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A Systematic Study On Crime Films And Its Psychological Impact On Serial Killers

Cinema has been an integral part of humankind since the day it was implemented. We often binge-watch to co-ordinate with the plot of some good web-series or TV Series like Breaking BadGame of ThronesNarcosMindhunter, etc. To different life and work styles, the motive for watching a film gets changed.

Someone who does a full-time job gets an off only on Sunday; they would love to watch a good film. A family would love to watch a film on their day off. Someone researching a specific topic would love to watch a film on the topic to expand their horizon.

American Psycho
American Psycho.

In short, we all love to watch good films and it strikes a long-lasting effect on everyone’s head. Similarly, as cinema is developing, it’s getting divided into different genres and as per the human’s schedule of daily life. There is a specific genre in cinema named “crime” and we have got several films of this genre.

What Is The Crime Genre?

The genre of crime (crime thriller, crime fiction, crime drama, investigative thriller, mystery) describes narratives that centre on criminal acts and especially on the investigation, either by an amateur or a professional detective, of a serious crime, generally a murder. Sometimes it also includes different dramas discussing gangsters, serial killers, terrorists, drug lords, etc.

The genre itself is considered fascinating, intriguing, entertaining and sometimes informative and knowledgeable. We already have different films of this genre which are considered “classics”, and with the development of cinema, we will get more classics in the future.

For the first time, Akira Kurosawa, regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in cinema’s history, introduced us to crime films. The Godfather trilogy, ScarfaceGoodfellasPulp fictionNo Country for Old MenZodiac, etc., are examples of great films in the crime genre. Even in India, we have some classic crime films like Gangs of WasseypurRaman Raghav 2.0Black FridayJohnny GaddarSatya, etc.

In Hollywood, mostly Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino are known for making crime films. All the directors considered the founding pioneers of Hollywood, such as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Daren Aronofsky, etc., have created at least one crime films that either got an Oscar or are considered classics.

In Bollywood, crime films are mostly made by Anurag Kashyap, Sriram Raghavan and Ram Gopal Verma. But as per other genres, the crime genre also impacts people. Although filmmakers have created these for entertainment and knowledge purposes, at the end of a crime movie, the filmmaker shows the climax, where the culprit always suffers. By doing so, they try to make the audience aware of the consequences of such evil deeds.

But sometimes it goes the wrong way. People enter the film very aggressively, resulting in some unwanted happenings at the end.

Crime Films Inspired By Serial Killers

Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal
Zodiac.

The world is a place where every second, in every inch of life, we find competition; whether it’s for students, a graduate or newcomer in a job, or at the end an old man’s competition with another old man regarding their son’s success. As in 3 Idiots, Farhan said, “Even to be born, one has to race 300 million sperms.” And it’s simple, the more competition, the more hatred and in the end, it comes to killing.

But in this mysterious, magical world, we get some serial killers who don’t have any motive/criteria but still kill people. First, they start with single, then double, then triple, slowly crossing a hundred; it becomes a habit. They become psychopaths and can’t resist killing.

This topic was very specifically and seriously shown in Raman Raghav 2.0 by Anurag Kashyap, starring Vicky Kaushal and Nawazuddin Siddique, still considered one of the best neo-noir and underrated movies of Bollywood. This film shows one fictional character who considers himself Raman, as he admires the notorious killer of the 60s, Raman Raghav.

Raman Raghav, also called Psycho Raman, didn’t have a motive associated with the murders he committed. He had no moral compass; there was no planning. According to Anurag Kashyap, “He killed because some voice in his head told him to do so.”

Even Sriram Raghavan made a documentary on him named Serial Killer Raman Raghav. Raghav was a figure who terrorised Mumbai slum dwellers in the 60s. At the time of his arrest, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He has killed over 23 people, but that’s only a guess even by experts because Raman’s mental stability and his confessions were highly questionable. He died from kidney failure in 1995.

There was a similar killer like Raman in England at his time, who was popularly known as Zodiac. The 70th decade was considered a dark time for England.

