Weekend Binge: 5 grisly movies about serial killers that you (probably) haven’t seen
With David Fincher’s Netflix show, Mindunter, making for a dark binge watch, and Michael Fassbender’s The Snowman around the corner, let’s take a look at 5 underrated serial killer movies.weekend binge Updated: Oct 21, 2017 20:13 IST
Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.
While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.
Each time a legendary filmmaker steps back into their favourite sandbox is a cause for celebration for us film nerds. Think Martin Scorsese making another gangster picture, or Steven Spielberg returning to science-fiction. Food and sleep - and other necessities of life - would take a back-seat on such occasions. This week, we saw one of the best directors of all time, and certainly my favourite, David Fincher, returning to that old fascination of his - the psychology of serial killers. His new show - Mindunter, which you can read about here - was him returning to explore the same themes he mined in some of his best films - Se7en, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
But as hard as it is to say, that’s the last time we’ll talk about those films here - even though there is an overwhelming temptation to simply populate this week’s list with just a bunch of Fincher movies and call it a day.
This week, however, we’re going to be talking about some of the best serial killer movies that exist just beneath the most popular ones, once you ritualistically peel away the top layer. These are films, that because of their lowkey nature, escaped the scrutiny most movies such as The Silence of the Lambs or American Psycho have to fend off on a daily basis.
Summer of Sam
In many ways, Spike Lee’s telling of the elusive Son of Sam murders that took place in the summer of 1977 were a major source of inspiration for David Fincher. They happened in the same year as the events depicted in Mindhunter, and stylistically and tonally, Summer of Sam has had a clear influence on Fincher’s films. However, it’s still a Spike Lee joint - with those trademark dolly shots, his preoccupation with race dynamics, and how he sets a larger story against a more intimate backdrop of a New York City neighbourhood.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Famously, the film was rated ‘X’ by the Motion Picture Association of America and fuelled a heated debate about censorship. Stories of how shocked audiences reacted to its realistic portrayal of violence, and the institutional revamp this depiction inspired, sort of overpowered most everything else about the film. However, even in the decades that have passed, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer remains one of the most uncomfortable insights into the mind of a madman. Perfect binge material for after Mindhunter.
Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer/Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
Renowned documentarian Nick Broomfield isn’t one to shy away from controversial subjects, or to back out of confrontation. With his two films about Aileen Wournos, who was executed in 2002 for having killed seven men, he attempts to humanise a person whom he feels was wronged by the world, and was forced to commit the crimes she was convicted of. These are, if you’ve seen Mindhunter, the exact sentiments that send the show’s protagonist on his journey. The films - both available on Netflix, by the way - also provided Charlize Theron, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Wournos in Monster, insightful research material. You should also, if you respond positively to this, find time for Broomfield’s 2015 film, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, another documentary about a serial killer.
It’s one of cinema’s best kept secrets that no one does depraved horror quite like the Aussies - except, maybe, the Koreans, but more on that in a bit. There has been a new wave of psychological horror coming out of Australia that is, categorically, some of the best out there. Snowtown is a dark story about rural brothers, family secrets, and unchained violence. It is a mentally wrenching reminder that director Justin Kurzel, before he made Assassin’s Creed, showed real promise.
I Saw the Devil
The Koreans have cornered the market when it comes to such films, and while there are other, more popular, Korean serial killer movies out there - watch this only after watching Memories of Murder - I Saw the Devil fits the bill for what we’re going for here. It is, after all, a unique opportunity to see three legends of modern Korean cinema - Lee Byung-hun, Choi Min-sik, and director Kim Jee-woon - come together to create something quite shocking, and very, very haunting.