Film & TV

Why Is Hollywood Hunkifying Serial Killers?

Teen heartthrobs turned psychopathic murderers.
Reading time 3 minutes

Last year, Netflix released two hit-making TV shows about America’s legendary serial killers: Manhunt: The Unabomber and Mindhunter. Both plot lines center around lead FBI agents who are played by good looking actors, no surprise here. Both also tell the stories of real psychopaths on murder sprees, including Ed Kemper, Richard Speck, Jeffrey Dahmer, and eventually in an upcoming season of Mindhunter, Charles Manson. So, it wasn’t long until Hollywood executives realized that it’s time to tell these stories in the perspective of the psychopaths themselves.

But of course, according to Hollywood’s rule book, lead actors should strike as attractive — as hunks. Enter Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer, Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, and Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Three young studs re-enacting some of history’s deadliest serial killers. 

Let’s backtrack here for a moment. Our society has been obsessed with serial killers since Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the dark comedy series Dexter, where the lead is a detective by day and multilates people at night. We love thrillers, gory scenes, and psychopathic murderers — Freud would have psychoanalyzed this as satisfying our “id,” a.k.a our natural impulses as animals. But most of these shows and movies have been fictional, characters that couldn’t possibly be roaming around in our neighborhoods, unless it’s Halloween.

More recently, “based on true story” movies have been getting a lot of attention (especially at the Oscars) like I, Tonya, Darkest Hour, and The Greatest Showman. So naturally when it comes to thrillers, people also want to know the real truths, or at least dramatized versions of them. But what happens when these real-life psychopaths are portrayed by Zac Efron, whose portrait was pinned on lockers in middle school? Or Glee’s fans who worship all things Darren Criss? What about Ross Lynch, who jumped from acting and singing for Disney, to playing Jeffrey Dahmer who raped and murdered men? If the Heathers reboot, a TV series on violence in high school, has been postponed indefinitely because of the Parkland shooting, then what about these films? Don't they pose a threat to children as well?

Certainly, everyone would love to witness Efron play a more serious role, and no one seems to be complaining, but isn't there a consequence in today’s threatening world when we link star quality to real-life violence? Has it, in fact, become "cool" to fangirl over Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer? Do we need to see Criss's naked backside to understand the severity of his crime? 

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