The self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer was directly linked to at least five murders (actually seven, two people survived) in Northern California in 1968 and 1969 and may have been responsible for more. He taunted the police and made threats through letters sent to area newspapers from 1969 to 1974 before abruptly ceasing communication. Despite intensive investigations, Police officers, investigative agencies, even the FBI couldn’t find him and the case remains open.

There are several books and movies made on him. The most loved and acclaimed was David Fincher’s Zodiac in 2007, starring Jack Gyllenhaal, Robert Downy Jr, Mark Ruffalo, etc. It is still considered one of the best crime thrillers ever made in history.

But before this, there came a movie directed by Bong-Joon Hoo named Memories of Murder which was inspired by the true story of Korea’s first serial killer in history. The film doesn’t show the killer getting arrested, but in reality, he was arrested by the Korean police in 1994 on suspicion of killing more than 16 girls.

His name was Lee Choon-Jae and he was sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 20 years in the killing of his sister-in-law. But despite DNA evidence and his confession in 2019, he could not be prosecuted for the other murders because the statute of limitations had expired.

He was often considered the Zodiac of Korea or the Korean Zodiac Killer. Even in his confession, he said he was admired by Zodiac. In addition to the murders, he also confessed to more than 30 rapes and attempted rapes.

In 2011, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk created an anthology series named American Horror Story, containing nine seasons. Each season is conceived as a self-contained miniseries, following a different set of characters and settings and a storyline with its own “beginning, middle, and end”. Some plot elements of each season are loosely inspired by true events.

In season 3, episode 6, the series showed the story of the Axeman of New Orleans. The show’s character, played menacingly by Danny Huston, was based on real-life murders, mostly on Italian grocers, that occurred in New Orleans between 1918 and 1919.

He first murdered an Italian couple who owned a grocery by slitting their throats as they slept and then bashed their skulls in with his axe. A month later, he attacked a second couple who were also grocers, but both survived their brutal wounds. A few months after that, more cases of attacks were reported. A young pregnant woman woke to a dark figure standing over her before bashing her face in with his axe, an elderly Italian grocer who died from head trauma, and an immigrant grocer who was attacked along with his wife and 2-year-old daughter.

The killer later sent a threatening letter to the Times-Picayune newspaper that made a bizarre proposition to the city’s residents: “I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.”

Although no one died that night, attacks continued until 27 October, 1919, after the murder of grocer Mike Pepitone. Police were unable to determine who was responsible, but thankfully he was never heard from again.

Paanch
Paanch.

In 2003, Indian director Anurag Kashyap made a film named Paanch starring Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivastava, Vijay Maurya, Joy Fernandes and Tejaswini Kolhapure. It was based on the 1976–77 Joshi-Abhyankar serial murders in Pune. From 1976 to 1977, these four friends and batchmates from Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya killed over 10 people, known as the Joshi-Abhyankar serial murders.

They were eventually arrested and all four were hanged in 1983. The film was released in different film festivals, but it never got a theatrical or home-video release.

In 2015, Prawaal Raman made a crime thriller on India’s most popular serial killer, Charles Sobhraj, popularly known as the suave “Bikini Killer”, starring Randeep Hooda as Charles. The film hasn’t got much acclamation from critics or the audience.

From 1975–76, he killed around 12 people in various places in South East Asia. Unlike most other serial killers, Sobhraj had a motive — rob his victims to fund his flamboyant lifestyle. His usual method was to first gain the trust of tourists and potential victims by rescuing them from problems that he had created in the first place and then defrauding them.

Two of the women he killed were found in floral bikinis, which gave Sobhraj the nickname Bikini Killer. He was arrested in India, where he served a sentence from 1976 to 1997, after which he retired to Paris. He was even approached for book and movie rights, to which he quoted exceptionally high amounts. He returned to Nepal in 2004, where he was arrested again. He is now serving a second life sentence.

In between all these serial killers, it was found that there are some killers of minor periods or a student studying graduation. And when it comes, the first finger always goes towards an American serial killer, Theodore Robert Bundy, popularly known as Ted Bundy.

He was a brilliant college student whose IQ was 136. He was charming and swept young women off their feet before raping and beating them to death across several states in the 1970s. According to the police report, he had confessed to 30 killings, but different journalists say the score is more than 100.

