Serial killers are a favourite in fiction. Ranging from the one dimensional slashers of the eighties, to the three dimensional and likeable characters like Dexter, they are a perennial antagonist and sometimes protagonist. Some return to kill again and again. They aren't masterminds aiming to control the world; all they want is to kill people.
Dexter Morgan, the likeable blood spatter expert who works for the (fictional) Miami-Metro Police Department has a hobby. He kills people. Only bad people though.
Adopted by Detective Harry Morgan after a traumatic event in his childhood, his foster father realised that Dexter's childhood was going to affect him badly, so taught him to only kill people after finding the evidence to prove them guilty, although the evidence and techniques for gathering don't need to stand up in court, as Dexter has other methods of punishment, and to dispose of the evidence afterwards so Dexter doesn't get caught himself. Society being unlikely to look kindly on Dexter's little hobby.
Dexter's attempts to control his desires and understand the rest of the world, such as his girlfriend and his cop foster sister, make him an interesting character. He feels divorced from humanity, although he finds children far more interesting and gives those predators who prey on children "special" attention.
Despite his habit of killing and dismembering people, then usually carefully wrapping the pieces up and dumping them at sea, Dexter is rather likable for a serial killer who doesn't really consider himself human.
Dexter was created by author Jeff Lindsay, and the first book in the series, Darkly Dreaming Dexter was adapted into the first season of the television series, although further seasons deviated from the books.
Dexter currently runs to eight television seasons and seven books.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D., is a psychiatrist who was imprisoned after it was discovered that he was a cannibalistic serial killer, who would cook and eat parts of his victims after killing them.
Initially consulted on the case by FBI agent Will Graham, Graham later discovers that Lecter was the serial killer.
Consulted, whilst behind bars, in both Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal escapes from prison and is found living in Florence in Hannibal.
The prequel novel and film, Hannibal Rising, explores Hannibal's backstory more, showing the events during the Second World War that badly traumatised the young Hannibal, creating his lifelong fixation on cannibalism.
First introduced in the 1981 book by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon, Hannibal was next seen in Silence of the Lambs, whose film adaptation starred Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal and Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling.
Hannibal has now appeared in four books and five films, as Red Dragon was originally filmed as Manhunter in 1986, and was later reshot as Red Dragon starring Anthony Hopkins again in 2002. He has also appeared in the televsion series Hannibal, currently running for two seasons.
These three characters have been appearing in films for over 30 years, although the bulk of their popularity was in the Eighties. Masked or disfigured killers, with a penchant for killing teenagers, especially those involved in amorous activities, even the nominally human Michael Myers was extremely hard to kill.
Each of these three has had recent attempted reboots of the series, with limited success so far, although there are now two new Halloween films.
The disfigured villain in Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddie Kruger was in life a killer of children who also murdered his wife. His hideous burns were caused when he was set on fire and burned alive by the parents of Springwood.
At the moment of his death, the Dream Demons appeared and offered him a bargain. Now, Freddy lives on in dreams, his distinctive striped sweater, fedora and bladed gloved figure now haunting the dreams of those he wishes to kill. When he kills someone in a dream, they die in real life.
Freddy can be pulled from dreams into the real world, losing much of his power, and allowing him to be defeated. At least until the next time.
Freddy Kruger has appeared in nine films so far, including the crossover Freddy vs Jason film in which he battles Friday the 13th's Jason Vorhees. Freddy's glove had previously been seen in Jason Goes to Hell. In Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Freddy Kruger was stalking the real life people who played in the characters in the films.
Jason Vorhees first appeared as the villain and killer in Friday the 13th Part II, although he was referenced and was briefly seen in Friday the 13th. Although Jason died as a child, when he returned as the villain he was fully grown; this was sometimes from his having survived the drowning and grown up, depending on the plot of the movie at that time. Jason as a child was pictured as suffering from physical deformity, and was mentally handicapped. Drowned at the camp at Crystal Lake as a child, he returns later to take revenge on teenagers similar to those who caused his death.
Usually depicted as a huge figure wearing a hockey mask and wielding a large machete, the appearance of Jason Vorhees has altered throughout his many appearances; even his trademark hockey mask did not appear until Friday the 13th Part III. In Jason X he even turned into a cyborg. He gained recuperative and regenerative powers as the series progressed, and has been resurrected from the dead by a lightning bolt. Jason was usually a mute, nearly unstoppable and unkillable force.
Jason has appeared in twelve films, but not, however, in the first in the Friday the 13th series; the killer in that being his mother, taking revenge for the death of her child. A fact that cost Drew Barrymore's character her life in Scream. He also met with Freddy Kruger in the previously mentioned Jason vs Freddy film.
