Film & TV

Notorious Serial Killers and the Notorious Horror Flicks They Inspired

Serial killers are fascinating. As sick, twisted, and depraved as that might sound, it intrigues us that a human being could ravage another without remorse, allowing the victim to take a final breath before the killer's very eyes -- and actually enjoy it. We see it in our favorite horror movies: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Scream. But it's the reality of it all that draws out the chills -- those spine-tingling moments when we question if someone is hiding in the shower or waiting in the darkness.

Entertaining as the horror genre is, many works were influenced by this reality -- by actual serial killers who tortured their victims and fled from authorities. It's those influences that draw out the side of us that checks under the bed, just to make sure there really isn't a guy with a knife hiding in the still of the night. These serial killers influenced some of the best movies in the genre, while instilling fear in those who actually lived through the horror -- the real horror. Here are seven murderers who inspired iconic film killers such as Buffalo Bill and Norman Bates.

Ed Gein (AKA the Guys Who Made a Belt Out of Human Nipples)
One of the most notorious serial killers of our time, Ed Gein was arrested in the '50s as a suspect in the murder of a store clerk. The body was found hanging in a shed, shot to death and gutted like a deer. Upon searching the remainder of the property, authorities found human body parts being used as decor in his home -- everything from masks made of human skin to a belt made of nipples (yes, nipples). Though he was convicted of only two deaths, he claims to have made multiple nocturnal visits to the local graveyard for much of his collection.

Onscreen Legacy

  • Gein's influence is most notably recognized in Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as its sequels and remakes
  • He's the backbone for the character of Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. 
  • Gein is also responsible for Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs 
  • He even has his own flick, Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield

Jack the Ripper
Though the actual murderer was never caught, and theories galore exist among historians and skeptics, the case of Jack the Ripper is an ageless tale of an insane murderer who killed prostitutes in London during the late 1800s. He was brutal, slicing throats and removing body parts, but with little evidence and a lack of much-needed CSI-technology, the case went unsolved.

Onscreen Legacy
The story itself went on to influence the tale of Sherlock Holmes, as well as the 2001 Johnny Depp film From Hell, which was loosely based on of a comic book of the same name. 


Son of Sam
New York City residents spent nearly a year fearing for their lives because of David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer who claimed a demon told him to do it. Though he wasn't one of the most inventive serial killers (he used a gun), he was one of the craziest. Taking a page from the Ripper killings, he began to send letters, threatening more harm, and eventually it was discovered he had also been involved in a cult, which he claiming had exposed him to drugs, pornography, and Satan. He is still in prison for his crimes.

Onscreen Legacy
The Son of Sam killing spree is a popular movie topic but has yet to influence any fictional characters. Instead, the story has been done on three different occasions in the films ​Out of the Darkness, Summer of Sam, and Son of Sam. 

The Zodiac Killer
Aileen Wuornos
Female serial killers are rare, and none of them looks like Sharon Stone (sorry, guys). That's why when Aileen Wuornos was apprehended and convicted of murder with the help of her lesbian lover, it became legend. Wuornos killed seven men in Florida, claiming all of them had tried to rape or actually raped her while she was working as a prostitute. After confessing to her lover, Tyria Moore, who was working with the police, Wuornos pleaded guilty to her crimes and was executed by lethal injection in 2002 at the age of 46.

Onscreen Legacy
Dozens of books and documentaries about Wuornos have surfaced both before and after her death, but the most notable example of cinematic portrayal is the 2003 film Monster, starring Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci. Theron won on Oscar for her portrayal of Wuornos.

John Christie
In a rampage that lasted over the course of ten years, John Christie, a British serial killer, murdered not only seven unsuspecting women but also his wife. His victims met their demise by strangulation after being outed with gas and, in some cases, raped. He was hanged in 1953 for the death of his wife.

Onscreen Legacy
Surprisingly, despite the severity of the crimes he committed, there haven't been many media portrayals on the case. However, the classic 10 Rillington Place was adapted after a book by the same name. Someone should really surprise us and model a movie fiend after this certified sociopath. 

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Andrea Albin
Contact: Andrea Albin