|Barbe-Bleue (George Méliès, France, 1901)
The serial killer has been around since the beginnings of cinema. Georges Méliès’ 10-minute Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard, 1901, click here to see it on YouTube) includes a horror chamber where the seven dead bodies of Bluebeard’s former wives hang side-by-side from a beam. There are reports of an American film, Gunness Murder Farm (1908), portraying the female serial killer Belle Gunness who murdered at least 40 victims for insurance payouts including all her suitors, her two daughters and probably both her husbands.
A 19th Century Portuguese multi-murderer Diogo Alves, who is thought to have disposed of 70 people, has his head preserved in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lisbon. He was the subject of a 7-minute film in 1909 and a 23-minute remake in 1911, Os Crimes de Diogo Alves (The Crimes of Diogo Alves). In Weimar Germany, serial killers can be found as a somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) and as a vampire in Nosferatu (1922). Hitchcock used Jack The Ripper for The Lodger (1927), but the film that laid the blueprint for serial killer cinema, by looking for motives through the new field of psychoanalysis, was Fritz Lang’s M (1931).
Mindhunter, a ten-part Netflix series, appears to have originated from executive producer Charlize Theron when she gave David Fincher a copy of John E Douglas and Robert Rossler’s Mindhunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. A detailed account of how the profiling of serial killers became a serious study, it asks question such as: why have the motives of serial killers become more ‘elusive’ since the 1950s. Why has extreme violence between complete strangers become a new normal?
|Holt McCallany, Jonathan Groff, Mindhunter
The Netflix series is set in the second half of the 1970s and an academic suggests to FBI agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) that unprecedented events since 1960 such as Kennedy’s assassination, losing an unpopular war in Vietnam, the National Guard killing four college students and the Watergate scandal has led to “a government [that] used to be, symbolically, a parental institution” but has now become “a free-for-all”. Ford suggests: “if the world doesn’t make any sense, it follows that crime doesn’t either”.
|Hannah Gross, Mindhunter
Ford’s girlfriend Debbie (Hannah Gross) is undertaking a post-graduate course in sociology and she quotes from Durkheim, Hegel, C. Wright Mills and even Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of The Self in Everyday Life. There’s quite a bit of 1970s sociology in Mindhunter, mostly of the type derided back-in-the-day as pop-culture nonsense. Here, it’s presented as anything but, and it forms a serious background into the thinking and development of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. The Unit’s quest is to understand the minds of men who kill, mutilate and sexually attack victim after victim. These monsters, tentatively known as “sequence killers”, morph into “serial killers” by episode 10.
It’s a cerebral work and unlike Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), the gruesome deaths are not shown on screen, although copious explicit police photographs are used. Dialogue about psychopathologies is rife, as is the masculinity and the unconscious misogyny of the central FBI agents and the police.
Fincher directs four of the 10 episodes and is credited as an executive producer. Collider.com suggests Charlize Theron recommended the London-born, Adelaide-raised writer Joe Penhall as the all-important series “creator” (Theron knew Penhall from the production of John Hillcoat’s The Road).
Penhall relocated to London, where he’s now a noted writer of plays and screenplays. He has completed a 5-season writer’s “bible” for Mindhunter. Season 2 has been commissioned.
|Charlize Theron, David Fincher