Top 10 Serial Killer Films to Keep You Entertained Before Netflix’s Mindhunter

It has been a bizarre time for Netflix, one filled with highs and lows. On one hand, Netflix has been plagued by rumours of low profits and fan outrage over frequent cancellations (including favourites Sense8, The Get Out and Girlboss), but on the other hand, the online streaming service is enjoying high membership, especially with the impending release of a number of highly anticipated programs including mini-series Alias Grace and urban fantasy Bright.

While Netflix has some big titles on the way, one program that snuck in under the radar is the crime drama Mindhunter. Netflix’s upcoming series is based on Mind Hunter: Inside FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by author Mark Olshaker and former FBI profiler John E. Douglas, the novel follows Douglas’ work as one of the founding members of the FBI’s elite Behavioural Analysis Unit, responsible for compiling an extensive number of interviews with serial killers across the United States. The subsequent research led to what would become criminal profiling: using pattern detection and psychological assessment to narrow down a suspect list in an investigation.

Over the years, there has been no shortage of entertainment drawn from the stories of the Behavioural Analysis Unit, including television shows such as Law & Order and Criminal Minds. However, as seen in the trailer, Mindhunter will present a much more grounded depiction of the BAU following three fictional profilers (Based on Douglas, Robert Kessler and Ann Burgess) as they conduct interviews across the United States and assist local law enforcement.

For fans of crime fiction, Mindhunter is an exciting concept, especially with the involvement of David Fincher who will not only act as executive producer but also direct a number of episodes. While he is best known for his work on serial killer thrillers (e.g. Se7en, Zodiac), Fincher also has a strong record working with Netflix (House of Cards anyone?) making this an exciting partnership.

But, like all great things, we just have to wait.

October is a long way away and fans can easily be forgiven for being impatient. So, in the meantime, we have a list of ten serial killer films to keep you entertained until October 13th.


10 . Copycat (1995)

The success of The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 led to a saturation of the film market with dozens of serial killer thrillers and dramas. Some were good, some were bad and some were even classics in their own right. One of these classics was Se7en, the only film most fans consider to be equal if not superior to Silence. However, 1995 was also the year that saw the release of one of the most underrated serial killer thrillers ever made: Copycat.

On the surface, Copycat may seem like a lazy collage, incorporating a killer who copies the crimes of other infamous killers including Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, The Boston Strangler and The Hillside Stranglers. However, Copycat is not only a critique of society’s obsession with serial killers but a brilliant character piece headlined with strong performances from Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. Both leads take the stereotypical and cliché character types like the criminal psychologist and detective and add a whole new dimension. Weaver’s Dr. Helen Hudson suffers from an aggressive form of agoraphobia, leaving her trapped in her apartment, not only frequently leaving her at the mercy of a taunting killer, but also highlighting an intense frustration for her. Hudson is not your typical victim. She is a strong willed woman who is physically and mentally trapped. As for Inspector MJ Monahan, Hunter has not only redefined the detective but also molded an archetypal female hero. She is tough, resourceful and friendly, yet she forces herself to conceal any emotions, seen with her shaky actions following the death of a colleague.

Like many thrillers from the 1990s, Copycat was quickly forgotten, relegated to the back shelves of video rental stores. However, the film is still an original, unique and entertaining take on the serial killer sub-genre.

9 . Snowtown (2011)

Despite being the country responsible for light-hearted classics like Crocodile Dundee, Strictly Ballroom and The Adventures of Pricilla, Queen of the Desert, Australia has also explored its own dark side. From the dystopian Mad Max series to the brutal Romper Stomper, the surreal Chopper to the nightmarish Wolf Creek. However, none of these films compare to Snowtown, the naturalistic horror show based on the string of gruesome murders in Adelaide between 1992 and 1999.

Writer Shaun Grant (Berlin Syndrome, Jasper Jones) and director Justin Kurzel (Macbeth, Assassin’s Creed) have perfectly tapped into a dark hub of Australian society, one filled with poverty, despair, and anguish. With a cinema verite approach to style and casting (including several locals with no acting experience), Kurzel managed to craft a feature debut that was less a tale of serial killers and more about the relationship between an emotionally disturbed teen (Lucas Pittaway) and a family friend (Daniel Henshall).

