As well as the real-life baddies, I do enjoy watching killers on screen (I’m not a psychopath – I promise. This brings me pleasure and psychopaths can’t feel joy – so, there! *She says trying to convince herself…*)
Here is a list of some of my favourite Serial Killers in TV and Film (In no particular order – It’s just too hard)
Jigsaw - SAW
I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. He doesn’t technically kill anyone himself, (apart from in self defence, when he cuts the detective’s throat in order to escape in the first Saw)
But obviously, without Jigsaw putting his plans/games in place, none of those people would be dead. He manufactures traps and puts people in impossible situations in which they have to choose between cutting out their own eye (to use just one example) or getting their head spiked from the front and back. The only difference between Jigsaw and other serial killers is that his violence isn’t immediate but rather delayed – nevertheless he still causes death.
Jigsaw is motivated by something so simple it’s almost poetic: To teach people lessons for not appreciating the life they have, whether that’s because the victim does drugs, “scoffs at the suffering of others,” or any other number of twisted views and so-called values. In his mind, if someone doesn’t appreciate their life then they don’t deserve to live.
The movies did get a little tedious and repetitive after the 3rd – (I only properly enjoyed the first two tbh) but he still sticks in my mind. Whether that’s because I know he’s based on the first ever serial killer H. H. Holmes, or just because it was really refreshing at the time, I’m not sure. But he’s made my list regardless.
Jason Bateman - American Psycho
Patrick Bateman is one of those serial killers who can quite comfortably be placed in the crazy category. Although the movie he appears in, American Psycho, is more of a scathing look at the superficiality and materialism of 1980s Wall Street, that doesn’t take away from the brilliantly written and portrayed character of Bateman.
On the surface he’s a well dressed, extremely fit, well educated and good-looking businessman. But what his colleagues and the rest of the world don’t see is what’s underneath Patrick Bateman’s facade: a sadistic serial killer driven by a certain need to kill.
One memorable scene in American Psycho is when a homeless man asks Bateman for help. Instead of lending a hand, Bateman reaches into his suitcase, takes out a knife and stabs the man to death. To top it off, he savagely stomps the man’s dog to death – all because the man stank, didn’t have a job and (to paraphrase), “had nothing in common with him.” A seriously disturbed individual, I think you’ll agree.
The character is made all the more effective by a wonderful performance from Christian Bale (I’m not his biggest fan, but he’s superb in this film). Patrick Bateman is portrayed as both friend and foe, as both a relatable “antihero” spouting his love for ‘80s pop music, to a sadistic villain with a penchant for chopping people up.“Do you like Huey Lewis & the News?”
The ending of American Psycho is ambiguous in that it leaves it open to interpretation whether Patrick really killed anyone at all, or whether he just imagined it. If the latter is the true meaning of the ending, then Patrick Bateman isn’t a serial killer in any tangible sense and has no place on this list…
However, I much prefer the explanation that he did kill people and it just went unnoticed because of how superficial the portrayed society is.
Iconic, quotable and with a constant air of creepiness (you’re never quite sure what he might do next), Bateman is a solid contender for best on-screen serial killer.
Dexter Morgan - Dexter
Tonight’s the Night…
Aaaah, a personal favourite of mine. Every time I think about Dexter Morgan, I smile. I’m a little bit in love with him and I think I always will be. *Thinks about Dexter for a while…*
Dexter might be a killer with a code (he’s a blood-spatter analyst by day, vigilante killer by night), but he’s still one of the scariest serial killers of them all. Why? Because he could be anyone! On the outside, Dexter is your typical friendly co-worker and a suburban single father. Michael C. Hall did a fantastic job making Dexter so relatable and lovable. He has this desire, this urge, this need to kill – and yet he channels this feeling to make sure he only kills those who should be killed. He’s doing a public service.
We like him because he’s a normal guy – he’s not portrayed as a monster. He’s just that mysterious guy next door, who just so happens to have a dirty little secret.
“Just one more piece of chocolate,” “Just one more drop of wine”… We all have impulses. It’s just that Dexter’s impulse is a little harder to hide. But he does it so well. So the next time you see your neighbour unloading an obscene amount of plastic wrap form their car, beware!
(If you don’t mention the season finale, I won’t either)
Norman Bates - Psycho
The killer from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho. Audiences were creeped-out by the film when it was released (that shower scene in particular did for hotel showers what Jaws did for the ocean) and a big part of that is due to the character of Norman Bates.
He is – as the title suggests – a psychopath who has a split personality: one of whom is himself, a mild-mannered hotel manager who just happens to keep his mother’s skeleton in his house. The other personality is that of his mother’s “spirit,” which Bates preserves by taking her on as a second personality. How amazingly fucked up is that?!
Norman’s murderous path first started when – as we find out at the end of the first Psycho (spoiler alter) – he murdered his mother and her new husband in an act of jealousy. It’s at that point that his mother became an integral part of his psyche.
It’s the mother side of Norman’s mind that is the “real” serial killer, although admittedly he is the vessel used to carry out the heinous deeds. When we first see poor Marion murdered in the shower during that now-iconic scene, it’s at the hand Norman’s “mother.” He’s bat-shit crazy and it’s wonderful to watch. He simply had to make the list.
