TAKING LIVES (2004), directed by D.J. Caruso and inspired by the novel by Michael Pye, begins in the eighties with Matt (Justin Chatwin) and Martin (Paul Dano) driving to Seattle. The car gets a flat tire and, while Matt changes the tire, Martin comments on how he and Matt are about the same height and he quickly pushes Matt in the way of an oncoming truck causing a huge accident in which both Matt and the truck driver die. Twenty years later FBI profiler Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) arrives to hunt down a serial killer named Martin Asher responsible for killing many men and assuming their identities. Martin’s mother (Gena Rowlands) claims that she saw Martin in Quebec and insists that he is evil. The police also have an eyewitness named James Costa (Ethan Hawke) who saw Asher kill his latest victim.
TARGETS (1968), filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s debut feature film, is a thinly disguised account of ex-marine Charles Whitman who, after murdering his mother and his wife, armed himself with a number of rifles and handguns and, on a sunny 1966 Texas morning, shot dead fourteen more people and wounded thirty-two people. Bogdanovich’s version tells two stories concurrently, about an aging horror-film star (Boris Karloff) who feels that his type of movie monster has become passé, and the other about a father-hating gun freak (Tim O’Kelly) who goes on a rampage to get even with his dad by shooting at people from the top of a water tower and then from behind a drive-in movie screen.
10 RILLINGTON PLACE (1971), directed by Richard Fleischer, is base on the true-life case of British serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough) who committed his crimes in the titular house. Christie strangled at least eight women (including a child), the first two victims being buried in the back garden during World War Two. After Tim Evans (John Hurt) moves into the building with his wife Beryl (Judy Geeson) and baby daughter, Christie convinces them that he is able to perform abortions. He then rapes and strangles Beryl, telling Evans that she had died accidentally, and that Evans should leave town. Evans entrusts Christie with his daughter, whom he also murders. Police neglected to search the property thoroughly, initially missing the remains of earlier victims in the garden. Christie goes on to murder his own wife and three prostitutes before his crimes are detected.
10 TO MIDNIGHT (1983), directed by J. Lee Thompson, portrays the homicidal behaviour of Warren Stacy (Gene Davis), a repairman who kills women after they reject his sexual advances. Two Los Angeles police detectives, Kessler (Charles Bronson) and McAnn (Andrew Stevens) are on the case. Stacy avoids prosecution by constructing sound alibis and assaulting his victims while naked, thus minimising evidence. Later, McAnn refuses to join Kessler in planting evidence to frame Stacy. Stacy then goes on another rampage killing three more women and, when caught stark naked, tells Kessler that he’ll prove himself insane and that he will eventually get out to kill Kessler and his entire family. Kessler simply says, “No you won’t” and shoots him in the head.
TENEBRAE (1982), directed by Dario Argento, represents the directors return to Giallo, a sub-genre he had helped popularise during the seventies. The story concerns an American author in Rome promoting his latest novel, only to become involved in the search for a serial killer who is apparently influenced by the author’s writings. The film itself was classified, prosecuted and banned as a Video Nasty in Britain, and its release in the USA was delayed for two years and, when it was finally released, it was heavily censored and retitled UNSANE. In its cut form, the film received mostly negative reviews but, when fully restored, became widely available for reappraisal.
TERROR TRAIN (1980), directed by Roger Spottiswoode, concerns a college fraternity prank that goes bad and a student ends up in an insane asylum. Four years later, it’s graduation time, and the members of the fraternity decide to have a costume party aboard a train trip to celebrate their graduation. Unbeknown to them, a killer has slipped aboard, killing them off one-by-one, disguised in the costumes of the victims.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) is a low budget horror film which is still lauded today as one of the most terrifying films ever made. Although there is actually little violence on-screen, Tobe Hooper’s direction is so persuasive that many viewers are certain that they have witnessed actual dismemberment by the titular implement. The film is a masterpiece of editing and the use of sound in its creation of a nightmare of extended horror – the film is, in effect, one long climax. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was also to have a profound effect on the horror sub-genre that became to be known as the body-count film, a cycle which still continues to this day. Although it was marketed as a true story to attract a wider audience, its plot is entirely fictional, however the character of Leatherface and minor plot details were inspired by the crimes of real-life murderer Ed Gein.
THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973), directed by Douglas Hickox, stars Vincent Price as vengeful Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart who, assisted by his daighter (Diana Rigg), proceeds to kill a number of theatre critics who dismiss his performances as hammy, using methods prescribed in Shakespeare’s original plays. The comedy-horror acts as a showcase for some of Britains best character players including Harry Andrews, Robert Coote, Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Arthur Lowe, Joan Hickson, Ian Hendry, Robert Morley, Milo O’Shea, Diana Dors, Dennis Price, and Price’s real-life wife Coral Browne.
TIMBER FALLS (2007), directed by Tony Giglio, begins with a couple being tortured. After the woman escapes from her bonds, her boyfriend tells her to run and is killed. She runs from a figure in a black trench coat and a modified sickle, until she is trapped on the edge of a cliff. She jumps off the cliff and is killed when she hits the ground. Jump-cut to another young couple enjoying a weekend of camping in the mountains which soon becomes an excursion into hell, when they become pawns in a grotesque plot hatched by the deranged locals.
TIME AFTER TIME (1979), written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, begins in 1893 when British author Herbert George Wells (Malcolm McDowell) is forced to use his time machine to pursue Jack The Ripper (David Warner) to modern-day San Francisco. The film is notable for many reasons, not least being for its ‘futuristic’ setting – November 5th 1979 – barely two months after the films release. November 5th would be featured as a key date in at least two other time-travel films by different directors: TIMERIDER (1982) and BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985).
THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978), directed by and starring Dennis Donnelly, is notorious for its reputation as a Video Nasty due to its violent murder scenes early in the film. It was marketed as being based on a true story, though it has no actual connection to any real-life murders. In a small apartment building someone in a ski mask has been murdering women with tools, such as a nail gun, a screwdriver, a power drill, etc. Meanwhile, fifteen-year-old Laurie (Pamelyn Ferdin) is kidnapped. Detective Jamison (Dennis Donnelly) investigates the murders, and stumbles onto a connection between them and the kidnapping. Despite extremely poor reviews (0% ‘rotten’ rating on the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site), the film was remade in 2004 by director Tobe Hooper.
TWISTED (2004), directed by Philip Kaufman, concerns police officer Jessica (Ashley Judd), whose deceased father was once a serial killer. Her father’s former partner, John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson), serves as her proud mentor. While investigating a murder, she finds herself in the centre of her own investigation, when her former lovers start being killed off at a furious pace. Finally Jessica discovers that Mills is the killer of her lovers, as well as her parents, because he considered it his mission to prevent her from growing up to be a dissolute woman like her mother.
THE UGLY (1997), written and directed by Scott Reynolds, is a New Zealand film about a female psychiatrist who meets with a serial killer to determine whether or not he has been successfully cured. Together they delve into a journey through his past and his victims, revealing a distorted allusion to the story of The Ugly Duckling. His confession is replaced by deception, unleashing demons from the killer’s strange internal world – threatening the psychiatrist’s previously stable sense of reality. She wants the truth, but she finds that truth can be the most terrifying thing of all.
UNHINGED (1982), written and directed by Don Gronquist, was banned in Britain for two decades as a Video Nasty, and concerns three beautiful college girls on their way to a music festival, but they accidentally drive their car into a ditch during a storm. They regain consciousness in a dark mansion and are introduced to a crazy old lady and her homely daughter. Unfortunately, the house is in the middle of nowhere so the girls must stay for a while, until someone begins to kill the girls one-by-one. It is up to one girl to find out whats going on, before she too is murdered.
