You're not really evil until you've killed more than once?

I don't understand why so many stories end up with a serial killer. To me, killing one person is bad enough. But there seems to be this need in storytelling (esp. movies) to make an evil person MORE evil by making them not just a killer, but a SERIAL killer.

Does this really increase the tension?

I can buy if someone who has killed once (maybe by 'accident' or in a rage/passion) and then, when fear of discovery slam into them like a speeding SUV, they'll kill again to keep the first muder buried. That makes sense to me. But statistically, serial killers, who kill many people fairly indiscriminately is very small. The number of movies and stories is very large.

Are we that desensitized that one murder is not riveting or horrid enough?

Or do publishers/ producers just THINK we are that desensitized?


Or am I just thinking too much. (As Hubby says, "It's just a movie." I think it translates to "Just shut up and watch the movie." =)

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thats funny.

I believe its the tension serial killers cause on the public and the police officers involved. Probably started with CSI type shows. They can make sequel after sequel...

The thing is one murderer is good esp. if killing to cover up previous ones but a serial killer is so unpredictable and scary, Not only do you wonder who the next victim is, but if they'll catch him or her before that next strike. So the tension is two fold.

As for the amount of serial killers vs. movie serial killers, there are probably a lot more of them in real life than we hear about. Police like to keep those things to themselves unless its a very serious one, and is across the nation. Like the one that was killing truck drivers a few years ago. Or the guy(s) in Washington DC on the Belt way.

Deirdre
I think the serial killer story is waning, though it's doubtful it'll ever go away entirely. As for the popularity, I think it has less to do with evilosity than it does with the 'why?!' Serial killer stories tend to underscore the tension between the normalish public face and the near-demonic killing side of the sk's personality - usually shown not only by the actions, but by some interior POV stuff. People really seemed to dig this (again, I think, 'cause they wanna know the answer to the why question).

I dunno. I'm not a huge fan of the serial killer storyline, but I loved SOTL and, more recently, Steve Mosby's 50/50 KILLER. So I guess if it's really, really well-written, I'll read it anyway.
It's the hype and the desensitized reading public who needs ever greater shudders.
Actually, the one noteworthy thing in almost all serial killer novels is the fact that it takes the police so long to get on the trail, so that the killer can isolate and slowly dismember more poor victims and get away with it. And then, at the end, the police gleefully zero in on the guy (gal) when, surprise!, it turns out they've made a mistake again, and this time it's the lead investigator's child (fiancee, mother, wife) who's about to die. And that, of course, is because all such novels need a twist and a climactic ending. :) There's a lot of formula here.
I see the tension that serial killers create in real life, but I think movies and stories generally lose suspense when the audience learns it's a SERIAL killer.

You KNOW that it's going to be a slasher-fest with stupid choices where the "hero" goes after the guy armed only with a broken beer bottle or something. And the "hero" will live. They always do. That takes away any tension-building for me. Other than knowing that there's going to be a scene--there always is!-- where something jumps out and startles me.

I like the more subtle whodunit and the oh, sh*t now he knows *I* know twist.

And, on this note, I was really disappointed in the unfortunate 'Rear Window' remake "Disturbia." The Serial Killer angle was so stupid... =(
Angie - thank you very much.

I've said this far too many times, and it wasn't original the first time, but the thing with serial killer novels is they're basically horror narratives - 'beating the monster' stories (if you'll pardon the expression) - and that makes them appealing. The fictional serial killer is very much like a modern vampire: they creep into your home at night; there's an element of sexual danger; they're incomprehensible; they often seem superhuman; there's a Van Helsing style profiler on hand to explain the rules; etc. And, as with any monster tale, it's possible for serial killers to be used in interesting ways or boring ways. To take the vampire example, there are tons of ways those stories have been used as allegories: for HIV, repressed sexuality, and so on. A serial killer book doesn't have to be solely about people getting hacked up, any more than a vampire novel must simply be about people getting bitten in the neck.

Unfortunately, I agree, a lot of the books are a bit formulaic, predictable and more-or-less the same novel, just with a different plug-in MO. But then, a lot of non-serial-killer crime books are too. People have to vote with their feet when it comes to good books. And yet, at the same time, gory popcorn fiction is a valid choice if you're in that kind of mood.

