Because of the horrible stories and crimes committed by serial killers, society has a deep-seated fascination with them. It can be uncomfortable to delve into the brains of these infamously terrifying persons, but many documentarians aim to inform viewers about the crimes these criminals have committed in an effort to find solutions and a different perspective. For many viewers, witnessing these violent and wicked people and knowing about their histories, horrible deeds, and innocent victims is an emotionally taxing experience. Filmmakers have given fascinating and unsettling portraits of these heinous murderers, including Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, “Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy, and America’s first serial killer H.H. Holmes.
The true-crime documentary miniseries Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer was produced by Netflix and follows the determined efforts of two detectives in 1985 to apprehend Richard Ramirez and put a stop to his horrific crime spree. With the killer’s longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall and her daughter Molly stepping forward to talk about their personal experiences in the 2020 docuseries Ted Bundy: Falling For a Killer, Ted Bundy has recently been the subject of multiple projects. These are some of the top documentaries about serial killers.
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, a 2003 documentary directed by the legendary Nick Broomfield, is a sequel to his 1992 film, which detailed his attempts to interview the murderer. The focus of the story is Aileen Wuorno’s worsening mental health and the contentious decision to execute her even though she was mentally ill. The Florida highway prostitute who killed six of her male clients and robbed them was found guilty of doing so; she later claimed that the victims had raped or tried to rape her and that she had shot them in self-defense.
Broomfield spoke with the serial killer throughout her final days before she was put to death by lethal injection on October 9, 2002, after serving 12 years on death row. Later, the director would conjecture on Wuornos’ general mental state, saying, “I think this fury formed inside her. She was also engaged in prostitution. I believe she encountered a lot of terrible people on the roadways. And I believe that she simply let her wrath out of her body. and ultimately detonated. into shocking violence
Filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio learn that the childhood boogeyman is not nearly as frightful as the actual evil lurking in the shadows after investigating the origins of the New York City urban legend known as the “Cropsey.” The 2009 film Cropsey explores the history of Staten Island child abductor and accused serial killer Andre Rand, examining possible evidence that connects the murderer as the origin of the unsettling rumour.
Rand may have been involved with Satanism and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s, according to many of the investigators working the case. When Cropsey was first released, it received a lot of positive reviews. Critic Roger Ebert called it “a scary documentary with all the components of a horror picture about a sick serial murderer, and an extra ingredient: This one is genuine.”
H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer
The 2004 biographical film H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer explores the life and crimes of con man and serial killer H.H. Holmes and the legend surrounding his “Murder Castle.” It describes the horrifying exploits of the 19th century murderer at his Chicago hotel, where he allegedly carried out his chilling atrocities. The structure was known as Holmes’ “Murder Castle” at the time, but the yellow press’s allegations that it was a lethal maze with hidden trap doors and torture chambers were later disproved (though they nonetheless influenced art throughout the years, including the American Horror Story season, Hotel).
Despite confessing to 27 murders, Holmes was only found guilty of one murder—that of his business associate and erstwhile collaborator Benjamin Pitezel—and received the death penalty. The compelling film, which includes footage of Holmes’ boyhood home, expert interviews, and reenactments, exposes the truth behind Holmes’ atrocities while dispelling long-held falsehoods.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
The 2020 true-crime documentary series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is based on the same-titled book by the late author Michelle McNamara, in which she explores the unsolved murders committed by the notorious Golden State Killer, who terrorised San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s. The novelist died from an accidental overdose in 2016; her husband (actor and comedian Patton Oswalt), researcher Paul Haynes, and true crime author Billy Jensen collaborated to finish her work in McNamara’s honour. The movie also heavily emphasises McNamara’s life and her tireless efforts as she immerses herself in the horrifying crimes committed by the murderer as she writes her book.
