The Countdown: Top Ten Serial Killer Movies

| October 19, 2016

I actually had a hard time with this list.  I like horror, and I like psychological thrillers, and of course there are plenty of serial killer movies that fall in those genres, but I also wanted to include some variety and present a list that represents everything I like about this very specific genre.  In the end, I guess I did okay; though, I would have preferred to come up with a bit more of a varied list that explored a multitude of takes on psychosis in a bunch of different genres.  But, I do stand by this list in terms of how much I enjoy these films.


Honorable Mention:  Red Dragon (2002)
Dir. Brett Ratner
Nothing pains me more than praising Brett Ratner.  I think he’s a hack director who makes terrible, broad movies pretty consistently.  I have always liked his remake of Manhunter though as a prequel to Silence of The Lambs.  Right from the opening shot of scanning the audience of a classical music concert and the camera finding Hannibal Lecter casually sitting amongst his potential prey is fantastic.  Hopkins is great, Edward Norton is great, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Mary Louise Parker are great.  It’s a very fun entry in the Hannibal canon.

10. Saw IV (2007)
Dir. Darren Lynn Bousman
I really like the entire Saw franchise even though I think the first one is one of the weaker entries (why does it matter at all that jigsaw is lying in the middle of this room for the entire movie?!), but each subsequent sequel builds this world where Jigsaw is as inspiring as he is terrifying, and Saw IV is the most enjoyable to me as it weaves a story through the previous entries, setting up a new big bad after Jigsaw’s death to continue his legacy.  Plus, the return of Donnie Wahlberg!

09. Manhunter (1986)
Dir. Michael Mann
That’s right, I like both the original and the remake, haters!  Plus, I like them somewhat evenly.  The cast of Red Dragon is completely amazing, but William Petersen was born to play Will Graham.  He really nails the whole idea of Graham putting himself in the mind of a serial killer and every time he touches that darkness it affects him as someone who isn’t in fact a psychopath.  To watch him get angry as he works to understand the mind of a killer is fantastic.  I also like Brian Cox’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter.  He feels like a normal guy who you could believe you might run into in a bar and be completely surprised by your own murder.  You’d probably steer clear of Hopkins’ Hannibal if you ran into him in the real world.

08. God Bless America (2011)
Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait
My love of dark comedy knows no bounds, and when God Bless America started with the protagonist fantasizing about murdering his neighbor’s crying baby with a shotgun, I was on board for sure.  The story about a middle aged man who’s dying of cancer and decides to start wiping out people he deems less deserving of their lives is amazing and hilarious.  Also, the relationship created with his young co-conspirator is really sweet and innocent, and contributes to the heart of the movie nicely.

07. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Dir. Tim Burton
I’m of the mindset that Tim Burton hasn’t made a good movie since Sweeny Todd.  To be fair, I haven’t seen all of them and hear good things about some of them, but after years of putting out the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, I may never go out of my way to watch a Tim Burton movie again.  Sweeney is terrific though.  Adapted from one of the all-time great musicals, the horror of a barber slitting people’s throats while his girlfriend butchers them and bakes them into meat pies is made all the more absurd by the fact that everyone’s singing all the time.  I do wish they had made room for the musical’s chorus though.  That’s the best part of the stage play.

06. Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Dir. Joseph Zito
I have a few guilty pleasure Jason movies, but this fourth installment in the series I think is an all-around great movie.  It’s scary, it plays with the horror movie tropes, and it stars Crispin Glover!  What’s not to love?

05. Psycho (1960)
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
I’m sure this would feature on pretty much anyone’s serial killer list.  Not being the biggest Hitchcock fan, I do admit that this is a very well-constructed, creepy slasher flick.  The structure really is perfect, and the movie is probably to blame for so many horror movies since feeling obligated to try to surprise their audience with a big climactic twist, but it is what it is.

04. Frailty (2001)
Dir. Bill Paxton
My disinterest in Matthew MacConaughey kept me from watching this one for a while, until a friend of mine who will pretty much watch anything horror-related popped it in for us to check out.  Holy crap, it’s amazing.  The central conceit is that a father believes he’s been visited by an angel and imbued with special abilities to hunt demons and one of his two sons chooses to go along with his father’s delusion while the other resists it.  The end result is a terrifying look at faith and the nature of humanity that I find extremely effective.

03. The Cabin in The Woods (2011)
Dir. Drew Goddard
Hear me out!  Yes, this doesn’t have a traditional serial killer; however, it does have two guys sitting in a control room arranging for teenagers to die in accordance with a set ritual.  Sounds pretty serial killer-y to me.  Plus, I love the movie, from Joss Whedon’s script to the whole cast.  I knew this movie was being made for like 5 years before its release and apparently the company that initially made it went out of business so it sat on a shelf until Lionsgate bought it, and god bless them for it because this is a really cool horror movie parody that is wrapped around a legitimately scary horror story.

02. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Dir. Jonathan Demme
Yeah yeah, another Hannibal Lecter movie.  What can I say, I’m a fan.  And I think Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Lecter is so wonderfully creepy in its minimalism.  The structure of the film is strong, the villain is great, and the interaction between Lecter and Starling is unlike anything I’ve seen on film before or since.  Don’t get me wrong, plenty have tried to replicate, but they are poor imitations of the original.

01. Se7en (1995)
Dir. David Fincher
I imagine this will also rank highly on Paul and Wayne’s lists and it’s probably still my favorite David Fincher movie, beating out the likes of Fight Club and The Social Network slightly.  I think I’m just so enthralled with the gimmick of a killer who models his kills after the seven deadly sins.  It should get boring going from kill to kill too, but the movie finds several ways to complicate things and take away any sense of predictability.  As soon as you think you know where the movie’s going, it completely shifts gears and takes off in a new direction.  It’s masterful and the performances from Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey are all terrific.


Next week, I believe Paul and Wayne will be discussing their picks for the top ten sequels no one asked for.  Not sure exactly what they mean by that.  They’ve already done best and worst sequels, and movies that ruined their franchise, so I guess maybe it’s movies that didn’t do well the first time, and for some reason they made a sequel.  I think that’s what I’ll go with if I can come up with ten sequels I’ve seen that fit those criteria.

Come back next week for that, and as always check out The Countdown: Movie and TV Reviews Podcast on your pod-catcher of choice.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.

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