The Rise of the Television Serial Killer

Posted: January 29, 2013 in Reflections, Scary Stuff
Tags: , , ,

Occasionally, I have to devote a post to some hardcore horror subjects, and today I’ve got something I’d like to discuss: serial killers on TV. It used to be that serial killers were relegated to the worlds of novels, and films and they stayed there. Why wwas this? Well, novels had long ago ceased to be scandalous, and a novel was only called to be banned if there was something very extreme about it (such as the gratuitous and very kinky sex of Fifty Shades of Gray, or the popularity and messages seen or percieved in Harry Potter). A serial killer or two in a thriller novel wasn’t so bad, especially since there was always a detective or two there to hunt the freak and his mommy issues down (because until recently, it’s always been mommy issues; damn you pop psychology!). As for movies, they may be decried for their violence and sex, but those sorts of horror movies are restricted to adults mostly, and it is difficult for a kid to get in to watch them. Even with videos and DVDs, not a lot of parents show their kids serial killer films, afraid their kid might become the next James Holmes, Eric Harris, or Adam Lanza.

If a serial killer did show up on TV, usually it was in a crime show, and only just for one episode (two, if it was an episode arc meant to draw out something special from a character). There were never any shows about serial killers, the movies that featured them were heavily edited for sexual content and swearing before airing (never mind being fitted so that the end on the :00 or the :30), and otherwise they weren’t a part of the wasteland that is television. Why is that?

I think it might be due to that TV, unlike the movies, is open to everybody with a TV and a remote, so it would suck if a kid whose favorite game is fairy princess sees Michael Myers stab two teens who’ve just been copulating. Also, TV shows are marketed to get the most viewers, unlike movies, which are marketed to get the most money from moviegoers. Yes, there is a difference: movie studios get a portion of the sales from movie theaters when people see their movies, while television studios get profits when companies pay to have their ads air during the commercial breaks of popular shows. Since a broad variety of people watch TV in general, unlike a single movie, so the shows are marketed to get the most people watching in order to get the most ad fees.

Horror only appeals to a small number of the TV-watching population, and serial killers appeal to only part of the horror fan community. With that in mind, horror doesn’t often get airtime, let alone serial killers. When horror does make an appearance, usually it’s during Halloween or it’s an element of a crime or drama show (examples are Grimm or SVU).

But for reasons I’m not sure about, serial killers are appearing on TV these days, with their own shows or being a huge part of other shows. I think it might have something to do with a resurgence of serious horror on TV. We’ve got Walking Dead on A&E, American Horror Story on FX, and Supernatural on CW, serious horror shows without any of the comedy associated with earlier horror shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the girl-bonding themes of Charmed. No, this is serious horror with traditional tropes like angry spirits, demons, and zombies, and the critics and the viewers are eating it up like candy. I guess it was only a matter of time before serial killers started getting their fair share of airtime, and there’s been some pretty good sharing there:

There’s the Bloody Face character(s) of American Horror Story: Asylum, who’ve been bringing the terror to the TV screen; the cancelled J.J. Abrams show Alcatraz had several serial killer characters throughout the series; and The Following, a crime thriller about a serial killer with a following of killers he manipulates from his jail cell, is enjoying strong ratings on FOX. Plus there’s more: A&E is developing a prequel-that’s-not-a-prequel of the famous 1960 thriller movie Psycho called Bates Motel; and on NBC, there is a much talked about adaptation of the first Hannibal Lecter novel Red Dragon called Hannibal, that I am looking forward to with a vengeance.

So there are several shows featuring serial killers, some on the major networks such as FOX and NBC, and perhaps more will be made in the future. As a huge fan of serial killers (the fictional ones; I don’t condone killing outside of fiction) and a guy who penned a novel about one, I can’t complain about that. Thoguh don’t expect me to watch the Psycho prequel unless the reviews are phenomenal, because with a story like Psycho where the sort of psychosis that Norman Bates has isn’t even clearly defined, it’s going to be difficult to create a show based on how that psychosis developed and keep it interesting. Now if there was a show about Jason Voorhees between his supposed death and when he started killing…no, that’d still be difficult to sell to me.

Also, I would like to clarify some comments I made on this post. Although I said that parents don’t usually show serial killer-themed media to thier kids so they don’t become killers themselves, and that TV shows try not to traumatize kids for that same purpose, I don’t believe that violent movies/TV shows/videogames produce killers. Although there are studies that link excessive video game playing and violent behavior and stuff like that, there is no proof that these violent shows, movies, and games produce actual killers. And if there is any study that shows a correlation, feel free to show me, but I would like to remind you all that correlation doesn’t mean causation; I’ve taken two or three classes that have emphasized that point. Besides, the killers I listed above all had documented mental disorders, and there’s no study yet that show a correlation between movies/TV shows/video games and mental disorders.

And while we’re on the subject, mental disorder doesn’t necessarily mean dangerous. That’s very rare, and it usually doesn’t get to the level of violence we’ve seen in recent months when it is dangerous.

Now that I’ve said all this, I’d like to say good night.


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