In 2013, she came up with the moniker “Golden State Killer,” and when Californian authorities arrested Joseph James DeAngelo in 2018, they did it under that designation. “You did it, Michelle,” Oswalt wrote in an Instagram post following his detention. Even though the police would never admit it, your book contributed to the resolution of this matter.
John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise
The 2021 crime film John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise features recordings of the notorious murderer as he details his gruesome crimes through chilling confessions. Gacy was convicted of 33 murders and sentenced to death on March 13, 1980; he was later executed in 1994. Gacy was known as the Killer Clown and a serial killer.
The documentary captivated viewers and critics alike, and many praised it for Gacy’s fascinating remarks and for managing to keep the spotlight off of his victims and their families. Whether you are well-versed in the Gacy narrative and are old enough to recall how it played out in horrifying form over the years, or the case is barely acquainted to you, Devil in Disguise stands as the authoritative chronicle, according to Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer
Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer, a Netflix true-crime documentary miniseries, chronicles the heroic efforts of homicide investigator Frank Salerno and detective Gil Carrillo to identify and apprehend the murderer. It tells the story of how the notorious serial killer Richard Ramirez was apprehended and prosecuted. Through the use of crime scene photographs, archival footage, and unvarnished interviews with Salerno and Carrillo as well as the journalists who covered the terrifying acts at the time, the four-part documentary analyses the Night Stalker case.
The documentary sheds light on the techniques, expertise, and experience the detectives used in order to put an end to Ramirez’s violent 1985 killing spree. It also discusses the sexual assault and child abduction cases that would later be linked to him in addition to the gruesome murders that Ramirez committed.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper
The 2014 documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper, written, produced, and directed by the aforementioned Nick Broomfield, details the at least 10 murders perpetrated by serial murderer Lonnie David Franklin Jr. in Los Angeles between 1984 and 2007. The killer, who the media dubbed the “Grim Sleeper” due to his 14-year hiatus from crime between 1988 and 2002, was found guilty of his heinous crimes and given the death penalty. Broomfield deftly dissects the classism and racial prejudice against the perpetrator’s victims that caused authorities to view prostitutes as less than human and to disregard the atrocities, explaining how the killer was able to roam free for so many years.
Broomfield’s film received acclaim after it was widely released, and Yahoo! TV praised it as “a fascinatingly disturbing true-crime documentary, Tales of the Grim Sleeper isn’t just about a serial killer, but a film about race and class and the value—or lack thereof—that society places on certain women.” The documentary was even nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards.
Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer
The 2020 true crime docuseries Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer features engrossing interviews with surviving victims, reporters, and police officials involved in the case. It tells the story of serial killer Ted Bundy’s horrifying murders, trial, and execution through the eyes of his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall and her daughter Molly. Elizabeth Kendall and Molly share their personal experiences with Bundy and offer insight into the mind of the man suspected of killing more than 36 women. After withdrawing from the public eye for nearly 40 years in an effort to distance themselves from the infamous murderer, they now open up about their experiences. True-crime obsessives, take note. The serial killer series received plaudits for its novel focus on Bundy’s victims, as Decider noted in their review. Although the title of Falling for a Killer sounds like something out of a soap opera, the story so far looks to be a welcome addition to the Ted Bundy tragedy.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files
The summer of 1991 saw the capture and arrest of serial killer and sex criminal monster Jeffrey Dahmer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to The Jeffrey Dahmer Files. In addition to in-depth interviews with the case’s main detective Patrick Kennedy, the medical examiner Jeffrey Jentzen, and one of Dahmer’s neighbours Pamela Bass, the 2012 independent documentary also includes dramatised reenactments.
The terrifying documentary, which was first shown at the SXSW Film Festival under the title Jeff, was later acquired by IFC Films, whose president Jonathan Sehring praised director Chris James Thompson for creating “one of the creepiest documentaries of the year that lingers in the mind long after the film has ended.” He used a fresh and original approach to the well-known subject of Jeffrey Dahmer that really freaked us out.
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