Warning: The following describes accounts of real-life violence, abuse and other atrocities. There’s something undeniably fascinating about true crime stories. From fraudsters to murderers, they’ve always had a way of gripping viewers’ attention and keeping them hooked. Call it morbid curiosity, if you will. But whatever you find the most intriguing about true crime stories, there’s one specific criminal offense that people can’t help but find the most interesting. Of all the minor and major crimes that someone could commit, serial killers tend to be number one on the list of macabre curiosity.
For decades, murderers, spree killers, and serial killers have terrorized the world, leaving nothing but fear, heartache, and pain in their paths. To be dubbed a serial killer, a person must have killed at least three or more people within just over a month, and the number of people that have achieved this title is staggering. Over the years, countless recounts of the crimes, backstories, and convictions of some of the world’s most evil people have been shared, and when their stories are told, it can be downright chilling to see.
Responsible for the kidnappings, rapes, tortures, and murders of over 33 young men and boys between 1967 and 1978, real-life killer clown John Wayne Gacy was one of America’s most infamous serial killers. Convicted and sentenced to death in 1980, and after 14 years on Chicago’s Death Row, The Killer Clown was executed by lethal injection.
2003s American crime horror thriller, Gacy, released on a direct-to-video basis to negative reviews from critics. Despite its inability to “capture Gacy’s scheming intellect,” it’s cringy, frightening, and terrifying to know it’s based on the unspeakable crimes that happened to potentially dozens of innocent young people.
‘Summer of Sam’ (1999)
American serial killer David Berkowitz wreaked terror throughout New York between 1976 and 1977. Dubbed the Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer due to his preferred weapon of choice, a .44 Caliber Bulldog revolver, he was responsible for the deaths of 6 people and injuring another 11. He was sentenced to 6 consecutive life sentences, which he is still serving today at New York’s Shawangunk Correctional Facility.
1999’s Summer of Sam may not solely focus on David himself, but his crimes and the murder investigation provide a backdrop to the fictional focal characters in the movie. The film received mixed reviews but was praised for its visuals and earned five nominations for various awards.
‘The Boston Strangler’ (1968)
In the 1960s, 13 murders took place in the Boston, Massachusettes area, and as cases go, the crimes of the Boston Strangler weren’t the easiest to solve. The murders were attributed to Albert DeSalvo, a murderer, and rapist who claimed responsibility. Based on his confession, DNA testing, and court details, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, of which he only served six years before being stabbed and killed by a fellow inmate.
The Boston Stranger is a 1968 biographical drama loosely based on the book of the same name and the man himself. While it was a box office success, it received mixed reviews, praised for its quality but criticized for its inability to accurately portray the book’s events. Despite its poor reviews, it still has the ability to send chills down your spine.
‘The Riverman’ (2004)
Gary Ridgeway is an American serial killer responsible for the deaths of a confirmed 49 people, although suspected to have murdered up to 90+. Throughout 16 years, from 1982 to 1998, Ridgeway murdered his victims and dumped their bodies in overgrown forest areas. His first five victims were found along Washington’s Green River, which earned him the name of The Green River Killer. The now 73-year-old resides in Washington State Penitentiary, 19 years into his 48 life sentences.
The Riverman is a 2004 biographical drama based on the events within the non-fiction book entitled The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt For the Green River Killer. It’s a television film that tells the story of Robert D. Keppe, a former detective who conducted a series of interviews with another notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy, in order to both get Bundy to confess to further murders and track down the then-unidentified Green River Killer.
‘Dating Game Killer’ (2017)
Rodney Alcala was an American serial killer and sex offender responsible for the confirmed deaths of 8 people between 1968 and 1979. But his death toll could be up to a staggering 130. He was often dubbed the dating game killer due to his appearance on The Dating Game TV show in 1978 amidst his murder spree. After 42 years on California’s death row, Rodney Alcala died from undisclosed circumstances on July 24th, 2021.
2017s Dating Game Killer is a biographical television film that centers on the life of Alcala through his decade-long murder spree. His crimes left grief-stricken families reeling for years, and he was frequently resentenced for more murders after new evidence would come to light. The film was relatively well-received but unfortunately didn’t get much coverage.
Jeffrey Dahmer. The man who ripped the lives of 17 young men and boys away without a care in the world. Becoming one of America’s most notorious serial killers to date, Dahmer left nothing but turmoil and grief in his wake. He drugged, tortured, dismembered, and cannibalized innocent victims over a 13-year period between 1978 and 1991, earning himself a total of 16 life sentences which is equivalent to 941 years behind bars. Just 3 years into his sentence, Jeffrey was bludgeoned and subsequently murdered by a fellow inmate.
Before he played Marvel’s heroic archer, Jeremy Renner took a different type of role when he portrayed the Milwaukee cannibal in 2002’s biographical drama Dahmer. Little gore compared to others, high tension levels, and some downright creepy scenes made this a chilling and haunting take on the psychopath. Impressive visuals and performances made this a creepy yet must-watch take on the infamous serial killer.
‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ (2019)
Ted Bundy made a worldwide name for himself after kidnapping, raping, and murdering a suspected 36+ women over the short span of four years between 1974 and 1978. After escaping capture twice, he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death in 1978. Bundy was executed by electrocution on January 24th, 1989, following a 9-year stretch on Florida’s Death Row.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a true crime biopic that tells the story of Bundy (played by Zac Efron) through the memoir, The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy, of his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall. Despite mixed reviews, Efron’s performance as the killer was praised, and the 2019 film serves as a scary reminder that charisma and charm can sometimes prove deadly.
Street prostitute turned serial killer Aileen Wournos was responsible for the deaths of 7 male clients over 12 months. Though she claimed self-defense, these accusations were never proven, and Wournos was sentenced to 6 death sentences. She spent 12 years on the Row before her execution by lethal injection in 2002. She was only the second female serial killer ever executed on Florida’s Death Row.
2003s Monster is a multi-award-winning biographical crime drama that stars Charlize Theron as Wournos. The plot follows the murders leading up to her arrest, the trial, and subsequent execution in 2002. Critically acclaimed and a box office success, Monster earned Theron a Best Actress Award at the 76th Academy Awards.
The Snowtown Murders, AKA the Bodies in Barrells Murders, consisted of 12 that occurred in and around South Australia’s Adelaide between August 1992 and May 1999. They were committed by John Justin Bunting, Robert Joe Wagner, and James Spyridon Vlassakis and assisted by Mark Haydon to dispose of the bodies. The four individuals received a combined total of 25 life sentences between them.
2011s Snowtown is an Australian biographical crime drama based on the harrowing true story. A box office bomb but critically praised, it was dubbed a “bleak and brutal endurance test, but an uncommonly powerful viewing experience.” Nominated for 38 awards, it won an impressive total of 17. Snowtown is a chilling must-see true crime biopic that’ll leave you with an uneasy feeling long after the credits roll.
‘Helter Skelter’ (1976)
The Manson Family is one of the most infamous cults the world has ever seen. Founded by Charles Manson, the commune, gang, and all-around cult of around 100 participants wreaked terror throughout California in the 1960s and 1970s. While initially sentenced to death, Charles’ sentence was then permanently changed to life imprisonment per the People v. Anderson landmark case.
1976s Helter Skelter gets its name from a combination of the 1974 book from prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, and the Beatles song of the same name. With a focal point on the investigation and subsequent “trial of the century,” the film is incredibly spine-chilling, terrifying, and just plain creepy. The two-part television film was positively received by critics, retaining a 7.4/10 on IMDb, and was nominated for three Emmy Awards.