Serial Killers on Screen
In recent years, the media has abounded with stories of serial killers. Esquiremagazine notes that 2019 has been a particularly ‘bumper year for [Ted] Bundy’, but numerous other news stories have maintained our perennial fascination with serial murderers.[i]Indeed, the death of Charles Manson (2017), the 2018 arrest and subsequent identification of Joseph James DeAngelo (known as the ‘original night stalker’ and, latterly, the Golden State Killer), and multiple anniversaries, including the Tate-LaBianca murders (50th) and Ted Bundy’s death (30th), have all kept serial killers at the forefront of the public imagination.
Unsurprisingly, production companies from both the big and small screen have capitalised on – and contributed to – this surge of serial killer media. While documentaries such as the BBC’s The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story(2019)and Jack the Ripper – The Case Reopened (2019) have revisited high-profile cases with fresh questions, fictionalised biopics and adaptations continue to offer an alternative approach to these harrowing stories. From Netflix’s Mindhunter (2017 –), Joe Berlinger’s Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile(2019), to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) and Netflix’s Lost Girls (release TBA), it seems there is a conspicuous interest in seeing this figure mediated on screen. And this current phenomenon builds on the fact that some of the silver screen’s most critically-acclaimed and popular films have been based on real-life serial murderers, including, for instance, Patty Jenkin’s academy award-winning biopic, Monster(2003) based on Aileen Wuornos, and David Fincher’s Zodiac(2007), the media name given to the unidentified killer who haunted North California in the late 1960s.
Professor of Criminology David Wilson explains that one reason why the public ‘might follow a serial killer’ is ‘because they are complex puzzles that they want to figure out’, but Wilson also suggests that this ever-growing appetite is ‘driven by co-activation and the titillation of getting close to something frightening with the knowledge you won’t come to any harm.’ [ii]
Using Wilson’s comments as a starting point, we solicit contributions to an edited collection focused on the representation of the real-life serial killer as portrayed onscreen in biopics, documentaries, television series, and films. While there is plenty of media discussion about the proliferation of serial killer narratives in popular culture, scholarly study of their representation onscreen remains largely overlooked. This collection, therefore, is interested in unravelling the politics at play in adapting and screening the stories of real-life serial murderers. We pose the following questions:
- How are real-life serial killers fictionalised onscreen?
- How are the horrific crimes and the traumatic legacies left by serial murderers negotiated for public audiences?
- What are the ethical issues at stake (social/cultural and/or historical) in the making of such productions, and what ethical dilemmas does the screening of serial killers’ crimes generate?
- What are the cultural effects (individually and collectively) produced by serial killer narratives on screen?
- And can films, documentaries, biopics and television dramas about serial killers generate valuable cross-disciplinary insights into this criminological phenomenon?
Accordingly, we welcome proposed chapters that investigate, but are not limited to, topics including:
- Any aspect of the portrayal of serial killer(s) in biopics, documentaries, television drama, and film
- Glamorisation / romanticisation of the serial killer
- Serial killer myths/mythologies as perpetuated onscreen
- The portrayal (and perspective) of victims and survivors
- Screening serial murder and the representation of violence
- The representation of misogyny, homophobia, ageism and other vulnerable (victim) groups in serial killer narratives
- Theories of performance and embodiment
- Serial killers and the representation of the body
- Issues of gender, sexuality, race, disability, class, and nation
- Serial killers and screen genre(s)
- The concept of ‘murder porn’
- Screening psychopathy and sociopathy
- The figure of the detective / criminal profiler in relation to serial murder
- The criminal body
- Media ethics and the representation of the serial killers
We are interested in cohering a range of diverse perspectives and theoretical approaches to this subject, including feminist, psychoanalysis, criminology, film/TV, cultural studies, and biographical.
This volume will be submitted to Palgrave Macmillan’s series on Crime, Media and Culture (https://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/15057) who have expressed an interest in the collection.
Please send a 500-word abstract (for 8000 word chapters) and brief bio to the editors, Dr Claire O’Callaghan (Loughborough University, U.K.) and Dr Sarah Fanning (Mount Allison University, Canada) by 1stDecember 2019at C.OCallaghan@lboro.ac.ukand firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions about this call for chapters, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
[i]Olivia Ovenden, ‘Serial killers are set to dominate our screens in 2019’ (n.d.), <https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/a25545862/conversations-with-a-killer...
[ii]David Wilson quoted in Thomas Hobbs’ ‘From Ted Bundy to Jeffrey Dahmer, what it’s like to be part of a serial killer fandom’ (2018), <https://www.newstatesman.com/2018/10/ted-bundy-jeffrey-dahmer-what-it-s-...