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Movies Inspired By Crimes

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Horror movies and thrillers can be scary enough on their own, but there is a sub-genre of these films based on actual gruesome crimes…

It seems that over the past few years there has been an uprising of the true crimes fandom. People love to scour the internet, looking for the latest podcast, movie, or YouTube video to entertain and inform. Along with this rise in true crimes popularity, came a trend in the film industry, where infamous killers and their stories were turned into top-grossing pictures. The truth is that this trend has gone in and out for years, and since the early to mid-1900’s movies about true crimes have been prevalent. It is hard to believe that the horrifying acts taking place on-screen actually happened to someone, and that innocent lives were lost. It is important to remember the victims and their families, and to not glorify their murderers. That being said, here are some of the most recognizable and bone-chilling adaptations of real crimes to make it to the big screen.

It seems that everybody knows the infamous story of serial killer Theodore Bundy, who in the span of four years murdered at least 28 women from five different states. In 2019, Director Joe Berlinger released Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019), with Zac Efron and Lily Collins as Bundy and then-girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall. Based on Kendall’s own memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy (1981), the story focuses on the vicious murders Bundy committed while in a relationship and pursuing a career in law. While it is a true crimes dramatization that does speed up major events in order to fit a time limit, Efron’s chilling accuracy in portraying Bundy shakes viewers to their core. The unsettling nature of a man who seemed so family-oriented and friendly being exposed as a killer changed Elizabeth Kendall and her daughter Molly’s lives forever, as well as the numerous victims’ families who suffered great losses. Berlinger’s retelling follows Bundy through this secret life he hid from Kendall, and the shocking court cases that changed the way murderers were perceived in the United States. Before or after watching this movie, it would be helpful to read The Phantom Prince in order to gain a closer perspective on just how evil Bundy truly was.

Another disturbing film to arise from this true crimes trend in Hollywood was Marc Meyers’ My Friend Dahmer (2017). While there have been countless documentaries on serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer and his disturbing habits, Meyers’ film was based on the autobiographical novel of the same title released in 2012 by former classmate John “Derf” Backderf. Backderf was a mere acquaintance of Dahmer’s and that is putting it nicely. Along with his other friends, Backderf looked to Dahmer as both entertainment and inspiration. They would encourage and coax the young man into performing his disturbing “comedy,” consisting of faking epileptic episodes, acting as if he had a disability, and moaning loudly on school grounds. While entertaining his clique at school, Dahmer struggled immensely behind the scenes with an unraveling family and personal desires. As his family abandons him and his high school persona wears off, Backderf spots his friend walking on the road and drives him home, attempting to talk to him. He soon senses there is something very wrong, and this is the last bit of contact Dahmer had with the group before beginning a killing spree of 17 people before getting caught. Former Disney Channel star Ross Lynch takes on the darkness in a frighteningly-accurate portrayal of Dahmer, a real life monster. 

true crimes

This next true crimes film strikes much closer to home for me, and is set 30 minutes from my hometown in Texarkana, Texas. There are actually two versions of the story, both being titled The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976, 2014). Both films are based upon the 1946 Texas Moonlight Murders, which were a series of killings committed by a masked person only known as the ‘Phantom Killer.’ Although both films are loose retellings of the murders, there are myths and details of the story that are now believed to be true because of the 1976 film’s claim that “the story you are about to see is true, where it happened and how it happened.” The Phantom Killer was said to be a younger man under 30-years-old, wearing a white hood with holes cut for his eyes and mouth. There was a theory that the killer struck every 21 days, which was presented in the movie, and he seemed to target couples. The gruesome attacks that ensued around Texarkana were unsettling and changed the mood of the city as a whole. While there have been leads and suspects, the true crimes case remains unsolved today.

Along with the 1976 rendition of The Town that Dreaded Sundown came another classic out of the 70’s, which is Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). This frightening thriller was so graphic and violent that it is actually banned in many countries. Hooper’s film was actually said to be accurate and based on real events, but is actually mostly fiction. Although the vicious ripper known as Leatherface was not real, he was loosely based on infamous killer Ed Gein and the crimes he committed. Leatherface lives in an old house which Kirk, Pam and their other friends stumble upon. He spares them no mercy and does not hold back on making their final moments an absolute hell. Thankfully, there is a decent ending for one of the people, but that is not the case for everyone. Just like Ed Gein, known as the Butcher of Plainfield, Leatherface brutally murdered many people and kept their bodies for his own sick and twisted pleasure. 

Normal horror movies can be frightening enough, but when real crimes come into play, an entirely new element of fear is introduced. There are vicious people in the world, who will go to any length to kill, and above are a mere few of the many films based on real murders. They can be as thrilling as they are disturbing, but it is vital to remember that these stories involve real evil and lives lost. While we can watch these movies to become informed and to be entertained, it is always important to respect and remember those who should be here today. The true crimes film industry helps society understand what evil looks like in its rawest form. 

Check out the trailer for the original “The Town That Dreaded Sundown!”

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Intern Article Writer | Website | Posts

Sadie is an Intern Article Writer and Senior English Major at the University of Central Arkansas. In her spare time, she enjoys watching horror movies, reading, and spending time with her guinea pigs, Ginger and Spike.