Let’s admit it, we’re fascinated by serial killers. The constant reminder of our own mortality shown through the deeply disturbing acts of a human monster is, honestly, pretty damn bleak.
Slashers have sliced, diced, and secured their place as a staple of pop culture. We constantly see new Ghostface killers, small-town sadists, and unstoppable juggernauts hacking through a hoard of wayward youths.
Mockumentaries like Man Bites Dog, Charm (Random Acts of Violence), Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and The Poughkeepsie Tapes give a more realistic glimpse (albeit a fabricated one) into the hyper-productivity and psychological maneuvering of a killer.
Each mockumentary has its own distinct style, so the films I’ve covered have some noticeable differences. That being said, they each demonstrate the human side of a serial killer, but in dramatically different ways.
Man Bites Dog takes the direct approach of following an urban psychopath as he stabs and shoots his way through the city. Ben is a confident, clever, friendly serial killer. We see him through his daily life; visits with his parents, discussions of architecture, and chaotic murder.
The unnerving connection that Ben develops with his film crew demonstrates how manipulative and mesmerizing these madmen can be. The filmmakers witness firsthand the full extent of what he is capable of, and yet, they are drawn further into the action.
Shot entirely in black and white, this Belgian film goes to some really dark places.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a cheeky re-imagining of the creation of a Big Name Killer like Jason, Michael or Freddy.
A documentary crew follows Leslie Mancuso, a charismatic and likable nightmare-in-training as he stalks his chosen Survivor Girl. He prepares various traps and predicts her reactions, methodically choreographing their encounters.
The whole film is chock-full of typical horror tropes. More importantly, it humanizes the enthusiastic murderer by showing him as an Average Joe. He has goals. He has turtles. He has to do a lot of cardio (it’s not easy to catch up to running, screaming teenagers at a menacing walking pace).
Watching Leslie, you can understand how so many killers are able to hide in plain sight. He is devoted to his career in “the business of fear”, yet you can’t help but root for him.
Part mockumentary, part feature, the film jumps between documentary footage and polished multi-camera action sequences. We end up with a film that shows the dedication of a young man who yearns for purpose. It just happens that his purpose is murder.
Truthfully, I can’t stop thinking about The Poughkeepsie Tapes. In an abandoned house, investigators discover over 800 videotapes, numbered for the police to watch in order. Filmed by the perpetrator, the films act as a visual record of the horrific, sadistic torture and murder of several victims.
Writer/Director John Erick Dowdle (As Above, So Below) has created a spot-on “true crime” documentary. A sense of realism is created by using interviews with criminology and psychology “experts” inter-cut with graphic scenes from the videotapes. There’s a keen attention to detail with deep roots in reality.
The psychological affect that these tragedies have on the victims and their families is visibly painful. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is an emotionally charged psychological horror and a chilling reminder that yes, stuff like this actually happens. These psychopathic killers truly do exist.
Want more ultra-violence? Click Here to check out the trailer for an actual real-life documentary about attempted murder.