“It’s always tricky when you try to categorize movies by genre or theme,” Found writer-director Scott Schirmer tells us (more about his movie at the bottom). “What is a ‘serial killer movie,’ really? Are we limited to just true-life stories of actual killers? Do we want to include supernatural killers? And where is the fine line between ‘serial killer’ movie and crime drama?
“With all this in mind, and considering my first feature film involves a serial killer, here are five of my favorite ‘serial killer’ movies!“
This movie may never get out from under the shadow of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (my favorite movie of all), which came out the same year and was also inspired by the horrific Ed Gein. And it’s too bad, because this is a terrific little flick. Like TCM, it is very low-budget and raw, which gives both films a verite feeling of authenticity. Deranged is more a character study than TCM, with Robert Blossoms delivering a wonderfully creepy performance as the Gein-like Ezra Cobb. The soundtrack is also very effective, a non-melodic mix of spooky sound design and moody underscore. The only element I didn’t care for was the inclusion of a reporter who pops up from time to time to narrate, poking holes in the movie’s otherwise enveloping sense of doom. I particularly enjoyed the plight of Mary, once she was captured in Ezra’s home, as well as the finale (great use of freeze-frame/slow-motion).
Al Pacino plays a New York police detective who poses as a gay man to root out a serial killer preying on the patrons of local leather bars. Director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) stirred controversy for his over-the-top depiction of the leather subculture. But socio-political context aside, Cruising is so strange, I have to like it. The killer’s identity is never revealed — you catch a hand here, a boot there, a face in the shadows, a voice that becomes familiar. There are definitely shades of Hitchcock and Argento in the way the kill scenes are staged and in the tightly controlled color scheme. The entire film is looped (lip-synced), which further lends to the feeling of an Italian giallo. I also dug the synthesized score by Jack Nitzsche. Intriguing suggestibility arises from quiet moments with Pacino’s character and increasingly strange interactions with his wife (Raiders of the Lost Ark‘s Karen Allen). You can infer several possibilities — is something awakening in Pacino’s character as a result of his underground experience? Is he gay? Is he the killer? The film’s open-endedness is one of its best qualities.
The Hitcher (1986)
A teenager (C. Thomas Howell) picks up a hitcher (Rutger Hauer) in the middle of a rainy night and barely escapes to tell the tale. And that’s just the beginning, because Hauer’s character is relentless, pursuing the boy on the open road, framing him for murder, and forcing him to bear witness to one piece of carnage after another. Hauer is at his psychopathic best here — calm, cool, and methodical. The tension mounts exquisitely. Director Robert Harmon keeps you ill at ease for the entire duration of the film, breaking with convention enough to let you know nothing is sacred and anything goes. It’s a beautifully directed film with unusually high production values for a horror/thriller. Great cinematography by John Seale and a terrifically moody score by Mark Isham.
While I would say I love The Silence of the Lambs a bit more, this earlier Thomas Harris adaptation feels like a more ‘pure’ serial killer flick. Tom Noonan is unforgettable as the ‘The Tooth Fairy’ and the supporting cast features a couple of my favorite actors – Joan Allen and Brian Cox (as Hannibal Lecter). It’s also fun to watch a svelte, pre CSI William Petersen in the leading role. And where Jonathan Demme would go onto give Lambs a dank, dark, grungy feel, director Michael Mann almost takes the opposite approach with Manhunter. It’s crisp, colorful, sometimes downright romantic – and I dig that. This movie was remade as Red Dragon in 2002 (reclaiming the title of Harris’ book), and while that’s a decent version in its own right, I much prefer this one.
Director David Fincher rebounded from Alien 3 with this seemingly innocuous serial killer flick penned by Andrew Kevin Walker. We’d seen buddy cop flicks and killers with gitchy modus operandis before, but characterization and style put Se7en over the edge. It’s a deeply creepy and unsettling movie centering around a seasoned detective (Morgan Freeman) and a rookie (Brad Pitt) who are paired in pursuit of a mysterious killer who’s patterning his murders after the seven deadly sins. Talk about your horror set-pieces. The scene where the detectives discover ‘Sloth’ contains one of the most memorable shocks I’ve ever experienced at the movies, and the way in which ‘Lust’ is played out also haunts my memories. Freeman and Pitt’s performances keep the story well grounded and relatable, while composer Howard Shore washes the movie in a brooding orchestral score that reinforces the film’s constantly claustrophobic atmosphere.
XLrator Media is behind the August 15 theatrical, VOD and iTunes release of Found, a coming-of-age slasher about a fifth grader (Gavin Brown) grappling with the secret knowledge that his beloved older bro (Ethan Philbeck) is a serial killer.
“Marty is the ideal fifth grader. He gets good grades, listens to his teachers, and doesn’t start trouble in class. But a darkness is beginning to fall over Marty’s life. The kids at school won’t stop picking on him, his parents just don’t seem to understand him, and now Marty must grapple with a terrible secret that threatens to destroy life as he knows it — his big brother is a serial killer! Brotherly love is put to the ultimate test in this emotional coming-of-age story that descends into unspeakable horror.“