The realism thing doesn't really bother me though. There's more of everything on the crime shelves as a whole (apart from boring crimes, of course) than there is in real life. And it's fiction. The joy of fiction for me is that it can be anything at all, whereas non-fiction is a bit more constrained.
Ah-ha! That's where the problem (with my choices) is! I keep stumbling into serial killer stories thinking they're crime thrillers, but they're really more horror stories.

And I'm not a big horror story. Especially in movies. I don't even browse the horror section at Lackluster Video. Horror movies make my nightlight insufficient...
Well, I don't mean they're horror stories as such (although there's a huge amount of crossover). I phrase things badly sometimes - what I meant is that a lot of the serial killer crime novels I read (not all) aren't making any claim to addressing serial killing as a genuine social phenomenon. Or at least, they certainly shouldn't be. Instead, the killer is an exaggerated monster character that serves the same kind of purpose as more traditional monsters in horror novels. It's a generalisation, but that's how it seems to me. I think.
I get what you're saying, and I think that it is part of my problem with it. I don't like super-duper extra-crazy evil characters. Even Darth Vader had a human side to him.

And my experience, admittedly, is a bit heavier on the movie side of serial killer stories, which are more horror than drama, to be certain.

=)
I think it depends on the story and the characterization.
and that's it really. I do think something different should be attempted in the storyline. maybe a really good insight into the killer--not a sob sister thing. vicious is vicious--but an insightful presentation into the whys.
Naturally, that shouldn't bog down the storyline--taking away tension from the plot. no, it's got to be done (imho) masterfully.
Unfortunately, there are so many serial killers operating--
this is the world. books reflect that.
I see your point though, I get really depressed certain films.
I've sarcastically said to my husband--"so what's the body count so far?"
anyway that's my two cents.
It seems almost to me that some folks don't have a 'why' for their bad guy, so they default to He's REALLY REALLY EVIL. (everyone undersands EVIL...)

And to show that they are REALLY REALLY EVIL, the most EVIL is make them a serial killer. Or, like Steve said, they become exaggerations. Caricatures of bad guys.

Very interesting point, Carole. Maybe it's not even so much that they are serial killers, but that they have only one dimension.

But still, are people shocked and horrified anymore when one person kills another (whom they once claimed to love)? Or is it so commonplace in the media that only the MOST EVIL and the MOST brutual things can get a rise from the audience?
hmm. you thought provoke!
the next question is who's the audience?
is it the audience of sixty odd years ago that were gripped by Theresa Wright in Shadow of Doubt uncovering the horrific truth of her much loved Uncle's other life. That of a man who sought to eliminate the superfluous (as he saw them) from this world? subtle horror. No axe in the head, horror.
Sadly the audience (or those the movie industry now seemingly caters to) are indeed different. the reasons of which--we can postulate--but the sad fact is many of us, some of us, a smattering of us--are NOT like the target audience. and because we're not, we don't like much of what we see in film.
As for books--I think that's a different case, because I think many readers aren't as bad as a lot of the target movie audience!
they're still liking Chandler, and Cain--along with more modern authors.
hope I'm not rambling, but it's something I feel sad about.
I wish our world had changed less than it did and people along with it.
A for instance: I saw "I am Legend," the movie--someone told me, oh no! read the book, so I did. the book was highly intellectual (I feel and so different than the film)! so different. it might actually be a book you might like, though it's horror/sci fi--but it's profound, too.
maybe that's why I love the noir past from films to books, Clair. I'm trying to run away and find a world I'm more comfortable in!
There are thousands of books out there made into movies and they always loose something.

Sometimes books are made from movies and still, in my opinion the book is usually better.

Unfortunately, the younger, generation coming up --- ie our teens, are very desensitized. They laugh at the guy cutting up people into little bits. And its not just the movies. Its the music, the video games and everything else. As parents we can sensor to our hearts content and explain the why not. But alas, eventually they leave our site and do what they want to anyway, esp. when they are with friends - God forbid, if they are considered wimps because they don't like the hashing and slashing.

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