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The 10 Best Serial Killer Movies Based On Real-Life Murderers

23 August 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Roger Batty

There’s little doubt that serial killers, be they real or invented, appeal to our darker side, and we are fascinated by how they tick, and why they carry out such heinous crimes. So, as a result, there have been more than a few films charting the course of these most disturbed and alien off shoots of mankind. Below is a list of ten films that effectively portray, and capture some of history’s most infamous serial killers , their lives and their acts of violence and murder.

For this list, it seemed right and sensible to try, and focus on the more factual portrayals of serial killers. So, as a result, there are no Silence Of The Lambs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Wolf Creek, or Psycho. As each of these well respected and influential films only uses elements of cases, stretch facts way too far, or readily invent.


10. The Boston Strangler (1968)

Boston Strangler

The Boston Strangler is the earliest film on this list as it was made in the last years of the 1960’s, and it’s also one of the more experimental films on this list too. The experimental elements come from the use of split-screen, which at times finds the screen cut into as many as ten separate parts at one time, this element of the film is certainly interesting, though not effective all of the time.

The film is very much a game of two half’s, the first half is fairly standard police procedure drama. And the second half sees killer Albert Henry DeSalvo getting caught after strangling thirteen women, and his resulting police interviewed.

The film’s killer was played by Tony Curtis, which is a fairly surprising choice, as Mr. Curtis was more known for his often lighter/comedic roles. But he does a fairly good job in the role, though at times possible overacting a just little. All in all, The Boston Strangler is an important movie in the history of the serial killer in the film, though at times a little hit and miss in both its use of split screens and its pacing, hence it’s placed at number ten in the list.


9. The Manson Family (1997)

The Manson Family (2003)

This late 1990’s movie is the most known and revered of US underground horror director Jim Van Bebber’s output. The film attempts to tell the sexually fired, depraved, and brutally violent story of the Manson Family’s descent into madness, and the frenzied house invasions that took the life of Sharon Tate and her unborn baby. It’s jarringly edited, jumps back and forth through time frames/situations, and at times looks a bit too amateurish in both its acting and somewhat wonky period detail.

But if one accepts its low budget context and often scatterbrain editing, you’ll find it’s truly deranged and intense visual Head-F**k that assaults your visual sensors with grimy soft-core moments, extremely brutal murder scenes, psychedelic colors, different types of film stock, and Charles Manson as a blood splattered and horned devil. Think a more low-grade and perverse version of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers and you get some kind of idea what to expect here.


8. The Hillside Strangler (2004)

The Hillside Strangler (2004)

During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, there was a glut of rather badly conceived, acted and made serial killer films. One of the better films to appear in 2000’s was this adaptation of the Hillside Strangler case. The Hill Side Strangler(s) were cousins Kenneth Alessio Bianchi and Angelo Anthony Buono, Jr, who strangled and dumped the bodies of ten women in and around the Los Angles area in the late 1970’s.

And this 2004 film nicely recreates the sleazy side of the 70’s, with the cousins being played by C. Thomas Howell, who is most known for his lead role in Francis Ford Coppola 1983’s teen gang film The Outsiders. And TV and film actor Nicholas Turturro, so they both add depth and clarity to the cases key roles. And while there are moments of unpleasant violence/ threat present throughout much of the film’s runtime, the whole thing manages to portray the details and facts of the case in a balanced manner, as well a making a suspenseful yet nasty film.


7. Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)

Deranged (1974)

1950’s grave robber, murder, and cannibal Ed Gein is probably one of the most influential of all serial killers in cinema, as he went on to inspire what was arguably the first modern horror film, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960’s classic Psycho.

Also one of the decade defining 1970’s horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, plus a slew of mommy loving celluloid psychos ever since. But of all the film adaptations, 1974’s Deranged is the most authentic telling of the Gein case (though it does still make a few adjustments). It’s also a great slice of ghoulish 1970’s cinema, which is edged with elements of pitch black humor, pathos and lo-fi yet effective special effects.


6. The Deliberate Stranger (1986)

The Deliberate Stranger (1986)

Named after the book of the same name, this 80’s TV film (original a two part affair) told the story of American Serial killer Ted Bundy, who in the 1970’s killed around thirty women.

Over the years, there have been a few attempts at telling the Bundy story in film, but Deliberate Stranger stands as the better tellings of the case, Firstly we have Mark Harmon, a seasoned and talented TV and film actor giving a great performance as Bundy. Next, the film sticks to facts, but never get too sensational or OTT in the gore department. Simply put, it’s a well balanced and well acted dramatizing of the Bundy case



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  • Zwei

    In ‘The Boston Strangler’ we can trace the origins of that dark, shady commercial cinema of Hollywood in the seventies. Great the direction of a Richard Fleischer that draws narrative gold from a resource, today something rancid, like the multiple screens and that looks with those planes so close to the faces of the actors, great Tony Curtis, in the interrogations in a cramped white room (very Kubrickian at times). Zodiac has a clear ancestor to show his respect. Masterpiece of the “popular” cinema undoubtedly

  • Paul Steventon

    I would have squeezed Citizen X in somewhere

  • Jasper Sapien.

    I wonder if I’d have appreciated ‘zodiac’ more if I hadn’t seen memories of murder so soon before it.

  • GDragon

    Memories of Murder?????

    • Jasper Sapien.

      What about it?

      • Magus

        Well it’s better than anything on this list.

        • Jasper Sapien.

          Then, make that point in your initial comment. And maybe don’t do it after two other people have said exactly the same thing.

          • Magus

            The point he was making seems obvious…
            And who cares?

          • Jasper Sapien.

            I do. Evidently. The comments here would be better if people didn’t post the same movies other people already have, and with several question marks after it.

  • Cristian Andrés Muñoz Levill

    M (1931) ???

    • bluesborn

      One of the first serial killer films and certainly one of the very best

    • Adrian

      According to Fritz Lang himself, the movie was not based on specifical real life person, hence not fitting the title of the article.

  • Kosta Jovanovic

    Memories of murder

  • Ricardo Correia

    Monster is the best film on the film

  • ArmitageX

    “Summer of Sam”?

  • bluesborn

    The Snowtown Murders bathroom torture scene shook me to my core the first time I saw it. Although not particularly graphic it captures the shockingly repellent need in the twisted mind of a ruthless killer to inflict horrific pain and to GLOAT obscenely over those terrible crimes in a way that I’ve rarely seen
    anywhere in film.

  • Citizen X ????