Characters amok: The representation of serial killers in American film

Date of Completion

January 1994


American Studies|Sociology, Criminology and Penology|Cinema




This work examines the representation of serial killer characters in American films. The sample includes one hundred and seventy-two films released between 1931 and 1992. Demographic information regarding serial killer characters is compared with the known information about actual serial killers. Stated motivational factors and explanations of such characters are also compared with actual cases. In addition to comparisons between actual cases and characters, particular recurrent themes are analyzed. These themes include the connections made between serial killer characters and the metaphysical, the sexual politics of serial killer films, and the characters' association with mythic monsters, such as the vampire. This work concludes that the representation of the serial killer character is paradoxical. Often films present serial killer characters as humans, while at the same time depicting them as having super abilities and unnatural talents. In this context the linkages made between the serial killer character and the supernatural are explored. The implications of such presentations of serial killer characters on actual perceptions of serial killers are also discussed. ^