Word of warning, this is a tough film to experience. Poverty, murder, pedophilia, rape, torture and mutilation, Snowtown paints a hopeless and depressing picture of Australian society, and that’s before a single victim is claimed. Snowtown is a tough watch, even for the most dedicated serial killer ‘fan’.

8. Memories of Murder (2003)

Before he wowed international audiences with monster flick The Host, dystopian allegory The Snowpiercer and, most recently, the eco-drama Okja, director Bong Joon-ho launched his career in his native South Korea with the 2003 crime noir Memories of Murder.

Set in 1986, just a few years after the end of the autocratic rule of Park Chung-hee, a series of gruesome murders has gripped the rural city of Hwaseong. Unable to deal with its first serial killer, the locals bring in an experienced investigator from Seoul. But despite the arrival of modern policing tactics, symbolised by the outsider detective, the shadow of authoritarianism still lingers over Korean society. With the failure of DNA evidence to formally identify a suspect, the local investigators are quick to revert their old methods including torture and mock executions against several suspects, including a teenager and a mentally handicapped man.

What makes Memories of Murder so fascinating is its sudden shifts in tone and genre. Part black comedy, part drama, part thriller, part horror and part social commentary, Bong has not only crafted one of the best serial killer films out of Korea, he has also crafted one of the country’s finest films.

7. I Saw the Devil (2010)

Korean revenge films are second to none (eat your heart out Hollywood). Films like Oldboy, The Man from Nowhere, Bedevilled, A Bittersweet Life and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance prove that the small East Asian nation leads the way in revenge cinema. I Saw the Devil, however, is a completely different creature. On one level, it is a bloody, gruesome revenge tale that puts even the most horrific torture porn flicks to shame, but on the other, it is a beautifully shot tragedy that explores the darkest aspects of humanity.

After murdering and dismembering a young woman driving home from work, serial killer Jang (Old Boy’s Choi Min-sik) finds himself on the run when the woman’s husband, Kim (The Magnificent Seven’s Lee Byung-hun), a Black Ops agent, vows revenge.

While best known internationally for the mediocre Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick The Last Stand, director Kim Jee-woon as been responsible for some of the best films out of the Korean New Wave including A Bittersweet Life, A Tale of Two Sisters, The Good, The Bad, The Weird and The Age of Shadows. But nothing compares to the visceral experience that is I Saw the Devil. Never has a film been able to contrast both the beautiful and the ugly in one short film. This is a tough film to watch, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually.

6. Zodiac (2007)

While better known for his work on the classic serial killer thriller/horror Se7en, director David Fincher is also responsible for this underrated gem that has found a new fan base over the years. Despite numerous murders that spanned across two decades, an inability to calculate an exact victim toll and accusations that he took credit for murders he did not commit, the Zodiac still remains one of 20th Century’s greatest mysteries and Fincher once again proves why he’s the master of the serial killer sub-genre.

With dozens of journalists, investigators, experts and victims to choose from, Fincher narrows the story down to the work by journalists Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr) along with San Francisco Police Inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) in their attempts to identify the mysterious Zodiac killer.

Shot in digital with a number of ‘invisible’ CGI shots, Fincher has not only perfectly reconstructed San Francisco in the 1970’s, but also an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. While the film is restrained by actual historical events, including a history that is familiar to the audience, Fincher still manages to find the tension and horror in the tale of a serial killer who is possibly still walking the streets.

5. M (1931)

Before being forced to flee Germany for France in 1934, director Fritz Lang was partially responsible for establishing the German film industry. While films like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari popularised German Expressionism, Lang’s work elevated the art of cinema. While Metropolis stands as a classic in Sci-Fi cinema, M possibly stands as one of the first serial killer films ever made.

Set in Weimar Berlin, the brief era of democracy in Germany before the rise of the Nazis, a series of child abductions have gripped the city. The police, led by Inspector Karl Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), have locked down the city in their search, ultimately impacting the criminal underworld forcing them to hunt down Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) and try him in a kangaroo court.

