Film & TV

Mindhunter: Serial Killers in Film + TV

David Fincher’s Netflix series, Mindhunter, that follows FBI behavioural analysts as they interview and dig deep on serial killers such as Ed Kemper and Charles Manson, has just returned for its sinister second series. This is not the first time Fincher has delved into the minds of the serial killers and the obsessed and with Tarantino’s newest flick similarly set at the time of the Manson murders, its clear that the Films and TV we watch seem obsessed as well. Here are a few of our favourite depictions of serial killers.

Tammy-Louise Wilkins on My Friend Dahmer

In the era of Netflix, we have become infatuated with the idea of chronicling the lives of these killers and any past detail that could answer what guided them onto the path of violence. The introduction of Marc Meyers’ My Friend Dahmer played catalyst to this movement with an exclusive depiction of Dahmer’s life before killing as recounted by high school friend, John “Derf” Backderf in his comic book series of the same name.

Jeffrey Dahmer, otherwise known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, was one of many of whom that began life as serial killers in the seventies. After raping, murdering and consuming seventeen male victims, Dahmer was captured, incarcerated and later murdered in prison. Instead of retracing the steps of the murders, My Friend Dahmer offers an in-depth depiction of Dahmer’s high school and home life that proved a critical lead up to his first murder at the age of eighteen. What makes the depiction of Dahmer in this biopic compelling is the attention to accuracy. Backderf’s real life experience combined with filming in Dahmer’s real family home in Akron, Ohio sets the melancholic tone and Ross Lynch’s portrayal of the killer further provides this exclusive perspective into a particularly normal boy who privately showed signs of developing male obsession, manipulation and a classical killer interest in animal dissection.

What is attractive about serial killers is the uncertainty of the person they were before the tabloid alias and Meyer’s interpretation of Dahmer’s adolescence answers that specific question with morbid precision.

Ella Clucas on Hannibal

Following the success of Thomas Harris’s novels, the figure of Dr. Hannibal Lecter is one that resonates throughout modern day thriller culture. His story is carried through a series of films, from The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon (2002), all of which star the talented Anthony Hopkins, who has become synonymous with the cannibalistic villain. Hopkins captures the chilling characteristics of Hannibal the Cannibal consistently, from the tone of his voice to his extended and uncomfortable eye contact that makes every film a gripping watch. 

The influence of Harris’s fictional creation has also spread beyond the realm of film. The Hannibal television series, which aired on NBC between 2013 and 2015 and is now streaming on Netflix, stars Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter in a gruesome and often violent depiction of events. Both portrayals of Lecter are unique and enticing in their own way, and whilst the series differs from the films in many respects, what remains consistent is the calm, collected and almost friendly nature of the killer. Whilst Hannibal’s crimes are beyond imaginable, his manners, wit and charm inexplicably draw us in, leaving us both attached to his character and uncertain of his next move. Both the films and the series keep us on the edge of our seats as we watch the FBI hunt for Hannibal time after time, anticipating his next narrow escape. His unparalleled knowledge and emotional intelligence combined with his lust for human flesh makes him the perfect psychopathic lead.

Nicole Rees-Williams on Zodiac

Zodiac (2007) is directed by David Fincher and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo. The film is based on the true unsolved case of the infamous Zodiac killer who operated in Northern California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Quite often films use the term ‘true story’ loosely, but in the case of Zodiac the film truly earned this statement. Fincher went to great lengths to recreate the crime scenes as every aspect of the murders in the film is identical to the real crimes. Each detail was recreated on screen such as the time of day, body positioning, and even identical replicas of the victim’s clothing. Truthfully, aspects of the case being altered would probably go amiss by many viewers, so the fact that Fincher still went to such great lengths to replicate these minute elements as accurately as he possibly could makes the film so authentic. Zodiac has noticeably pristine editing throughout and is extremely successful in building tension. The cast give some spectacular performances, especially Gyllenhaal who particularly shines as the Zodiac obsessed journalist, Robert Graysmith. The film shows how the Zodiac killer’s mindless murders affected so many people from the victims themselves, to the pressure put on detectives to solve the case, to everyone who struggled to function without answers that still haven’t been given to this day. There are plenty of fictional serial killer films that are brilliantly chilling, but what makes Zodiac stand out in this genre is that it’s not a matter of fiction.