John Doe - Se7en
Probably the most intelligent and methodical serial killer on this list is John Doe, the mysterious character from David Fincher’s masterpiece, Se7en. Unlike some other killers we see on tv and film who can sometimes be a bit impulsive and erratic, this is one killer who knew exactly what he was doing and planned it to perfection.
Just one of the many strokes of brilliance in Se7en is the fact that we don’t see the killer until near the end. (Talk about suspense!) It isn’t until he gives himself up by walking into the police station covered in blood do we see the true face of who was responsible for the meticulous killings throughout the entire movie.
This killer’s convictions and reasons for killing are of the strictest and simplest kind – to spotlight those who commit one of the seven deadly sins. They are (in the order that the killings happen): Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy and Wrath. By most people’s standards these sins aren’t even an issue – people don’t even give them a second thought. But in John Doe’s mind, committing one of these sins is unforgiveable and, indeed, punishable by death in the most horrendous of ways. (Funny how killing’s alright though, isn’t it 🤔)
Although Doe’s actions are obviously wrong, you can’t help but admire his commitment. His patience and the drive he has to pull off what he thinks he has to do really is astounding. For instance, with the “Sloth” killing: he keeps a man on basic life support for an entire year, watching him gradually waste away. Now try and tell me that doesn’t amaze you even just a little. It’s almost poetic in its melancholic nature.
As Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset says in the midst of the hunt for Doe, “This guy’s methodical, exacting and worst of all, patient.” The way Doe goes about killing and his twisted logic for doing so makes him one of the most memorably chilling serial killers in movie history.
Hannibal Lecter - Manhunter/ The Silence of the Lambs/ Hannibal/RedDragon/Hannibal Rising
When people talk about serial killers in movies, Hannibal Lecter is bound to be one of the first mentioned. Almost 25 years since his first appearance in Manhunter (yes it really has been that long), Lecter still sends shivers down the spines of even the toughest of movie goers.
Although Lecter was first seen in Manhunter (portrayed by Brian Cox), most people associate the character with The Silence of the Lambs (a film which houses a certain other entrant on this list – it’s that good!). Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his unforgettable portrayal of a former psychiatrist and psychopathic cannibal, who taunts Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling from behind bars.
What makes Lecter so effective as a character is just how calm and calculating he is. He’s undoubtedly out of his mind, but not in an outward or obvious way as some other serial killers. He speaks in a soft (albeit creepy) tone of voice and rarely overreacts to the situation at hand. His delivery of advice to Clarice on how to catch a serial killer on the loose is as fascinatingly ironic as it is spine-tingling.
The Joker - Batman Movies/Comics
He’s the greatest comic book villain of all-time. Now, obviously it’s subjective as to whether or not clowns scare you but it’s fair to say that they creep out a lot of people. The inversion of the clown as an avatar of innocence, comedy and joy to deranged psychopathic killer and incarnation of chaos is an arresting image to say the least.
The dynamic between Batman and the Joker is never better as it is portrayed in The Dark Knight (in my opinion), a superhero/crime fighting masterpiece. Ledger exemplified the character’s antics so flawlessly that no one may ever do it the same kind of justice.
But whether it’s Heath Ledger or Comic Book Joker, he is a badass supervillain who’s intent is to kill and I think he’s worthy of a place on this list.
Ghostface - Scream
Ghostface first appeared in Wes Craven’s Scream, a film which was simultaneously a send-up of the clichés found in slasher movies and an entry into the genre in its own right. He’s one of the most over-the-top and campy killers of recent times, in large part because of the fact that his full ensemble appearance isn’t the most intimidating of all movie killers. Having said that, Ghostface’s does carry a certain amount of fear (scream) factor, and his face alone has become something of a horror movie icon.
What sets Ghostface apart is the fact that his true identity changes with each movie. It’s not just one person under that ghostly mask doing the killing – in fact in the first and second Scream movies it actually turns out to be two people behind the mask. This means that motives for the killings differ depending on who it is. (How exciting)
For example, as part of the first Scream’s plot, Ghostface murdered Sidney’s mother (before the start of the movie) because she slept with the father of one of the killers, Billy Loomis, causing his parents to divorce. Throughout the rest of the trilogy, motives range from pure revenge to the acts of a pure psychopath.
Whatever the motive, Ghostface remains a character that stays with you because of everything from his distinctive appearance, to the way he seems to appear at just the right moments to jump out and scare and/or attack his victims. I certainly wouldn’t like to see that face appear out of nowhere in my house…
Buffalo Bill (aka. Jame Gumb) - Silence of the Lambs
Buffalo Bill is motivated by his sexual orientation and perverse desires. He considers himself transsexual and murders his victims in order to cut off their skin and wear it so that he can feel like a woman. Okaaaaaay…
He specifically targets overweight women for this reason: he pretends to be in need and then kidnaps them using his van. Sadistically, he starves his victims until their skin is loose enough before he kills them and skins them, using their pieces for his “woman suit.” I bet Weight Watchers memberships soared after this movie.
The iconic scene in The Silence of the Lambs when the police find a body with a moth larva down its throat is related to how Gumb is fascinated by the transformation cycles of moths – a perfect representation of his wish to change into a woman.
It’s a testament to how well-written and portrayed a character Buffalo Bill is that he is still memorably disturbing, despite being in the same movie as a certain psychiatrist killer previously mentioned. Brilliantly played by Ted Levine, Buffalo Bill is as compelling as he is bloodcurdling.