Be it in movies or on TV, pop culture has given audiences some truly terrifying serial killers.
From a young 8-year-old girl who kills in “The Bad Seed” to the most famous fictional cannibal of all time, here are 10 of the most terrifying serial killers from TV and movies.
Javier Bardem played hit-man Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men.”
In “No Country for Old Men,” a film about a welder, a sheriff, and a hit-man all trying to obtain a suitcase filled with $US2 million in the Texas desert, Bardem plays the hitman, Anton Chigurh.
According to a study called “Psychopathy and Cinema: Fact or Fiction?,” Anton is the most realistic psychopath of the 400 movies studied. He shows no remorse for any of his actions, and kills without rhyme or reason.
“He seems to be effectively invulnerable, and resistant to any form of emotion or humanity,” concluded the researchers.
“Dexter” had no shortage of serial killers, but John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell/The Trinity Killer has stuck with us almost 10 years later.
On “Dexter,” Dexter Morgan was the titular serial killer who targeted fellow killers. He came across many a terrifying character, but one of the worst was the Trinity Killer. He killed people across the country, with no reason other than that he was compelled to. In some of the scarier moments of the show, he was able to flip from being a loving family man to a cold hearted killer, all spoken in actor John Lithgow’s soft voice.
Even more shockingly, it was later revealed that he was an abusive husband and father – he even had Morgan’s convinced of his softer nature, but it was all a sham. And most unforgivably, he killed Morgan’s wife Rita, who was completely innocent.
Michael Rooker had a breakout performance as Henry in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.”
Michael Rooker played the titular Henry in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” In the film, Henry seemingly has no feelings or remorse, murdering people at random, and making sure to use different killing methods in order to confuse the police.
The movie was also mentioned in the “Psychopathy and the Cinema: Fact or Fiction?” study. Henry, as played by Rooker, had an “inability to plan ahead,” as well as a “turbulent personal life and poor family relationships,” which researchers said made him a textbook psychopath.
Norman Bates, as played by Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” is the most well-known serial killer in pop culture.
In the 58 years since “Psycho” was released, the movie has become a pop culture touchstone – many TV shows and movies over the years have recreated the infamous shower stabbing scene, and people still remember Norman Bates’ terrifying smirk in the last shot of the film.
The twist in “Psycho” (spoilers ahead for a 58-year-old movie) is that Bates was actually suffering from a split personality disorder and that he had murdered his mother and was continuing to preserve her corpse while sometimes assuming her personality. The creepy ending still haunts audiences years later.
Jamie Dorman plays serial killer Paul Specter in “The Fall.”
“The Fall” is a gripping BBC drama about a cat-and-mouse chase between a detective, played by Gillian Anderson, and a serial killer, played by Dornan.
Specter’s realism came from his broken background – many serial killers come from troubled childhoods, and Paul was no different. After his mother committed suicide, he was sent to an orphanage that was run by a priest who was later convicted for pedophilia.
Perhaps the scariest part for audiences was Specter’s ability to fool everyone in his life, including his wife and children.
Stanley Tucci played George Harvey in “The Lovely Bones.”
“The Lovely Bones” tells the story of 14-year-old Susie’s brutal murder by George Harvey, played by Stanley Tucci.
Harvey is quiet, keeps to himself, and his hobby – building dollhouses – isn’t an automatic red flag, but when it’s all combined with his crimes, he becomes incredibly sinister. Watching the movie, the tension is palpable as viewers watch him lure Susie to his underground lair.
Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter is the father of all modern fictional serial killers, starting with his role in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Hannibal Lecter is the most famous cannibal in pop culture history. Though “Silence of the Lambs” was not the first time that Hannibal was shown on screen, that honour belongs to 1986 film “Manhunter,” it has become the most famous depiction of the character.
In the film, FBI agent Clarice Starling (played by Jodie Foster) is tasked with interviewing Lecter to gain some insight into another serial killer who is similarly violent. His calm, patronizing voice and horrifying face mask make him a serial killer that continues to haunt viewers.
Patty McCormack played a female serial killer in 1956’s “The Bad Seed,” when she portrayed Rhoda Penmark, an 8-year-old murderer.
Female serial killers are as rare on screen as they seem to be in real life, which is what makes McCormack’s downright bone-chilling performance as Rhoda all the more terrifying.
The film takes the audience through Rhoda’s life as a spoiled and well-loved child, who charms all the adults she meets – but has a sinister streak. Over the course of the story, she murders a fellow classmate for winning an award she thought she deserved, the caretaker of the building where she lives, and admits to murdering one of their elderly neighbours.
David Morse played Robert Turner in “Disturbia.”
“Disturbia,” actor David Morse played Robert Turner, the next door neighbour of a teenager on house arrest named Kale. Kale becomes upset when he believes Turner could be a serial killer, but no one believes him and because of his ankle monitor, he’s unable to prove it.
Eventually, Kale turns out to be right: Robert Turner was murdering sex workers and keeping their frozen corpses in his air vents.
James Purefoy’s performance as Joe Carroll on “The Following” is nightmare-inducing.
“The Following” was a TV show about Joe Carroll, a serial killer turned cult leader.
The series’ protagonist was Ryan Hardy, a retired FBI agent who was called back into the line of duty to catch Carroll. He grew attached to Carroll over the show’s three seasons, to the point where he mourned Carroll when he was executed.
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