The Top 10 Serial Killer Movies You Must See Before You Die

anthony hopkins in the silence of the lambsSerial killers have been around since the beginning of time, and often serial killer movies are dismissed as little more than exploitation. But the 10 movies below are not just slasher flicks, they make you think about society’s role in creating killers and our own twisted psyches.

1. Aileen Wournos: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer
Broomfield’s 2003 movie explores Aileen Wournos’ past and the life of degradation that resulted in her becoming a killer. Wournos is interviewed and hardly appears of sound mind, but is nevertheless executed the next day. The movie is a damning indictment of the legal process that led to Wournos’ execution and critical of a society that neglected her as a child.

2. Funny Games
Funny Games is an investigation the impact violence has on contemporary society. It starts with two boys, dressed in tennis whites, arriving at the lakeside home of a family. A request for sugar suddenly becomes something darker as the boys turn violent—we never see any of the violence, but what we hear is enough. The two killers remind the audience that we are watching fiction—in one scene they even operate the remote control to change the outcome of a situation—in order to question why we enjoy such entertainment.

3. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
John McNaughton’s movie highlights one of the most disturbing aspects of the serial killer profile: the victim could be anyone. You just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The killers, Henery and Otis, in this movie pick off peeople at random—two prostitutes, a family they discover by following a woman home from the store, and, finally, Otis’ sister.

4. M
In Fritz Lang’s masterpiece attempts to understand the serial killer, but also engages with a society that produces such monsters and the way it goes about dealing with them. It is a complex, fascinating movie whose urgency has lost little impact with the passing of time.

5. Monsieur Verdoux
Charlie Chaplin as a serial killer? It’s hard to imagine, but Monsieur Verdoux is an account of the French bigamist/wife killer Henri Désiré Landru. The idea originally came from Orson Welles, but Chaplin saw darkly comic potential in the material, paid Welles $5,000 for the rights and turned it into what he regarded as “the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made.”

6. Peeping Tom
Michael Powell’s account of a lonely cameraman who transforms his equipment into a voyeuristic killing machine is an intense, deeply disturbing study of psychosis—all the more disturbing for being set in a banal, everyday world. The killer in this movie, himself a victim of his father’s cruel psychological experiments, lures women with his camera, films them as they realize their fate—and as they die.

7. Psycho
One of the first slasher movies released, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece gradually builds up the tension, first with the story of Marion Crane and then with the subsequent murders and investigation. This movie packs everything in—mental illness, sexual dysfunction and an ending that remains one of the great shockers in cinema history.

8. The Silence of the Lambs
Silence of the Lambs wasn’t the first time audiences met Hannibal Lecter, but Jonathan Demme’s choice to draw out of the gothic elements of the story and to transform the whole drama into an opera of violence and suspense made for a supremely entertaining movie. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins excel in the leads and Demme is a master of narrative control and keeping us in a state of heightened anxiety.

9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
With the dismantling of an outdated censorship code at the end of the 1960s, there was an explosion in horror movies. But it was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that took the form to new operatic heights. Funny—a scathing satire of family values, it’s worth watching for the hilarious dinner table scene alone—and grisly, Hooper’s movie is a masterclass in low-budget filmmaking.

10. The Vanishing
Even with Nightmare of Elm Street franchise dominating the 1980s horror scene, George Sluizer’s psychological thriller is the must-see serial killer film of the decade. It opens with a couple on holiday in France, but the woman quickly disappears. Frantic, the man begins a search that will take him years. Sluizer then introduces us to the woman’s abductor—he has been sending the distraught boyfriend postcards, pushing him towards a breakdown. The movie ends with one of the most chilling moments in modern cinema.

The thrills are only just beginning. Tune in to Stephen King Thriller Week on SundanceTV, starting Sun., Oct. 25 at 8/7c.