Must-See Films About Infamous Serial Killers

Above: The true crime craze shows no signs of slowing down
Above: The true crime craze shows no signs of slowing down

There’s no shortage of documentaries, books and podcasts to choose from if you’re one of the millions of people fascinated by true crime right now. It’s pretty clear that real life stories are just as, if not more, horrifying as fiction. Serial killers in particular seem to be a bottomless source of material for the film industry. Recent documentaries taking the genre by storm include HBO’s Mommy Dead and Dearest and the Netflix series The Keepers. If a feature film is more your thing here are a few every true crime fan should watch at some point— and a few upcoming ones to look forward to too.

Karla
2006
In the 2006 film Karla, Laura Prepon plays one half of notorious Canadian serial killer couple Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. The film is controversial because it’s told from Homolka’s point of view and portrays her as another victim of Bernardo, saying everything she did (including helping him rape her own sister) was because she under his control. In reality, that’s not the whole story, but in order for Homolka to testify against Bernardo as a credible witness she had to be cast as a victim. The film touches on Homolka’s cool, indifferent demeanour, acknowledging the fact that while she might have been a victim in the eyes of the law, she did help facilitate her husband’s crimes.

Monster

2003
Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her role as one of most infamous female serial killers in America, Aileen Wuornos in Monster. That alone makes it a must-watch, but the story of how Wuornos went from drifter, to cold-blooded killer to a warped kind of feminist hero make it essential true crime viewing. Since a lot of Wuornos’ history can’t be verified (like her claims that she killed seven men in self defence), the film should be taken as one possible version of events and not a 100% accurate portrayal of what actually happened.

Summer of Sam
1976
David Berkowitz, AKA the Son of Sam or the .44 Caliber Killer, killed six people and wounded seven others in New York City during the summer of 1976. Spike Lee’s 1999 film focuses more on the tensions that arise in a Bronx neighbourhood during the shootings than on Berkowitz himself, but it’s an interesting angle for understanding how a serial killer on the loose affects a community and changes how people behave.

Zodiac

2007
The Zodiac killer terrorized northern California during the late 60s and early 70s, killing at least five people and injuring 2 others (although, he claimed to have killed up to 37 people). In the film, Jake Gylenhaal plays a newspaper comic artist who works at a Bay Area newspaper that receives a letter from the self-professed “Zodiac killer.” The letter is written in a code called a “cryptogam”, which to this day has not been definitively solved. There have been multiple suspects in the Zodiac killer case, but no one has ever been charged and it’s unlikely anyone ever will be.

My Friend Dahmer
In production
There aren’t many serial killers out there as depraved as Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal. He murdered, dismembered and cannibalized 17 men and boys from 1978 until 1991 when he was finally arrested. Set to be released this year, My Friend Dahmer is based on a graphic novel of the same name by John Backderf, who went to high school with Dahmer. Former Disney star Ross Lynch will portray Dahmer as a teenager before he started killing.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
In production
Probably one of the most well-known serial killers, Ted Bundy is perfect movie-material because he was so charming and deceptive. It was recently announced that Zac Efron has been cast to play Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile set to start production soon. The film will be from the perspective of Bundy’s long time girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer—who he dated for seven years while he was busy murdering over 30 women. She initially refused to believe he could have hurt anyone, but eventually went to the police to report her suspicions.

Devil in the White City
In production
H.H Holmes has been called America’s first serial killer for his reign of terror in late 1800’s Chicago. He used the World’s Fair as a hunting ground and built an elaborate murder house where he tortured and killed his victims. He was put to death in 1896 but rumours swirled that he somehow managed to fake his death and escape (his body was recently exhumed to put the rumours to rest). Leonardo Dicaprio is set to star as Holmes, with Martin Scorsese directing, in the film adaption of Devil in the White City, Erik Larson’s book about the infamous serial killer and the World’s Fair.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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