As Horror fans, we love to watch iconic killers wreak on screen havoc, but how much do these fictional boogeymen have in common with real life monsters?
A few weekends ago, I watched an Oxygen channel special on Ted Bundy. A lot of it I already knew about, but the special really went into details about his murders, escapes, and eventual execution. Although I was absolutely repulsed by his crimes, I could not stop watching the television show. It got me thinking about my love of horror movies. The things that horror movie killers do to their victims are often exaggerated, but equally disgusting to “real-life” killers. In movies, it does not bother me one bit. But when it comes to real life, I can barely stomach it.
The strange thing that occurs with both reality and the fiction of the horror movie is that fact that I cannot turn away when it is on television. I started looking at other parallels between serial killers and horror movie killers.
First, I found out that the body counts between serial killers and horror movie characters are surprisingly close.
According to the 2016 article “The Killer Body Count Guide” that was posted on the Scare Central (Rotten Tomatoes) website, they published kill count estimations for the various movie killers. I referenced Wikipedia for all the kill counts of real serial killers. I did not look at all killers, but selected a handful.
The poster boys for horror movie killers are Jason Voorhees with his 149 kills, Dr. Jack Griffin (“The Invisible Man”) with 123, and Michael Myers with 107. The killer Henry Lee Lucas bragged that he was guilty of more than 200 murders, but was only convicted for only 11 murders. H.H. Holmes officially killed 9, but his kill numbers could be closer to 20-200.
Once you toss out the killers that throw off the curve, there is a surprising match in the middle.
The most official killings were done by Russia’s Andrei Chikatilo with 52. John Wayne Gacy killed 33, Ted Bundy killed 30, and Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17. Fictional killers like Jaws killed 21, Leatherface killed 30, Chucky killed 38, Fred Krueger killed 39, Pinhead killed 35, and Leprechaun killed 50.
Sometimes the kill count isn’t what matters, but what what the killers do to the bodies. In the fictional world, often times a killer like Michael Myers, Jaws, or Jason Voorhees would just kill and keep moving. Chucky, Fred Krueger, and Leprechaun would make a joke and then make a kill. Pinhead would try to give his victims a type of moral lesson.
The fictional killers did not kill children. They would kill women, but they never raped them. With the exception of Jaws, they never ate their victims. Sometimes these killers would keep mementos, like when Jason kept his mother’s head or when Michael Myers posed all of his victims in the first film.
On the flip side, Andrei Chikatilo and Jeffrey Dahmer would kill kids. Just about all the killers would engage in some form of rape or necrophilia. Ed Gein, who killed only 2 people, was guilty of digging up multiple bodies for his own perverse reasons which include consumption, sex, and making clothes from the skin. Jeffrey Dahmer would also keep pieces of his victims, not only to remember them or relive the kill, but also so he could eat them. Ted Bundy would also keep the heads of some of his victims.
Fictional killers tend to kill within a certain location. Names like Haddonfield, Crystal Lake, and Elm Street tend to be the only places certain fictional killers live. There are, of course, exceptions — like Michael driving cross country to find his sister teaching in California and Jason taking a cruise to Manhattan — but usually they stay within their universe.
Real killers tend to keep moving to avoid detection. Jeffrey Dahmer did killing in Ohio and Wisconsin. Ted Bundy killed in Washington, California, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Florida. Henry Lee Lucas’s killing spree began in Michigan and ended up in Texas, but he killed others in the in between states.
Both the fictional killers and real-life killers are not motivated to kill for money—with the Leprechaun exception. The fictional killers are usually driven by revenge, whereas real killers are often driven by the desire to control another person.
The greed of a kill often keeps real killers going until they are captured. Rarely ever are fictional killers captured. Often, they are killed or escape to kill again and again. The end game for most serial killers usually ends up with an execution or life in prison. When the fictional killers escape death or capture, they return almost like an urban legend to terrorize over and over again.
I have always been surprised by the casualty at which a fictional universe will deal with their killer.
As an example, Jason Voorhees would become a campfire story, and every couple of years he’d come in and kill five plus camp counselors, plus some randoms. Then the bodies would be scooped up, and the police would hit the reset button. Only in Jason Goes to Hell does the police/FBI get serious about setting a trap to capture Jason.
In the town of Haddonfield, Michael Myers becomes synonymous with Halloween. He usually appears every 10 years and kills numerous people. Then he disappears again, so the town becomes vigilant only on that night — and usually only after things begin happening.
The reality though is that, if killer like these two really existed, the Crystal Lake would be filled in and those cabins leveled. In Michael Myers’ world, Halloween and trick or treating would forever be banned. Oh, and the Michael Myers mask would never be sold again.
In Freddy’s world, everyone would be assigned multiple sleep buddies to watch each other sleep. In Texas, all meat would be formally checked at chili cook-offs, and purchasing a chainsaw would be treated like buying a gun. There would be an official registry. In Chucky’s world, the “Good Guy” dolls would all be eliminated, and the plants that make the doll would be shut down.
When evidence of a real life murder is found, then look-out committees are formed, procedures for handling situations are changed, and media coverage does not go away until the killer is captured or is beat to death with its coverage.
Jack the Ripper killed only 5 people, but the killing practically shut down Whitechapel in London after his killings. After Ted Bundy did his killing/beating at the sorority house on the Florida State campus, the sorority forever changed their procedure regarding having a male on any floor of one of their houses. The male must now be announced before being admitted.
When Jeffrey Dahmer was captured, one could not flip a channel without seeing video and photos of evidence being pulled from his Milwaukee apartment. The images of John Wayne Gacy dressed up in his clown costume may be the reason some people are terrified of clowns today.
And finally, the popularity of some real-life killers is equal to that of fictional killers.
There is a sick interest that some people have in seeing where killers lived, killed, and dumped bodies. The line that some people are willing cross to take a life multiple times becomes intriguing. That is why people watch the true crime shows and the serial killer interviews, and why they visit the places where these killers left their mark. Many real-life killers receive tons of mail from people who just have a question, those looking to forgive or help with reform, or those that just want a memento from a real-killer.
Could you picture Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees writing you a letter back? I would not want them having my address. On the other hand, other fictional killers would probably happily write back — like Krueger, Chucky, or Leprechaun.
On a serious note, John Wayne Gacy would draw pictures and sell them to fans. He even had a phone hotline. Many thought that, because of Ted Bundy’s looks and charismatic personality, he was not capable of killing those women.