Nearly 85 years later and M still stands as a classic amongst the serial killer sub-genre, even when the very concept of serial killers was just starting to enter the popular lexicon. The character of Karl Lohmann is based on Ernst Gennat, the director of the Berlin Criminal Police who is often credited with coining the term serial killer. But even in its infancy, the serial killer sub-genre started with a bang.

4 . Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990)

While almost forgotten today, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was one of the most shocking cinematic experience of the 1990s and the decade was barely into its first year. From the opening murder in a diner to the haunting conclusion, Henry is yet another nihilistic approach to the sub-genre, devoid of hope and happiness.

When drifter and sociopathic serial killer Henry (Michael Rooker) meets drug dealer Otis (Tom Towles) and his sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), the trio becomes a family unit, almost incestuous in nature. Feeding off each other’s darkest desires, Henry and Otis go on a murder spree across the city of Chicago.

Banned in a number of countries upon its release and victim to many cuts, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a haunting glimpse into the psyche of a serial killer. Loosely based on the real crimes committed by infamous killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole who claimed to have murdered over 3000 people. The exact number, however, is highly disputed but clearly, the mystery behind Lucas and Toole’s crime fascinated the public. Three feature films and two documentaries have been made on Lucas and his crimes but Henry is not the most memorable, it is one of the most chilling depictions of a serial killer ever committed to screen.

3. Psycho (1960)

It is no secret that Alfred Hitchcock struggled to bring his adaptation of the Robert Bloch novel to the big screen. After all, the biopic Hitchcock, with Anthony Hopkins as the titular director, detailed just how the film that would end up defining his career almost killed the famed director. Despite being the man behind classics such as Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Strangers on a Train, Hitchcock struggled to gain funding and permission to shoot his new passion project.

And for a good reason.

Today, serial killers are a common trope in popular culture, appearing in film, television, video games and literature. Back in the 1950’s however, the topic was still very much taboo. Inspired the crimes of Ed Gein (who also influenced Hannibal Lector and Leatherface), Hitchcock picked a highly provocative influence for his film. Gein only had two victims during his life but his relationship with his deceased mother, his grave robbing, and his choices in home decoration would surely be a concern for studio executives and financiers.

But, fortunately, audiences in the 1960’s were ready for a brand new type of horror. One that focused on one of the most unassuming serial killers ever seen: A softly spoken, neurotic mummy’s boy. Anthony Perkins plays this to perfection, illustrating that the most terrifying killers are not the creeps or weirdos, but the ones you never see coming.

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs is widely regarded as one of the best serial killer films and credited with legitimising the genre as one of only four horror films (including The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, and Jaws) to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The Silence of the Lambs is largely responsible for launching an era of dark thrillers throughout the 1990s.

While often depicted as a crime thriller and even a horror film, The Silence of the Lambs, however, could be best described as a character study and both Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. As serial killer and profiler respectively, Hopkins and Fosters ensure that the tensest moments of the film are between these two characters. An incredible feat when you consider how many tense moments litter this film.

While the film has inspired two sequels, a prequel, and a television series, none of it even comes close to the creepy masterpiece that is The Silence of the Lambs.

1 . Se7en (1995)

Three years before making Se7en, director David Fincher vowed never to work on another feature film. The studio interference on his debut film, Alien 3, had left Fincher disillusioned with studios and feature films, prompting him to return to work as a music video and commercial director. Fortunately, he was coaxed back thanks to a spec script written by first-time screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker. What they created was one of the most shocking film endings ever committed to the big screen.

The story is simple enough. Two detectives, one a cynical veteran (Morgan Freeman) and another a hopeful rookie (Brad Pitt) are teamed up to investigate a series of brutal murders inspired by the seven deadly sins. As each crime grows more gruesome and both detectives begin to question the morality of the world around them, Walker and Fincher suddenly pull the rug out from under their audience.

No spoilers here but the final twist is what makes Se7en. Not only is it unexpected and gruesome, it dramatically changes the entire film. We watch Se7en transforms from a thriller to a horror film. New Line Cinema attempted to change this ending to something safer and more cliché but Fincher and Pitt both threatened to walk off the film. A smart decision in the end as Se7en quickly became one of the most talked about films of the year, helping launch the careers of Fincher, Pitt, and Walker.

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Top 10 Serial Killer Films to Keep You Entertained Before Netflix’s Mindhunter

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