According to the police report, his victims typically looked like college girlfriends who dumped him while he attended the University of Washington, and he captured many by pretending to be injured and in need of their help.

He was eventually caught by police but managed to escape custody and drive to Tallahassee, FL. He broke into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University and killed two female students. He then kidnapped and murdered Kimberly Leach, a 12-year-old girl, his last kill before being captured for good.

His several murders, although it was confessed or convicted, led him to execution by electric chair in Florida in 1989. In 1986, before his execution, filmmaker Marvin J Chomsky turned his crime stories into a film, The Deliberate Stranger, starring Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy. This film was acclaimed by the critics and the audience and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.

The films mentioned above are based on different crime events about some specific serial killer. But there was one serial killer on whom no movie has been made, but in various crime films, the main antagonist seems to be inspired by him. He was Edward Theodore Gein, popularly known as Ed Gein, also known as the Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul or grandfather of gore. He was an American convicted murderer.

His murders and grave-robbing habit led him to be the inspiration for everyone, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Norman Bates from Psycho to Tobe Hooper’s Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1976). As a young man, Gein became obsessed with his religiously fanatic mother and began robbing graves containing recently buried female bodies after she died in 1945.

He’d cut off body parts as souvenirs, which led to him experimenting with necrophilia and human taxidermy. He tanned the skins of the corpses to make corsets, leggings, belts made from female nipples, and masks so he could make a “woman suit” and become his mother.

The Silence Of The Lambs
The Silence Of The Lambs.

It seems like, Jonathan Demme was also inspired by him and made an almost similar costume for the character Buffalo Bill in The Silence of The Lambs. He eventually went on to kill two women in his town in 1957. Once caught, Gein pleaded not guilty because of insanity and was admitted to a criminal mental hospital.

Around a decade later, he stood trial again and was found guilty of murder and sent to the Central State Hospital in Wisconsin and the Mendota Mental Health Institute, where he later died of heart failure in 1984.

In 2017, a web-series on Netflix named Mindhunter was released, created by Joe Penhall, based on the true-crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E Douglas and Mark Olshaker. It was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences and is still considered as one of the best web-series of Netflix to date.

The show describes crime events done by some of America’s notorious serial killers described by their self (created version). It had also shown some serious psychological metaphors to define the impact of staying with a serial killer.

Serial Killers Inspired By Films

We live in a world where visual stories are more factual and impactful than audio-centric folk tales or morals. The way a documentary film impacts a topic, an article impacts in fewer marks; one thriller film impacts more than a thriller book. Although there can be different reasons, the main reason should be that a film can usually be created from a book, but a film hasn’t been converted into books, although reading a book or article can be helpful in many ways.

So, in short, films are more impactful for humankind. Then a question should be asked (but hasn’t yet), are crime films also impactful for murderers and serial killers? Well, killing or murder is a topic of psychology. A person who has killed numerous people are horrific.

But sometimes, accidentally, a film can also help a person enter the bad world. If somehow some person enters into a story by crossing its limit, then there is a possibility of this happening. For example, watching so many sad films can make you depressed sometimes or a good comedy film can relax you from your hectic schedule.

Similarly, it’s also possible that a crime film can inspire someone to be a killer, although it’s not the motive of any filmmaker or the actors who have acted on those films.

In the late 80s, there was a serial killer named Auto Shankar, a.k.a Auto Narayan, who said to be influenced by dark cinema. He quickly established a name for himself as the transporter of illegal arrack (coconut liquor) involved in the local flesh trade. But what gets him on the list as one of India’s most notorious serial killers is his killing spree in the 80s.

During 6 months in 1988, Auto Shankar abducted and murdered nine teenage girls from Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai. Though initially, he blamed all of it on the influence of cinema, a month before his execution, he confessed to committing the murders for some politicians who had raped the abducted teenage girls. After his arrest, he escaped from Chennai Central Prison but was later apprehended in Rourkela, Odisha.

Shankar was hanged to death in Salem Prison in 1995. But it’s still mentioned in the police report that he was influenced by dark cinema. So, if he was a victim of cinema, then the cinema specifically should be released before the 80s, mainly in between the 1960–1980s.