Michael Myers murdered his older sister as a young boy, and as a result is sent to the Smith's Grove Sanatorium. Fifteen years later he escapes and returns to his home town of Haddonfield to kill again. His psychiatrist, Dr Sam Loomis, who also appeared in several of the later films in the series. At the end of Halloween, despite being shot multiple times and falling from a building, his body disappears.
Michael wears a full head mask including hair, hiding his face, and wields a kitchen knife. He is usually dressed in what appear to be coveralls or a boiler suit. Like Jason, he enjoys stabbing people and is mute. Although he is willing to kill anyone who gets in his ways, teenagers are still a favourite prey.
Despite being nominally a normal human, unlike both Freddy and Jason, Michael is still impossible to kill and seems totally unharmed by any attempt to do so. He has been shot, burned, fallen from high levels and attacked with knives and axes.
First appearing in John Carpenter's Halloween in 1978, Michael Myers has now appeared in nine films, Halloween III being disconnected from the rest of the series, including the two recent Rob Zombie remakes. Halloween: H20 ignored the events of the three prior films Michael appeared in, and had him missing since the events of Halloween II.
The ghost-masked killer of Wes Craven's Scream film series, this killer actually changed from film to film, the previous wearers dying. Characterised by a ghostly white face mask, hooded and tattered black clothing, and his ever popular hunting knife, this character revitalised and referenced the slasher genre of films. Ghostface has been played by five characters in the Scream series. Ghostface also shared the propensity for killing teenagers of the Eighties slasher movies.
Although not silent, Ghostface rarely speaks when physically present. Instead, he usually only talks to his victims over the phone.
As Ghostface is played by different characters, his actual motivation for his killings changes from film to film, although it is often revenge-based. They all target Sydney Prescott though.
Ghostface possesses near superhuman abilities of stealth and strength, allowing him to vanish from a victim’s sight and be able to easily overpower them. He is also resistant to physical damage, and often has to be killed by being shot in the head, as he is still able to keep going even after being badly wounded, by being shot, stabbed or clubbed. His above average abilities were only present whilst the mask was on; once it was taken off and the killer revealed their true identity it was possible to defeat them.
Ghostface has now appeared in four Scream films, the first one in 1996. Being a costume worn by different protagonists, it is easy for him to return.
Dubbed "The Jigsaw Killer," and then just Jigsaw by the media, from his habit of cutting jigsaw-shaped pieces from unsuccessful subjects, the protagonist of the Saw films, Jigsaw, was unusual as he didn't actively seek the death of his subjects.
Instead, Jigsaw, or John Kramer, who doesn't think of himself by the name Jigsaw, creates traps in order to test the survival instinct of people who he considers are wasting their lives. Himself dying of a brain tumour, he realised how many people just took their lives for granted, and decided to teach them to appreciate them.
Victims were kidnapped and placed in sadistic traps where, if they didn't escape in time, they would die. The traps were often complicated and twisted, and escaping often required either mutilation of the victim themselves, or in some cases killing others, in order to escape. He often communicated with his victims using a puppet, Billy, using pre-recorded messages, explaining how the trap worked and what the test subject would need to do to survive.
Although John Kramer appeared in every film, in many cases this was actually after his death and he was viewed in flashbacks. Later killers were disciples of the original Jigsaw, often those who survived his traps. As the series progressed, more was revealed about the life and losses of John Kramer, who had lost both his wife and child.
The first film, Saw, in the series of seven was released in 2004. A film a year was released after that until 2011, which was the last in the series. Or was it?
Jack the Ripper
Although not actually a fictional character, Jack the Ripper has appeared in more books, films and television shows than any other serial killer.
With the actual identity of the person, or maybe persons, who was Jack the Ripper still not known for certain, Jack has been a very popular character in fiction.
Not the most prolific serial killer compared to many more modern killers, with only five definite kills attributed to him, and not the first, Jack was the first to gain widespread media coverage.
With the identity of a few of his (or hers, or their) victims one of the only verifiable true facts about Jack the Ripper, it has been easy to write him into novels, films and television programs. He has appeared in the original Star Trek series and has stolen H.G.Wells Time Machine in Time After Time. He has had cameos in Doctor Who, where a Silurian ate him, and in Shanghai Knights, where he was pushed into a river.
With so little known, Jack the Ripper is a blank slate of a serial killer, and can therefore be adapted to any situation. Jack has appeared in hundreds of films, books and television programs, from the factual to fiction, to those that are somewhere between the two.
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