For as long as the cinematic medium has been around, moral watchdogs have long sought to expose the allegedly deleterious effects of violent movies on the impressionable young mind.
As the most graphic and explicit of genres, it’s not really surprising that horror films represent a perennial target for parents groups and censorship boards alike. Indeed, people were blaming genre films for actual violence before sound motion pictures were commonplace – as early as 1928, murderers were citing flicks like the the lost(?) Lon Chaney vehicle London After Midnight as scapegoats for their horrendous crimes.
While horror films continued to be blamed for acts of gruesome violence throughout the 20th century – for example, in 1974, a guy named Robert Kleason hacked up two missionaries during a real chainsaw massacre in Texas, while a woman named Patricia Frazier was purportedly inspired to cut out the heart of her own four-year-old daughter after watching The Exorcist – attacks on horror films REALLY started ratcheting up in the 1980s.
Maybe it had something to do with the rise of the Moral Majority and the concurrent “Satanic Panic” going on in the music industry, but for whatever reason, the number of cases involving people who claimed to be pushed to the edge of insanity by slasher and splatter flicks kicked into overdrive once Reagan came into office … and really, hasn’t slowed down since.
So, do the following ten films and franchises really deserve at least some of the blame for the lost lives of innocent people, or are they just being used as a convenient scapegoat to avoid addressing even bigger societal issues when it comes to the catalysts and drivers of modern murder? You be the judge…
1. Halloween II (1981)
In 1984, Californian handyman Richard Boyer was convicted of the murders of Aileen and Francis Harbitz. During the 1982 double slaying, the victims – both of whom were in their late 60s – were stabbed a combined 43 times.
Boyer later told investigators that he was under the influence of both PCP and cocaine at the time of the robbery. On trial, he said he killed the couple because, during a drug-induced hallucination, he had a flashback to Halloween II and thought he was being attacked by Michael Myers. Unsurprisingly, that he still had the wherewithal to fish $50 out of the pockets of his victims after the whirlwind of stabbings did little to help his defense stand up in court.
After getting sentenced to death, Boyer successfully managed to overturn his original conviction … that is, until he was convicted of the crime on appeal in 1992 and given the death sentence yet again. As of 2017, Boyer – who unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of his conviction in a case the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out last year – remains seated on California’s death row.
2. The Friday the 13th Series
The streets of Greenfield, Massachusetts were gripped in panic Halloween 1988. That’s because an 18-year-old college student, Sharon Gregory, was found brutally murdered in her home a week earlier … and the prime suspect, described by one police investigator as a Jason Voorhees wannabe, remained at large.
While details on what transpired that evening are sketchy, what we do know is that Gregory was doing some sort of psychological study of 19-year-old Mark Branch, a young man who was said to be utterly obsessed with the Friday the 13th mythos. For whatever reason, Branch soured on Gregory and decided to stab her to death – apparently, while dressed as the iconic F13 slasher (among other items, cops retrieved a hockey mask and black boots from the crime scene.)
Following several fruitless manhunts, Branch was discovered by a deer hunter three days before Halloween. Branch – who had undergone years of psychiatric treatment – was determined by a medical examiner to have hung himself from a tree shortly after Gregory’s brutal knifing.
3. The Child’s Play Series
Since 1988, the Chucky flicks have been blamed as catalysts for numerous homicides – the most infamous of all being the notorious James Bulger murder from 1993.
Two U.K. 10-year-olds, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, were charged with the grisly homicide of the two-year-old victim – who, among other injuries, had paint splashed in his eyes, batteries crammed into his rectum and his skull shattered by numerous blows from rocks, bricks and a 22-pound iron bar. Investigators later determined that one of the most recent video rentals from one of the murderer’s parents was Child’s Play 3.
While it was never confirmed either murderer actually watched the film, the U.K. press nonetheless ran wild with the idea that the movie directly inspired Bulger’s death, which in turn, led to a major crackdown on the kinds of videos that could be purchased and sold throughout England.
Interestingly, around the same time of the Bulger case, yet another murder transpired in the U.K. with a decisive Chucky bent. This time around, it was much more direct – 16-year-old victim Suzanne Capper was tortured by six captors who injected her with amphetamines in savage attacks that always started out with head tormentor Bernadette McNeilly literally screaming “Chucky’s coming to play” before cutting, beating and burning her. And the soundtrack to these ghastly torture sessions? A rave song that actually included sound bites taken from the first Child’s Play film.
The Child’s Play films have also been blamed for Australia’s worst mass shooting (shooter Martin Bryant, who killed 35 people and injured another 23 in his April 28, 1996 attack at Port Arthur, said his favorite film was Child’s Play 2.)
In 2009, the series were blamed for yet another lamentable incident in the U.K. – one in which a 10-year-old and an 11-year-old were charged with the attempted murder of two younger children in Greater Manchester – and in 2015, the Child’s Play movies were cited again when Russian Elena Lobacheva was arrested in Moscow for the murders of at least a dozen men.
Dubbed “The Bride of Chucky,” Lobacheva was a super-fan who went as far as to get tattoos of Chucky and Tiffany on her arms. “This movie, released over 15 years ago, became sort of instruction for Elena,” one official told Russian media. “Randomly stabbing the body of a dying human brought her pleasure compared to sexual pleasure.”
4. The Nightmare on Elm Street Series
In 2004, Brit Daniel Gonzalez embarked upon a three day murder spree that ultimately claimed the lives of four innocent people and seriously injured two others. In his drug-fueled rampage, Gonzalez initially stabbed a 76-year-old woman to death while wearing a Jason Voorhees-style mask; after that, Gonzalez dropped the goalie gear, stole some larger blades from a store and proceeded to stab a 46-year-old man to death before slaying a geriatric couple during a home invasion.
After being apprehended by police, Gonzalez “explained” his motive: “I just thought about doing it, man – what would it be like just to be maybe Freddy Krueger or something like that, for one day?” In 2006, Gonzalez received six life sentences for his crimes. He committed suicide in prison a year later.
It’s not the only time a Freddy fanboy has been arrested for violent crimes perpetrated in the name of the Springwood Slasher. In 2006, Elm Street aficionado Jason Moore attacked his friend John Skamarski while he slept – with a working replica of Freddy’s notorious razor-glove. The deranged Brit was sentenced to life in prison the following year.
And last Halloween, a man in San Antonio – clad in full Freddy regalia – entered a house party and opened fire on a room full of people. While five partygoers were injured, thankfully no one was mortally wounded. As of Feb. 2017, the gun-wielding Freddy doppleganger remains at large.
5. Warlock (1989)
Sandy Charles, 14, was a Canadian teen utterly obsessed with the fairly obscure cult classic Warlock, a horror version of The Terminator starring Julian Sands as the eponymous unholy antagonist.
In 1995, Charles – with the help of another 8-year-old child – killed 7-year-old Johnathan Thimpsen. According to police reports, the young victim was lured into some shrubs, where he was then knifed and beaten with rocks and beer bottles before ultimately being suffocated to death. After the victim died, Charles then attempted to boil strips of the dead child’s flesh – apparently, an attempt to create a magical flying potion that, in the film, was made from the liquified fat of an unbaptized child.
Charles was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He has spent the last 20 years at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon, where in all likelihood, he will remain for the rest of his life.