Cinematic Serial Killers Project: Accurate or Fictitious Portrayals of Real-Life Serial Offenders?
May 26 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm CDT
Cinematic Serial Killers Project:
Accurate or Fictitious Portrayals of Real-Life Serial Offenders?
Presented by Jim Iaccino, Ph.D.
Thursday, May 26th, 2022
10-11AM PT / 12-1PM CT / 1-2PM ET
When attended in full, program offers 1.0 CEs for Psychologists (APA).
Event held online via Zoom. Link to access provided upon registration.
According to Fridel and Fox (2018), serial murder is a relatively rare event, comprising less than one percent of all homicides committed in a single year. Furthermore, contemporary serial killers are not prolific, with most killing less than five victims before they are apprehended. Based on the media, especially film, the public might think these numbers would be higher. Forensic investigator and criminologist Eric Hickey (2016) reports that between 2000 and 2015, over 500 movies with serial murder themes were produced in this country alone. Hickey and others (Leistedt & Linkowski, 2014) indicate that these films have perpetuated particular myths of the serial killer including that they are exclusively male, Caucasian, psychotic or psychopathic, driven by lust, and using one weapon of choice to kill their victims.
Therefore, we decided that an intensive analysis of a representative sample of these serial killer films was necessary to determine if the portrayed offenders possessed any characteristics that were compatible with their real-life counterparts. Our research, entitled The Cinematic Serial Killer (CSK) Project, began in early 2020 within the Online Forensic Psychology Department and involved this presenter supervising two forensic student co-leads; their responsibility was to monitor pairs of students who coded a number of films that had cinematic serial killers in them who were based on actual murderers (e.g., Aileen Wuornos in Monster  and Ted Bundy in Bundy ). The students used a Cinematic Serial Killer Survey- Revised Version (CSKS-R) in their codings that was originally designed by this presenter and then modified with my forensic co-leads to assess more features of these murderers, such as their motives (i.e., sexual gratification, thrills, power, and/or financial gain), their methods (i.e., gun, knife, hands, and/or poison), and their victim types (whether strangers, acquaintances, and/or family members). To date, we have coded 57 films and we will be sharing the results of these film codings at this webinar. The overall findings confirmed that there were a number of common characteristics between the film killers and their real-life counterparts such as their gender, age, typology, being driven by a variety of motives, as well as choosing a more common victim type (strangers). However, there were still some inaccuracies in these portrayals including the cinematic killers’ ethnicity, number of kills, and the use of particular weapons to murder their victims.
We will be providing an interactive film coding exercise at the end of the webinar so that the audience can learn our strategy of analyzing a particular serial killer film (Ed Gein, 2000) according to designated CSK Survey characteristics. We hope to eventually develop a publishable film database on these murderers, as well as continue to disseminate the information collected from the database at our Online Forensic Bi-Annual Residencies and other organizations (e.g., Fever Talks targeted to the Chicagoland community, APA Annual Conventions) to better inform and educate a variety of audiences as to which cinematic serial killer characteristics are factual and which ones are fictitious in their portrayals of real-life offenders.
It should be noted that this program is part of TCSPP’s 2021-2022 Thought Leader Series: Faculty Scholarship Spotlight.
Workshop Learning Objectives:
#1. Identify the most common myths associated with serial killers within the film medium
#2. Identify which characteristics of cinematic serial killers accurately portray their real-life counterparts and which characteristics do not
#3. Apply the showcased film coding instrument to future serial killer films in order to assess the accuracy of the depicted offender portrayals
Program Standards and Goals:
Registration and Fees:
Fridel, E.E. & Fox, J. A. (2018). Too few victims: Finding the optimal minimum victim threshold for defining serial murder. Psychology of Violence, 8(4), 505-514. https://doi.org/10.1037/vio0000138
Harrison, M.A., Hughes, S.M., & Gott, A.J. (2019). Sex differences in serial killers. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 13(4), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1037/ebs0000157
Hickey, E.W. (2016). Serial murderers and their victims (7th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Leistedt, S.J. & Linkowski, P. (2014). Psychopathy and the cinema: Fact or fiction? Journal of Forensic Sciences, 59(1), 167-174. https://doi.org/10.1111/1556-4029.12359