THE UNSEEN (1980), directed by Danny Steinmann, focuses on three female reporters who accept an invitation for cheap room and board in a large farmhouse offered by a museum owner named Keller (Sydney Lassick), since all the motels in town are booked out for a local parade. Little do the women know, an unseen ‘thing’ named Junior (Stephen Furst) has been living in the basement of the house for over twenty years, cared for by Keller and his shy sister Virginia (Lelia Goidoni). Junior soon escapes and begins stalking and killing the women by various violent, but seemingly accidental, means.
UNTRACEABLE (2008), directed by Gregory Hoblit, is a thinly disguised social commentary on internet schadenfreude and voyeurism. The film involves a serial killer who rigs contraptions to kill his victims based on the number of hits received by a website – www.killwithme.com – which features a live streaming video of the intended victim. Millions of people log on, hastening the death of the victims. Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane), a policewoman who specialises in internet crime, pieces the mystery together at great risk to herself and her family.
URBAN LEGEND (1998), directed by Jamie Blanks, is based on the premise that a serial killer is using the methods of death described in certain urban legends as a means to kill the victims, like the one about pop rocks and soda making your stomach explode, and the one about an axe-wielding maniac in the back seat of your car. The premise proved popular enough to warrant not one, but two sequels: URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT (2000) and URBAN LEGENDS: BLOODY MARY (2005).
VALENTINE (2001), directed by Jamie Blanks and loosely based on the novel by Tom Savage, focuses on a group of female friends who receive morbid Valentine Day cards. Someone is stalking them, someone they all spurned when they were younger, and Valentine’s Day 2001 is the day the spurned get their revenge. Actor David Boreanaz shot all his scenes in less than two weeks, and Katherine Heigl only had three days to shoot her scenes as she was already committed to the television series Roswell. Director Blanks later apologised in an interview, “Forgive me for Valentine. A lot of people give me grief for that, but we did our best.”
VIOLENT SHIT (1989), the debut feature from German filmmaker Andreas Schnaas, begins with a young boy named Karl (Karl Inger) murdering his mother with a meat cleaver after she reprimands him for returning home late. Fast-forward two decades to the mid-seventies, the imprisoned Karl is being transported by the police. He kills his captors and escapes into the wilderness. Over the course of several days, Karl commits a series of murders across the countryside, mutilating and eating his victims. After one particular murder, Karl flashbacks to the day he murdered his mother, revealing he had been coerced into killing her by a demon (his father). Karl also suffers from hallucinations, and at one point encounters an apparition of Jesus Christ crucified in the forest, which he hacks open and crawls inside. After this encounter, Karl commits a dual murder outside a church then collapses in a field and, in a rather ambiguous conclusion, his skin rots away as he rips himself open, revealing a baby covered in blood. Despite (or because of) the title, three sequels were spawned: VIOLENT SHIT II: MOTHER HOLD MY HAND (1992), VIOLENT SHIT III: INFANTRY OF DOOM (1999), and KARL THE BUTCHER VERSUS AXE (2010). NIKOS THE IMPALER (2003), also directed by Schnaas, is sometimes known as VIOLENT SHIT IV: NIKOS even though it has absolutely no connection to the other films.
VISITING HOURS (1982) aka GET WELL SOON and THE FRIGHT, directed by Jean-Claude Lord and written by Brian Taggert, concerns a controversial television journalist Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) campaigning on behalf of battered women. Her outspoken views incense the studio’s cleaner, closet psycho Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside), who has had a deep-seated hatred of females since childhood, when his mother threw boiling oil into his abusive father’s face. He decides to shut Deborah up permanently. Getting to her house before her, he soon dispatches her maid, then turns his rage onto her as she comes home. Despite the brutal injuries he lashes out on her, she manages to survive and is rushed off to hospital. Undaunted, he catches up to her in hospital. Disguised as a florist, he enters the building to continue his mission to finish her off, along with anyone else who gets under his skin.
