Serial killer films


Laptop screen showing Netflix' collection of scary movies
Laptop screen showing Netflix' collection of scary movies
Photo by Abigail Heckbert

One of the stranger facets of our society is the mainstream interest in serial killers. True crime documentaries, serial killer biopics and the stories of grizzly phantoms have never been more popular. Some serial killer movies have become essential pieces of cinematic history. 

Much like their depicted killers, other such films have snuck under the radar. Due to language barriers, genre-blending, and the passage of time, these films have become lesser known despite adding much to the public notion of serial killers. 

  • M (1931, Germany) 
  • Directed by Fritz Lang 
  • Noir, Thriller 

Often listed among the greatest films ever, Fritz Lang’s M was expertly crafted and unlike any of its contemporaries at the time. The film is about an unknown killer who targets young children. As the police scramble to track down the killer, the criminal underworld begins their own manhunt to apprehend the notorious murderer.  

M manages to deliver emotional and exhilarating gut punches without needing to show gory implications. Some wonderfully metaphorical shots visually emphasize what is already known; the film is perfect in terms of subtlety. Fritz Lang is a true master director, and this may be his magnum opus. It is a must-watch for anyone looking to call themselves a film buff. 

  • Man Bites Dog (1992, France) 
  • Directed by André Bonzel 
  • Mockumentary, Drama 

Man Bites Dog is about a documentary crew following a serial killer named Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) as he goes about his daily business, primarily killing people. One quickly learns that Ben is deplorable, finding delight in his grotesque deeds. Eventually, the film crew move on from being mere bystanders to actively participating in the murders. 

It’s a weird film full of comedic moments juxtaposed with gruesome murders. The murders are presented casually, like any other aspect of Ben’s life, making the film’s violent moments feel surreal. It is not a movie for everyone; it’s filled with gratuitous violence, nudity and racism, but it’s one of a kind as far as serial killer movies are concerned. 

  • The House Jack Built (2018, Denmark, France, Sweden, Germany [english language] ) 
  • Directed by Lars von Trier 
  • Horror, Character Study 

The House Jack Built is a movie as interesting as it is brutal. The film takes place over five episodes, each separated by several years, all narrated by Jack and the mysterious ‘Verge’ (Bruno Ganz). Each episode features the titular Jack (Matt Dillon) committing horrific murders and often acting even more horrifically afterward. Jack is a failed architect but still hopes to construct a house for himself; throughout the film, he struggles to decide which material to use. 

Jack is a fascinating character; he embodies all things evil. While most films create interesting characters through their evolution throughout the film, this isn’t the case for Jack. He only evolves through his increased carelessness in covering up his murders. If you are looking for likable characters, you’ll find none here. If you’re looking for a spectacle and have a strong stomach, this may be the film for you this Halloween. 

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