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Cinematic Serial Killers: Accurate or Fictitious Portrayals of Real-Life…

October 22, 2020 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm CDT

Roundtable Discussion

Cinematic Serial Killers: Accurate or Fictitious Portrayals of Real-Life Serial Offenders?

James F. Iaccino, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Forensic Psychology, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Online Campus

Alexandra Daniels, Student, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Online Campus

Aubrey Grudowski, Student, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Online Campus

According to the FBI (2008), 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. In fact, the FBI has lowered the number of kills attributed to the serial killer from 3 or more victims to 2 or more victims by the same offender in separate events. Based on the media, especially film, one would think these numbers would be higher. Criminologist Eric Hickey (2016) reports that between 2000 and 2015, over 500 movies with serial murder themes were produced in this country alone. It is claimed that these films have also perpetuated particular myths of the serial killer, including that they are chiefly male, Caucasian, are driven by lust, are highly intelligent, have been sexually abused as children, are highly mobile, and want to get caught by law enforcement.

An intensive analysis of these serial killer films is necessary to determine if the portrayed serial killer has any characteristics that are compatible with their real-life counterpart. The initial investigation by Iaccino, Schienberg, and Kalish (2013) examined 34 films on serial murderers, the majority of which contained fictional offenders (e.g., Michael Myers in Halloween II [2009]). Results indicated that most serial killers were male (77%), Caucasian (94%), and tended to be prolific with respect to the number of victims killed (M = 7.70), supporting some of the aforementioned myths. However, because these offenders were not based on real-life cases, generalizations are somewhat limited.

Our current study is designed to correct that limitation by looking at cinematic serial killers who are based on actual murderers (e.g., Aileen Wuornos in Monster [2003]). In addition, the Cinematic Serial Killer Survey (CSKS) originally designed by Iaccino has been modified 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). The research team of Iaccino, Grudowski, and Daniels (2020) will discuss in more detail the film coding process with the CSKS-Revised, and how they are achieving high inter-rater reliability with their codings. It is hoped that a more effective assessment of these films will occur to better inform and educate the public as to which serial killer characteristics are factual and which ones are fictitious.

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