Do Horror Movies Inspire Serial Killers?

Do Horror Movies Inspire Serial Killers?

Posted by


In 1984, two ten-year-old boys abducted two-year-old
James Bulger from a shopping centre, took him to a railway track outside of Liverpool,
and brutally murdered him. Given the ages of both the murderers and the victim, their
trial was heavily publicised. Just before the abduction—the two ten year olds had
allegedly been watching Child’s Play 3. Quickly intermingled with the trial’s headlines,
Child’s Play was raised in court as an influence on the boys’ actions—as there was a scene
in the film where the Chucky doll is covered in paint, has his head beaten in, and is taken
to a railway track. Young James Bulger suffered a similar fate. In the face of such senseless
horror—the film’s influence provided a tangible explanation, and censoring Child’s
Play became a concrete way to prevent such atrocities from ever being repeated. Many attribute Bulger’s murder with the
censorship of ‘video nasties’—like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead, and
The Driller Killer— in Great Britain until the turn of the century. Ten years before
Bulger’s murder—Stanley Kubrick withdrew A Clockwork Orange from British distribution
after a series of murders, rapes, and violent attacks occurred that directly mirrored events
in his film. Movies ranging from Wedding Crashers to American
Psycho have been cited as the ‘inspiration’ behind countless acts of brutality. And after
nearly 100 years of controversy, whether simulated violence on film can create violence in real
life remains contested. Child’s Play is not the only horror movie
with explicit ties to gruesome murders—and famous cinematic copycats have sparked controversy
around the dangerous ramifications of film violence. For example: twenty years after its release,
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) inspired a young man claiming to ‘emulate’ Freddy
Krueger to fatally stab four people, and injure two others, on a London street. Oliver Stone’s
Natural Born Killers (1994), centred on a mass-murdering couple who became global celebrities,
is perhaps the most frequently cited ‘inspiration’ amongst copycat serial killings. A teenager
in Kentucky fatally shot 3 of his classmates; a man on a college campus in Canada killed
one and wounded 19 people before committing suicide; a teenager in Texas slaughtered her
entire family with the help of her boyfriend—all publicly referenced NBK. One copycat couple
watched the film on repeat, took LSD, killed a man, then shot a woman in the head. The
Columbine shooters also used ‘going NBK’ as code. The 1996 parody of itself, Scream—whose
‘Ghostface’ wears a black cloak and mask while wielding a large knife— has also been
attached to numerous copycat murders from Los Angeles to France. In one incident, a
man in Belgium put on a Scream costume and fatally stabbed a teenage girl 30 times after
she’d rejected his advances. Television has also been cited as ‘inducing’
a number of murders— particularly the Showtime series Dexter (which features a serial killer
hunting down criminals still at-large). A Canadian man trying to ‘recreate’ the
show killed a man and tried to kill another in his ‘studio’, and a young man in England
stabbed his mother 53 times in an attempt to be Dexter. Given the pattern of copycat killings based
on horror films—researchers have been trying to explore whether or not film can be identified
as having directly caused acts of violence. Some have tried to prove that the ‘copycat
effect’ is neurological—meaning exposure to media violence could predispose us towards
violence. Cognitive control over ‘mirror neutrons’ in our brains—which allow us
to learn through observation—can be ‘deranged’. This is a possible explanation for why someone
could witness a murder and suddenly mimicking that violent behaviour; why a murderer on
film could cause a copycat murderer. But this theory is still scientifically unproven and
underdeveloped. While there are other complex factors behind
the criminal mind, and causation remains unproved—some argue that exposure to violent film is the
easiest risk to remove. A study published in a paediatric journal showed that children
and adolescents watching ‘excessive amounts’ of violent content (over 2 hours per-weekday)
could causally be linked to antisocial behaviour. While this does not mean children watching
violent TV become serial killers—antisocial behaviour increases the likelihood of committing
violent crime. A compilation of studies in 2005, while again unable to prove causation,
argued that exposure to violence in the media is equated with a child’s desensitisation
towards violence, lack of sympathy, and aggression. A simpler explanation for the link between
film violence and real violence is the ‘depersonalisation’ of a violent crime by assuming a fictional
persona. Consciously associating a murder with a film or novel can also be a murderer’s
way of glamorising their violence—or getting more attention. Therefore, film and media
sensationalism around mass-murder can arguably precipitate violence. And in some situations,
film is influencing how violence is manifested—perhaps like providing the killer with a ‘blueprint’. However— evidence of a violent film directly
causing a viewer to commit a violent act remains scientifically unproven. A number of leading
psychologists have also tried to put emphasis on more complex and deeply rooted explanations
for murder. The balance of an individuals neurochemistry, heredity, socioeconomic status,
gender, violent role models, poor social and comprehension skills—are all more substantially
recorded causes for violent behaviour. One study in an Oxford Journals (2009) publication
even argued that violent crime decreased when large ‘violence-prone’ audiences attended
horror movies, because the film may have served as a ‘safety valve’ where their urges
were satisfied by onscreen simulations. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre (where
the shooter obsessively played violent video-games), and the Aurora mass shooting (where the shooter
claimed to be the Joker in a screening of The Dark Knight Rises)—Dr. Christopher Ferguson’s
argument that media violence is not the cause of violent behaviour has become widely publicised.
Ferguson, a professor of psychology at Stetson University, disproves a causal media-murder
link, and his own research criticises methodological gaps in contradictory studies. Furthermore,
Ferguson argued that the media “can be a red herring when searching for ways to explain
tragedies involving young assailants and victims”. He hopes that his research will “help society
focus on issues that really matter”. During the trial for James Bulger’s murder—one
defendant’s father claimed his son had never seen Child’s Play 3. Detectives believed
that a Roald Dahl story gave the boys the idea to go to the train tracks. Both boys
came from families with alcoholism, dysfunction, unhappy marriages, poverty, bad sibling relationships,
and had dropped a year in school. But these causes were far less catchy for headline news—and
although Child’s Play was never legally held responsible for Bulger’s death—the
association remains. We cannot deny that there have been numerous
copycat killings with murderers directly, and publicly, linking their own violence to
what they’ve seen on film. But whether we can pin a horror movie as the
cause for that murderer is much more problematic. This debate is often riddled with political
agendas and charged emotions—arguably skewing existing scientific studies on the subject.
Beyond exploration of the criminal mind—it inflames discussion around media censorship,
gun legislation, the stigmatisation of the mentally ill, and more—and it begs the larger
question of WHO is responsible for mass murder? How can it be comprehended? Is it just the
individual? Or is that individual the product of society—a gangrenous limb manifesting
societal illness? After all, many would argue that society was
brutally violent long before the invention of the celluloid. So, while it seems doubtful that violence
in the media can be completely detached from real violence—even if it is just one contributing
factor out of many—horror films should not become the scapegoat for more deeply rooted
societal ails that do precipitate violence.

