Movies & TV

The Best Serial Killer Movies Of All Time

The most stylish, scary and downright sickening cinema about killers hiding in plain sight
IMAGE AMERICAN PSYCHO
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Did you walk past a serial killer today? Maybe it was in the carriage of a packed commuter train, maybe a brushed shoulder in the refrigerated aisle of the supermarket. You probably didn't... but, maybe? They could be anywhere or nowhere and you'd never even know. Until they started murdering you, that is.

How exciting!

Clandestine killers have long been a grisly obsession for movie directors and cinema-goers alike. With that in mind, and seeing as you're far too grown-up, stylish and or emotionally distant to dress up or do anything that requires real effort for Halloween, we decided to do the heavy lifting for you, with a list of all the best serial killer movies ever made.

1|  Halloween (1978)

Forget the impossibly knotted web of sequels, prequels and reboots which followed the first Halloween. The original is perhaps the essential horror film of the last 50 years, pitching the voyeurism of Hitchcock's creepiest films into anonymous suburban America's back yard. Michael Myers could be lurking in your neighborhood.

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Myers, sent to a psychiatric hospital after murdering his sister when he was 6, escapes 15 years later and stalks more victims. His blank, hollow eyes light on Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, in her first big role), who enlists the help of Dr Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) to evade him. It's got a belting soundtrack too.

2|  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1982)

Tobe Hooper's extraordinary, visceral, darkly hilarious slasher had one of the best poster taglines ever written: "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" In it, chainsaw-wielding giant Leatherface and his ghoulish, partially undead family take literal and psychological chunks out of a group of country teens lost in the sticks.

Made on a tiny budget, its power is in its vérité style and lulling rhythms which suddenly jerk you from atmospheric road movie to quasi-occult chiller riddled with post-Watergate paranoia and mistrust. It's also the source of loads of horror conventions that lesser films trot out by rote, like the faceless masked murderer and the power tool as weapon. None ever did it so well as this, though.

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3|  10 Rillington Place (1971)

This underappreciated little gem wasn't much liked when it was first released, but its retelling of the desperately sad story of the Christie murders of the 1950s deserves another look.

Richard Attenborough is the softly spoken serial killer John Christie, who presented himself as a doctor to women near in his flat who he'd then murder, and a very young John Hurt is the patsy he tries to frame for murder of his wife and child. It's a creeper rather than a straight-up horror, and just to add to the chill factor, it was filmed only two doors along from the actual house in Notting Hill where the killings happened.

4|  Frenzy (1972)

Late period Hitchcock can be a bit hit-and-miss, but his penultimate film was a triumph, recapturing the tone of his conspiracy thrillers of the 1940s with the sly humor of Anthony Shaffer's script and a classic set-up of the wrong man being chased for a crime he didn't commit.

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Covent Garden market trader Bob Rusk sets up his friend Richard Blaney to take the blame for a string of stranglings. It's all done with energy and flair, and there are a couple of classic Hitchcockian set pieces in there too, most notably the tracking shot which leaves a room mid-murder and mingles among shoppers blissfully unaware of the horror happening feet away.

5|  Zodiac (2007)

Based on the true story of a killer, who terrorized San Francisco and northern California in the late Sixties, Zodiac is David Fincher's take on one of the most infamous manhunts in U.S. history (you better believe that it's tense).

Featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and lots of Fincher-esque close-ups in dimly lit interrogation rooms, Zodiac may be long (162 minutes), but who said catching a killer (NOT Ted Cruz) would be easy? Nobody, that's who.

6|  Monster (2004)

Charlize Theron won a thoroughly-deserved Best Actress Oscar for her stark and despairing descent into the true story of Aileen Wuornos, a woman whose desperate attempts at roadside prostitution leads to far more sinister and irreversible acts.

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A far cry from elegant fragrance icon Theron, Wuornos is pockmarked, dishevelled and emotionally crippled, while Christina Ricci as her naive sidekick is equally as impressive... and tragic.

Complex, moving and bleak, this is a serial killer movie to make you sit in silence for a while once the credits roll.

7|  Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Come on Clarice, you knew this one was coming. The fact that Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for just 16 minutes of screen time as the Chianti and flesh-loving monster, Dr. Hannibal Lecter is evidence enough that - if by some grace of Lucifer - you haven't seen Silence of the Lambs yet, then you should really get on that right away.

"Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude." Just one of many pieces of sage advice from Hopkins' Lecter.

8|  Psycho (1960)

Inspired by the story of Ed Gein, a murderer with a particular penchant for interior design that featured human body parts, Hitchcock's Psycho is a classic in the genre and one of the most influential films of all time; pushing the boundaries in violence, sexuality and shower scenes.

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Terrifying in its build-up and stifling tension, Hitchcock famously bought up every copy of Robert Bloch's novel prior to his film's release, in order to maintain the mystery and horror of Norman Bates, his mum and his murderous motel.

9|  Se7en (1995)

Another one for Fincher, this time starring pre-sad-boy Brad Pitt as the dynamic foil to Morgan Freeman's tired old detective, the pair desperately hunting down a serial killer who employs ostentatious and gruesome techniques on his victims, each representing one of the seven deadly sins (gluttony is our favorite).

It's definitely very Nineties (Brad Pitt in a leather jacket staring up into the pouring rain of New York while some obnoxious orchestra plays in the background), but that matters little with a story that's as tight and fast-paced as this one.

10|  Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

A filmed deemed so depraved by the American board of censorship that it was given an 'X' rating (meaning that cinemas wouldn't want to go near it), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer eventually found a release in 1990 and has since gone on to gain cult acclaim for its visceral, fly-on-the-wall portrayal of Henry Lee Lucas, a killer with mother problems, who confessed to killing up to 300 people.

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Less of a psychological or smart thriller than an instrument for blunt trauma, it's the nihilism and pointlessness of Henry's killings that make it so disturbing. The idea that someone could murder you just because they feel like it.

11| American Psycho (2000)

Featuring elements of biting satire, farce and black comedy - along with the whole serial killer thing - Christian Bale played American Psycho's anti-hero Patrick Bateman, a soulless Wall Street finance bro prone to bouts of insatiable mania and murder, along with an obsession with clothes, restaurant bookings, business cards and Huey Lewis and the News.

A brilliant film in its own right, American Psycho also serves as a wry pre-crash portrait of the vanities and excesses of a selfish city lifestyle.

"Is that a raincoat?

12|  Snowtown (2011)

While many of the films in this list focus on the fully-fledged sprees of serial killers, Australian indie movie Snowtown shows us the dark and insidious descent required to get there.

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At times unwatchable and often unbearably grim, here we see a teenager in search of belonging, only for his mentor to twist and bend that desire into the darkest of outcomes.

Another wall-starer for sure.

13|  Badlands (1973)

Based on the true story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, teenage lovers whose 1958 murder spree across the Nebraska plains made headlines across America, Badlands is Terence Malick's best work (sorry, Tree of Life).

One of many great films about a young couple escaping onto the back roads of free America, Badlands is Bonnie and Clyde with more style, a better script and way more blunt psychopathy.

14|  M (1931)

One for the genre heads out there, M is considered the first ever serial killer movies and a classic of the genre, following the frantic chase for a child murderer at large in the streets of Berlin.

Considering the year it was made, M still hold up remarkably well when seen through modern eyes. In fact, plenty of modern directors could learn a thing or 10 from its simple but suspenseful build-up and deployment of atmosphere.

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Great outfits, too.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.ukMinor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Finlay Renwick
Finlay Renwick is the Digital Editorial Assistant at Esquire.co.uk
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Tom Nicholson
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