By Paul B. Kidd   

Origin of the Species

The history of real life and fictional serial killers in the movies dates back to as early as 1943, though the villains in those days weren't known as serial killers. They were labelled as psychopaths, psychotics, sex criminals, maniacs, or mass killers. They didn't officially get the title of "serial killers" until the late 80s.

Movie Poster: Shadow of a Doubt
Movie Poster: Shadow of a Doubt

chapter continues

Research indicates that the first serial killer movie ever made was in 1943 and it only seems right that it was made by the original master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. It was called Shadow of a Doubt and is about an outwardly respectable relative known as Uncle Charlie, played by Joseph Cotton, who was in fact the Merry Widow Murderer.

Also made in 1943 Arsenic and Old Lace is a light-hearted affair about a pair of delightful old dears who murder vagrants and bury their bodies in the cellar. They were neither labelled as psychopaths or insane, just a couple of public spirited senior citizens doing their civic duty by hurrying along the inevitable and saving the City of New York the cost of a pauper's funeral. Also released in 1943 was the serial killer movie titled Bluebeard starring John Carradine about the infamous turn-of-the-century women strangler.

Movie Poster: Arsenic and Old Lace
Movie Poster: Arsenic and Old Lace

Released in 1947 Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux, a black "comedy of murders" about a Parisian Bluebeard who murders his wives for their money, was widely rejected by critics and audiences alike and rapidly faded into obscurity although these days it is acclaimed as a masterpiece.

Released in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was the first genuine modern day serial killer movie and at the time, and for many years later, was arguably the scariest movie ever made. Just prior to Psycho's release, competitions were held in major cities throughout the world to find couples who were game enough to view the movie, alone, in a pitch black theatre, at midnight. If they survived dying of fright they won a prize, which, from memory was a life-sized pin-up of Norman Bates. But, as frightening as it was for the time, and no doubt to the disappointment of the promoters, no one came to grief.

Psycho was followed by three sequels all of which suggested that poor demented Norman should have been lobotomised and left in the rubber room at the local mental facility rather than be let out and inflicted on an unwitting general public over and over again. Fortunately for Mr Hitchcock, and no doubt to his eternal gratitude, he died before the sequels were made.

Also in 1960 came the disturbing Peeping Tom, which was denounced at the time as being too distressing to sit through. It tells the story of a psychopathic killer who photographs his victims as they draw their last breath. Certainly not to everyone's taste but was critically acclaimed in the years to come.


1. Origin of the Species

2. Hollywood Discovers Serial Killers

3. The Golden Age

4. Enter: Silence of The Lambs

5. Paul B. Kidd's Top 15 Serial Killer Movies: Silence of the Lambs

6. Seven & Manhunter

7. Prime Suspect

8. Psycho

9. 10 Rillington Place & Hannibal

10. Dirty Harry & Frenzy

11. Cop, Jennifer 8 & Citizen X

12. Sea of Love, Copycat & The Bone Collector

13. The Author

- Boston Strangler Full Case Coverage

- Hannibal Lecter: From the Beginning

<< Previous Chapter 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 >> Next Chapter
Serial Killer Movies
Black Widow
The Boston Strangler
Ted Bundy
Andrei Chikatilo
10 Rillington Place
John Wayne Gacy
Eddie Gein
Gary Heidnik
Henry Lee Lucas
Son of Sam
Charles Starkweather

truTV Shows
The Investigators
Forensic Files
Missing Persons Unit

TM & © 2007 Courtroom Television Network, LLC.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved. is a part of the Turner Entertainment New Media Network.
Terms & Privacy Guidelines