It’s hard to define a “serial killer movie” as there can be a serial killer in all kinds of films; it can be a social justice film or it can be a political film. It can be about how we want to explore the psychology of those people, similar to “Angst” or “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Those two are also worth watching if you haven’t seen them, but then there are mystery movies, where we don’t know who’s committing crimes and we want to find out.
The following 10 films are all different from each other, but all are interesting or entertaining works. Some raise socio-political questions about the treatment of killers by the law, and some are trying to explore their psychology – to dramatic or even comedic effects. Some others are just mysteries where we want to find out what’s going on. So hopefully there’s something for everyone.
10. Jack’s Back (1988)
It’s a strange film that doesn’t necessarily appeal to everyone, mainly because its pacing can be off-putting for some, but there’s no denying that it’s an unpredictable and unusual film, even if the film’s basic plot would claim otherwise. The basic plot is set in Los Angeles and it’s been nearly 100 years since Jack the Ripper’s killings, and someone starts to commit copycat murders, or some kind of homage to those murders. A young medical volunteer gets arrested for their crimes and soon, things get complicated.
James Spader plays dual roles in the film; he’s that charming medical volunteer and then the curious, more serious brother. Spader had a great run in films at the time and even though he can still claim to have an impressive career, he’s had fewer and fewer movie roles and some might have forgotten that he used to be one of the most interesting actors of his generation; his performance helps to make the film engaging and intriguing. The film is directed by Rowdy Herrington, who later went to make “Road House,” a much different film, but he previously worked on the sets of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Repo Man,” which shows its influence on this film; its lighting, editing, and in color in particular. His career has been obscure since then but it seems he became friends with Spader as he starred in some of his later films, including an underrated, entertaining flick called “The Stickup,” which you should check out if you love bank robber stories.
9. Rampage (1987)
Its year can also be credited to 1992 as it took five years to get a proper release. The film’s producer went into bankruptcy and it was left in the air until Miramax picked it up. Directed by the great William Friedkin, the movie went through re-editing and a different ending in the 1992 version. You better check out the other ending when you watch the film; it’s obvious that the movie itself is tackling such subjects that Friedkin himself wasn’t always too sure what to think about. As for the plot, Friedkin himself explains as such: “It’s the story of a young man (Charles Reece) who kills random victims four days before Christmas. The novel examined not only the morality of the death penalty and the insanity defense, but issues such as justice versus revenge as well as gun control.”
Years later, Friedkin didn’t think he hit the mark with the film, but then again, that’s the way he thinks about most of his films, sometimes unfairly. If you check out his Charlie Rose interview to promote this film, he has a similar kind of disappointment with “To Live and Die in L.A.” as well, which is now much more respected and acclaimed. “Rampage,” however, is one of his most underrated films. Friedkin’s films sometimes raised controversies, such as “The Exorcist,” “Cruising” and “Rules of Engagement” – all for different reasons – and if “Rampage” had been seen by more people, it might get similar kinds of discussions as well. As usual with most of his films, it’s a film that is worth checking out and definitely will lead to discussions. The late, great Ennio Morricone wrote a great score for this movie that you should also check out.
8. Tightrope (1984)
Some of Clint Eastwood’s action heroes tend to have a dark side. The same goes for “Tightrope,” which you shouldn’t confuse with any of those “Dirty Harry” movies. It’s a different character and yes, it doesn’t explore the darkness of our lead character much, but the script is playful with that aspect, which makes this mystery story even more interesting to watch. It helps that Clint himself is fully committed and gives actually one of his finest, most underrated performances of the era.
As for the story, it’s about a sinister serial murderer who commits rapes and crimes in the red light district in New Orleans. The investigating policeman, a private regular in various rooms, sees himself drawn into the maelstrom of the crime until he succeeds in destroying the perpetrator. Wes Block, a single dad whom we’ll witness to be not so unfamiliar with those areas, soon realizes that the killer is familiar with the working methods of the police, because even after further murders there is not even the slightest bit of evidence. But then the killer block sets a trap through which the policeman himself comes under suspicion of murder. It’s not much of an action-y film, but the tone is intense, and the story keeps you guessing. Look out for Alison Eastwood as Amanda Block. The writing is very good, with some fine, quotable lines, delivered by Eastwood in the most delicious way.
7. Felicia’s Journey (1999)
Felicia, a young unemployed Irish woman from a humble background, meets Johnny, who is about the same age, in her hometown. After a brief romance, Johnny makes his way to England to, as he says, take up a job in a factory in Birmingham. When he said goodbye to Felicia, Johnny promised her that he would write a letter to give her his address as soon as he arrived in England, but no letter was received. Felicia’s father tells her that in truth, Johnny went to England to join the British Army, which makes him unsustainable for her father. Felicia doesn’t believe him. When she finds out that she is pregnant, she leaves her hometown and heads to Birmingham to find Johnny. While looking for Johnny, she meets the single elderly Hilditch, who works as a master chef and canteen manager in a large factory. He offers to let her live with him until she finds Johnny.
The 1990s was a decade where serial killer movies were in demand due to successes of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Se7en,” but “Felicia’s Journey,” based on an acclaimed novel with a masterful performance from Bob Hoskins, stands out for several reasons. The interweaving of story lines may be unexpected for some audiences, but it helps to develop the characters even better. The superb performances make it worth watching, while getting the message behind the film may take repeated views.
6. Memoir of a Murderer (2017)
He killed his abusive father when he was a teenager; he decided that some people deserve to die, but the day comes for this serial killer when he ends up in an accident that results with him having degenerative Alzheimer’s disease. His conditions worsened through the years, but the time has now come for him to protect his daughter from her psychotic boyfriend.
As it is obvious from the plot, this is not your usual serial killer story and it goes to places you don’t expect. Like another film on the list, this has an alternative ending that you should check out as well and make up your mind on which one you prefer more. One thing for sure is that South Korean cinema stands out for their dark atmospheric thrillers, and this one is also among some of the most original ones of the recent years, even though it didn’t get much attention compared to some. Those who like “I Saw the Devil” may particularly enjoy this one, though it has a bit of a “Memento” spin on it, or maybe “Insomnia.” But it’s surely a ride worth taking. There’s also an impressive lead performance that remains fascinating to watch.