For as long as movies have been around, people have complained about their influence on viewer behavior. Even going back to the silent movie era, moral watchdogs have criticized and chastised the cinematic medium for promoting antisocial behavior and goading individuals into imitating the onscreen debauchery and mayhem.
The Lon Chaney movie London After Midnight was blamed for the murder of a young woman in Hyde Park in 1928, the original Scarface was believed to have spiked crime rates in 1932 and so many ruffians and no goodniks cited A Clockwork Orange as an influence on their social misadventures that Stanley Kubrick voluntarily yanked the movie from U.K. circulation.
Although the extent of the impact of media violence on real world violence remains debatable, there are certainly numerous examples out there of heinous, violent and deadly crimes that were clearly inspired by and modeled after famous movies – in fact, the perpetrators of the crimes themselves have come out and directly stated that their criminal actions were based upon scenes from certain movies.
Although the list is lengthy – indeed, you could fill up an entire book with just crimes allegedly inspired by slasher movies – below are ten of the more notorious examples of viewers recreating celluloid havoc offscreen …
1. The Collector (1965)
Based on John Fowles’ novel, The Collector is an extremely morbid and unsettling film from the heyday of free love and flower power. Directed by William (Ben Hur) Wyler, the film focuses on the exploits of sociopath Terence Stamp, who kidnaps his object of unrequited love Samantha Eggar and watches her slowly die in his subterranean lair.
The flick was a favorite of serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng, who – just like Stamp’s character in the film – built a dungeon and used it to warehouse innocent female victims, whom they later raped and murdered … some, on camera.
The movie is also believed to have influenced Christopher Wilder, an Australian who killed eight women in a cross-country rape and murder spree in the United States in 1984, and Robert Berdella – a Kansas City mass murderer who targeted gay men and was convicted of murdering six male victims in 1988.
2. Magnum Force (1973)
There’s a particularly brutal scene in 1973’s Magnum Force where a pimp kills a prostitute by pouring a can of drain cleaner down her throat. Apparently, the movie had quite the impact on Dale Pierre Selby and William Andrews, two men who held five people hostage at a Utah audio equipment store in 1974.
During the crime, the two men forced their bound captives to drink Drano – a highly corrosive chemical that severely burned their mouths and throats, but unlike in the Clint Eastwood film, didn’t kill them instantly.
Selby and Andrews would later fatally shoot three of their hostages (including an 18 year-old girl who was repeatedly raped), leave another permanently brain damaged and attempt to murder the fifth by driving a ballpoint pen through his ear drum. Selby and Andrews were both given the death penalty for their heinous crimes; Selby was executed by lethal injection in 1987, while Andrews was executed via the same method five years later.
3. The Deer Hunter (1975)
Michael Cimino’s Vietnam epic introduced American society to the term “Russian Roulette” via a scene in which depraved Viet Cong troops forced two captives to pass a gun with one bullet in its chamber back and forth, with each man ordered to pull the trigger with the gun pointed at their own head until it finally goes off.
While there’s no official tally for just how many people have died playing Russian Roulette in the United States since the film was released more than 40 years ago, there’s no denying there have been a LOT of deaths attributed to the lethal game popularized by The Deer Hunter.
In 1981, psychiatrist Thomas Radecki estimated that imitations of the film had resulted in at least 25 deaths, a sum The Louisville Courier-Journal raised to 35 in 1989. The most recent high-profile suicide purportedly inspired by the film occurred in 2015, when 20-year-old Chilean Bryan Javier Soto Aguilera lost the game – and his life – reenacting the motion picture’s most (in)famous scene.
4. Robocop 2 (1990)
The grisliest scene in the critically maligned second Robocop movie is undoubtedly the sequence where psycho killer drug kingpin Cain slowly slices a corrupt cop’s chest open … all while forcing his elementary school-aged heir apparent to watch. The scene apparently made quite the impact on spree killer Nathaniel White, who murdered six women in New York in 1991.
In a videotaped confession, White calmly and coolly explained how the aforementioned Robocop 2 kill gave him the idea to brutally murder Juliana Frank in a similar fashion – a woman who was pregnant at the time of her slaying.
“The first girl I killed was from a ‘Robocop’ movie,” White, who is currently serving a 150 year sentence at Attica, told investigators. “I seen him cut somebody’s throat then take the knife and slit down the chest to the stomach and left the body in a certain position. With the first person I killed, I did exactly what I saw in the movie.”
5. The Program (1993)
Although The Program is easily one of the best movies ever made about college football, that’s not what the film is most famous for. When the film was originally released, it included a scene where a bunch of jocks laid down in the middle of a busy roadway to test their courage – complete with cars zipping around them at breakneck speeds.
The scene is believed to have inspired several teenagers in Philadelphia to try out the stunt in real life – and with disastrous consequences. Michael A. Shingledecker Jr., an 18-year-old, was instantly killed when he was hit by a pickup truck traveling down a two-lane road at 1 in the morning, while his friend, 17-year-old Dean G. Bartlett, was seriously injured. Another 17-year-old, Michael Macias, was also severely injured in a similar stunt in New York shortly after the film was released.
The incidents led Touchstone Pictures to re-edit the film to remove the infamous sequence, which – to this day – remains excised from TV airings and DVD prints. Interestingly enough, however, the scene can be seen in the Hong Kong laserdisc print of the film, as well as a few early trailers for the movie.