Seven
Seven.

Most popular serial killers are from poor backgrounds or didn’t have proper education, but still, some of them were passionate about cinema. Well, it can be easily guessed by their style of killing and representation of it.

In between October 2006 to January 2007, six people in Mumbai were killed and in each case, the cops found an empty bottle of beer beside the victim’s body. This gave them the idea that it was a serial killer. In January 2008, Ravindra Kantrole was convicted of the seventh murder, and then two other “Beer Man” murders were pinned on him as well. But he was acquitted of all crimes in 2009 due to lack of evidence.

He now owns a restaurant in Mumbai while the Beer Man mystery remains unsolved. So his idea of making it a serial killing or giving it a clue is very similar to David Fincher’s directorial masterpiece Seven. Although he was illiterate and the film couldn’t have influenced him, his style of representation can create this kind of question on the crime genre fans.

There was an unidentified serial killer in Calcutta who murdered at least 13 homeless people in that city during their sleep in 1989. He was named Stoneman by the media. The Stoneman was blamed for 13 murders over six months in June 1989, but it was never established whether the crimes were committed by one person or a group of individuals. The Calcutta Police also failed to resolve whether any of the crimes were committed as a copycat murder.

No one has been charged with any of the crimes; all 13 cases remain unsolved. Interestingly, the same cases were found in Mumbai (1985–88) and Guwahati (2009), but all the cases remain unsolved. Well, it hasn’t been said by anyone, but can we consider him as Zodiac of India? He still hasn’t been identified and still is mysterious. And his way of killing, using a stone, is very similar to Raman Raghav and the Axeman of New Orleans.

Like Auto Shankar, another serial killer Devendra Sharma was also said to be a lover of dark cinema. He was a fairly successful doctor of Ayurvedic medicine. But gradually, a dark side appeared on his mind. He wanted to make a quick buck boosting cars and he didn’t mind the bloodshed that came with it.

From 2002–2004, he stole cars and killed car drivers from many areas around UP, Gurgaon and Rajasthan. According to his confession, he killed about 30–40 men, all drivers. He was sentenced to death in 2008.

But above all these, there were two serial killers in India, at the time of 2005–2006, named Surinder Koli and Moninder Singh Pandher, popularly known as Nithari killers. They shook the whole country with their work. They took place in a village in Noida and the killings took place at businessman Moninder Pandher’s house.

They killed more than 15 children, mostly underage girls, in the house. In late 2006, the killings began coming to light after skeletal remains were found in a drain near the house. The case took many twists and turns. There were accusations of rape, cannibalism, paedophilia and even organ trafficking — some of these had substances, while others were mainly rumours.

Surinder Koli has been found guilty of five homicides and is on death row, while Pandher awaits his fate as there are 11 other unsolved murders under the same investigation. Isn’t their killing ideology similar to the 1993s miniseries Prime Suspect (season 3)?

Satya
Satya.

Since serial killers like Devendra Sharma and Auto Sankar were influenced by dark cinema, the cinema they were influenced by must be of 1970–80. In that decade, Chetan Anand and Vijay Anand were mostly popular for making films under the crime genre. Some of their popular works are Jewel ThiefJaanemanJohny Mera NaamRam BalramAar Paar, etc.

But the main masterpiece came in 1988, Satya by Ram Gopal Verma and Anurag Kashyap was the co-writer. This film is praised by everyone and remains one of the best crime films of all time, popular for breaking the stereotype of romanticism in Bollywood. After having a respected number of films of the crime genre, we can say that it’s possible, a film can influence serial killers.

Well, it’s clear that cinema doesn’t influence people, but some people get influenced by cinema, although it was not only them who had watched the film. Tons of other people also had watched those films and were not influenced. These kinds of things not only happen in India, but some cases happen outside India as well.

Besides having a good education and well-thought care, somehow they got influenced by cinema. According to a report from the FBI, Behavioral Science Unit, many criminals and murderers have cited movies as inspiration. It’s known to everyone that a person harbouring an unhealthy obsession with Martin Scorsese’s directorial masterpiece Taxi Driver attempted to assassinate President Reagan.

