What’s left to say about Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece that hasn’t already been said a dozen times over? It’s the movie that cut the ribbon – via a downward slashing motion – on 1960s filmmaking, breaking damn near every established taboo of the previous decades, from violence to sex, to plotting, to showing a toilet in use. It helped invent the slasher flick, anticipated the splatter film and elevated horror to high art. It’s spawned innumerable imitators and parodies, some subpar sequels, a TV spinoff, a biopic, a documentary and a shot-for-shot remake. If there’s anything ‘new’ to say about Psycho, perhaps it’s that the movie’s far-reaching impact has come to obscure the Anthony Perkins performance at the centre – it’s impossible to imagine anyone else as Norman Bates, and the film casting such a long shadow without him.
There are crime movies and horror movies, and then there are movies about serial killers. Intersecting those other genres, they’re truly a different, less human beast. Where crime flicks allow viewers to vicariously experience life lived outside the law, and horror films mostly give us the thrilling jolt of adrenaline that comes with fear, serial killer movies aren’t really about providing a rush. Instead, they force us to peer into the worst corners of the human psyche – the dark, frightening places we’d rather pretend don’t exist.
But the best movies about serial killers aren’t about delivering transgressive shocks. The truly great ones also examine the conditions that create them. Filmmakers have been questioning the role society plays in the making of a murderer for a century or more. In considering the best serial killer movies ever made, we prioritised those that go beyond mere exploitation. Make no mistake, though: all of them will leave you shaken. If they leave you at all.
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