WACKO (1982), directed by Greydon Clark, is an AIRPLANE! (1981)-style parody of slasher films, one of the first and, arguably, one of the best. It all started thirteen years ago, when the sister of Mary Graves (Julia Duffy) was murdered on Halloween prom night by a maniac with a ride-on lawnmower. Since then Mary has experienced nightmares, sexual frustration and psychoanalysis, but she still sees lawnmowers everywhere she looks. But tonight, at the new Halloween Prom, all the questions of the past thirteen years will be answered as the pumpkin-headed killer has returned. Hot on the killer’s trail is an obsessed detective (Joe Don Baker) who refuses to allow history to repeat itself. The comedic cast includes Stella Stevens, George Kennedy, Charles Napier, Sonny Carl Davis, a rather restrained Andrew Dice Clay and the beautiful Elizabeth (E.G.) Daily.
THE WATCHER (2000), directed by Joe Charbanic, concerns Los Angeles serial killer Griffin (Keanu Reeves), who chooses a female victim, stalks her for weeks, makes meticulous preparations to gain entry when she’s alone, subdues her and administers a long, torturous death. Agent Campbell (James Spader) becomes so frustrated by his failure to capture Griffin that he retires and moves to Chicago. Similar murders begin to occur in Chicago. Campbell reports this to the police but is unwilling to the search, suggesting Griffin is too slick and clever.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), directed by Fred Walton, derives its story from the classic urban legend of ‘The Babysitter And The Man Upstairs’. While babysitting one evening, high school student Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) is traumatised by a mysterious caller who repeatedly asks, “Have you checked the children lately?” After notifying the police, Jill is told that the calls are coming from inside the house. The film, so well remembered by many baby-boomers, eventually spawned a made-for-television sequel entitled WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK (1993) and a remake in 2006.
WHISPER (2007), directed by Stewart Hendler and written by Christopher Borrelli, revolves around the kidnapping of a young boy named David (Blake Woodruff), who is more than he appears to be and brings unexpected troubles for his kidnappers. It is revealed that the mastermind of the kidnapping is the boy’s own mother, who tells the kidnappers that David is evil and manipulative, especially with weak-minded individuals. She pleads with one of the kidnappers to kill the boy, who refuses, so she shoots herself dead.
WΔZ (2008), pronounced Double-U Delta Zed, was a British film released in the USA under the title THE KILLING GENE. Mutilated murder victims are being discovered with the equation (wΔz = Cov (w,z) = βwzVz) carved into their flesh. Detective Argo (Stellan Skarsgard) and his new partner Helen Westcott (Melissa George) unearth the meaning of the odd equation and realise each victim is being offered a gruesome choice: kill your loved ones, or be killed. Before long it becomes clear that the perpetrator has suffered a similar fate and is now coping by seeking a way to solve this philosophical dilemma.
YOU CAN’T STOP THE MURDERS (2003), an Australian film directed by Anthony Mir, revolves around a series of Village People-themed murders in a small town, and two local police constables (Gary Eck and Akmal Saleh) who lead fairly unremarkable lives. A series of horrific murders involving the mutilation of bodies rock the town, and it is soon discovered that the victims were all in the professions represented by The Village People, and deduce that a policeman will be next to die. The movie stars a number of Australian stand-up comedians including Jimeoin, Bob Franklin, The Umbilical Brothers, Garry Who, Haskel Daniel, Richard Carter, The Dickster, Rash Ryder, Kenny Graham and Sandman.
ZODIAC (2007), directed by David Fincher, tells the true-lfe story of the hunt for the notorious serial killer known as Zodiac, who killed in and around San Francisco during the late sixties-early seventies, leaving several victims in his wake and taunting police with letters mailed to newspapers. Based on Robert Graysmith’s book, the movie’s focus is on the lives and careers of the detectives and newspaper people. The case remains one of San Francisco’s most infamous unsolved crimes.
Serial Killer Movies P-Z