John Hinckley Jr, the assailant, was particularly fixated on young star Jodie Foster, who played the role of a 12-year-old girl in that film, even going so far as to move to Yale University to stalk her.

So to impress her, Hinckley shot Reagan. As a result, he got hurt by a bullet in his lung on that incident but managed a full recovery. His press secretary, James Brady, was not so lucky as he was permanently disabled due to the shooting. As for Hinckley, he was found not guilty because of insanity and released from a psychiatric hospital in 2016.

In July 2012, late on Thursday, audiences all over the country lined up for midnight screenings of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, the last film in the Batman trilogy starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger.

But at one movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a night at the movies ended in tragedy when 24-year-old James Holmes threw tear gas canisters into the audience and opened fire, killing 12 and wounding 70. News coverage was rife with speculation about whether Batman characters, comics or films played a part in inspiring the gunman’s spree, drawing parallels with Holmes’s chosen attire, the way he carried out his attack and the booby-trapped apartment he left behind.

The incidents mentioned above by different serial killers and their inspiration from different movies are based on some particular theories. There is no statement that those serial killers are specifically inspired by a particular movie or a character, except John Hinckley Jr.

But one serial killer from America claimed to be inspired by a particular movie to kill someone. Nathaniel White, who beat and murdered six women during the early 1990s, said he was initially inspired to kill while watching RoboCop 2.

According to his statement, “The first girl I killed was from a Robocop movie… I seen him cut somebody’s throat then take the knife and slit down the chest to the stomach and left the body in a certain position. With the first person, I killed I did exactly what I saw in the movie.” White was caught in 1992 and sentenced to 150 years to life in prison.

Childs Play 3
Childs Play 3.

Although most of the serial killers are adults, in 1993, two 10-year-old boys killed one 2-year-old boy after being influenced by the 1991s horror cinema Child’s Play 3. Another murder case of a teenager named Suzanne Capper, the same movie was cited in the investigation of the case. The controversy foreshadowed the 90s culture wars in which violent movies and music were increasingly blamed for troubled teen behaviour.

In 1994, a weird case between a couple, Daniel Sterling and his longtime girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen, who went to see Interview With the Vampire, happened. The following day, Sterling called Stellwagen and said, “I’m going to kill you and drink your blood.” Well, he seriously did that.

On that evening, he stabbed her seven times and drank her blood for several minutes. Thankfully, Stellwagen survived and her boyfriend ended up in prison. “I was influenced by the movie. I enjoyed the movie,” Sterling said, explaining his motives, “But I cannot sit here and blame the movie.”

Conclusion

For a long time, crime movies have been an integral part of cinema and it has given various contributions in the field. Films of crime genre got Oscars several times. From Akira Kurosawa to Quentin Tarantino, Satyajit Ray to Martin Scorsese, Steven Speilberg to Christopher Nolan, almost every popular filmmaker around the globe has tried this genre.

In India, crime movies specifically directed by Anurag Kashyap, Sriram Raghavan and Ram Gopal Verma’s films are considered classics. After getting acclamation from various people and critics, it won’t be so wrong if I say movies of crime and thriller genre are the most entertaining, enjoyable and valuable.

So it’s illogical if we consider crime films the only reason behind making a serial killer. It’s clear that neither the filmmaker nor the crew and cast made films on that intention. But we must learn to watch films. Life inside a film is different and life outside the film is reality. We can’t get influenced so easily and can’t coincide reality with virtuality.

I hope with the improvement of technology and cinema, people also improve their way of thinking and watch a film as per its limit.

References

  1. 16 Indian Serial Killers You’ll Be Shocked To Know About. And Yes, One Of Them Is Just A Child, ScoopWhoop.
  2. 13 Serial Killers Who Inspired Some Seriously Sick Movies and TV Shows, PopSugar.
  3. Eight Horrible Real-Life Crimes That Were Inspired by a Movie (or Novel), Newsweek.
  4. Behavioral Science Unit – Part I, FBI.
  5. 10 Cases That Shaped the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, TopTenz.
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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