Serial killers have long had a stranglehold, no pun intended, over the imaginations of ordinary people. Something about a person willing to take a life is so fascinating to those who couldn't imagine it. However, most depictions of serial killers in film inadvertently fetishize them by painting them as sleek, orderly, cool gods with little flaws. These 15 films reject the serial killer obsession that has washed over our culture since true crime has soared in popularity.
1 – The House That Jack Built (2018)
Directed by Lars von Trier, this controversial film follows the life of Jack, a highly intelligent serial killer, over twelve years. Set against the backdrop of 1970s America, the movie explores Jack's twisted psyche as he commits increasingly gruesome murders and reflects on his mortality. The film brilliantly satirizes Jack's psychopathy by giving him Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and highlights the absurdity of his crimes.
2 – One Hour Photo (2002)
Starring Robin Williams in a rare dramatic role, this psychological thriller follows the story of Sy Parrish, a photo developer obsessed with a suburban family whose pictures he regularly processes. As he uncovers dark secrets about the family's past, Sy's obsession turns dangerous, and he begins to stalk them.
3 -The Lovely Bones (2009)
Directed by Peter Jackson, this film was adapted from a novel by Alice Sebold. It tells the story of Susie Salmon, a 14-year-old girl who is murdered by her neighbor, George Harvey. As Susie watches over her family and friends from the afterlife, she realizes the true extent of Harvey's evil nature and the impact of her death.
4 – The Golden Glove (2019)
Set in 1970s Hamburg, this German film i about Fritz Honka, a lonely and disturbed man who frequents a seedy bar called The Golden Glove. Honka begins to pick up women from the bar and takes them home, where he tortures and kills them. The film is a harrowing portrayal of Honka's crimes and the squalid environment in which they took place.
5 – Zodiac (2007)
Based on the real story of the unsolved Zodiac Killer case, this film follows the investigation of a San Francisco cartoonist, Robert Graysmith, who becomes obsessed with solving the case. As he works with police investigators to try and track down the killer, he becomes increasingly entangled in the mystery and puts his own life at risk. The film explores the pitfalls of true crime/serial killer obsession.
6 – Halloween Ends (2022)
The latest entry in the long-running Halloween franchise, this film brings the story of Michael Myers to a close. Taking place immediately after the events of 2018's Halloween, we see Myers continuing his reign of terror in Haddonfield, Illinois, as Laurie Strode and her family try to stop him once and for all.
This final installment explores how the terror caused by one man can live on even after death by inspiring others. I know this is a controversial take, but this was my favorite Halloween film of the franchise.
7 – The King of Comedy (1982)
Directed by Martin Scorsese, this film is a dark satire of the entertainment industry. It stars Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, a delusional aspiring comedian who becomes obsessed with a late-night talk show host, Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis). Pupkin kidnaps Langford and holds him, hostage, demanding a spot on his show in exchange for his release.
8 – Insomnia (2002)
A psychological thriller directed by Christopher Nolan, this film follows a Los Angeles homicide detective, Will Dormer (played by Al Pacino), who travels to a small town in Alaska to investigate a murder. As he becomes increasingly sleep-deprived, Dormer's mental state begins to unravel, and he finds himself caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the killer.
9 – Natural Born Killers (1994)
Directed by Oliver Stone, this controversial film tells the story of Mickey and Mallory Knox, a young couple who embark on a killing spree across America. The film is a commentary on media violence and the glorification of killers in popular culture, and it uses a variety of experimental techniques to tell its story.
10 – Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Directed by John McNaughton, this film is a stark and unflinching portrayal of the life of Henry Lee Lucas, a real-life serial killer who murdered dozens of people in the 1970s and 80s. The film follows Henry and his roommate, Otis, as they senseless killing sprees, and it explores the psychology of a killer who seems to have no motivation other than a desire for power and control.
11 – The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
This psychological thriller follows a teenage boy named Tyler who begins to suspect that his upstanding father, Don is a notorious serial killer known as the Clovehitch Killer. As Tyler delves deeper into his investigation, he uncovers disturbing secrets about his family and community that force him to question his beliefs and assumptions. The film is a tense and chilling exploration of the dark underbelly of small-town America and the secrets that can lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic communities.
12 – Creep (2014)
This found footage horror film follows a freelance videographer named Aaron, who is hired by a mysterious man named Josef to film a series of videos for his unborn son. As Aaron spends more time with Josef, he begins to suspect that the man is not who he claims to be and that he may be in danger. The film is a slow-burning and unsettling exploration of the twisted mind of a would-be serial killer, with a haunting and memorable performance from Mark Duplass as Josef.
13 – Angst (1983)
In the 1983 movie, Angst, we follow a man as he gets out of prison for killing an elderly woman. As he takes his first few steps outside, he decides he wants to kiss again and starts to attack people that do not deserve his sick way. Throughout the rest of the entire movie, you want nothing more than for the man to stop what he's doing and get caught. There's nothing to idolize in this film.
14 – Maniac (1980)
Maniac is a dark and twisted film. Frank misses his mother who died a few years before in a car accident. While she was a terrible mother, he feels like he needs her in his life. In order to try and keep her spirit with him, Frank kills young women and puts their heads around his apartment. This movie explores the difficult relationships people have with abusive parents, but it's a dark film where Frank isn't a winner.
15 – Martin (1977)
Martin is about a man who is convinced he is a vampire and needs to drink blood. So Martin finds young victims and sedates them so he can drink their blood like the vampire he believes he is. The movie follows his dark path, and you want nothing more than for him to be caught.