100 comments

  1. Let's put it this way… a child today sees a hundred times more overt violence than his parents did.  Seeing that a young person's mind is like a sponge, how can any intelligent adult think that this amount of horrific content on television and movies WON'T have an impact on kids??

  2. Pls make a video about Dreams about the man who keeps appearing on people's dreams and stuff ^_^sorry if my english is bad

  3. Chances are most people that commit murders wanted to do so already, however they may have not known how. This includes children, since in spite of them being more prone to bad behavior if watching it, humans in general have a natural aversion to killing one another. So it stands to reason that watching horror movies won't make you a serial killer, but a serial killer will watch horror movies, then copy the murders.

  4. I wouldn't say movies directly cause violence- there are thousands of people who have seen the same films mentioned here and not killed or hurt people. However, I do think movies and video games play a massive role in desensitising people to violence. The amount of times when i've watched TV shows etc. and people say 'oh he should just kill that guy', or 'shoot him in the end' etc without really thinking about it.

    Now when we watch archival war footage with real people dying who are probably related to those watching it, we aren't effected by it like we used to be. People tend to talk about death and murder now as if it doesn't take much to kill someone. Its depicted so often that we don't step back and think about what it actually means to take life away from someone else and what it can do to the person taking it. 

  5. I don't think its entirely the medium's fault for a person committing said crimes. I've played GTA since I was 4 years old, watched grotesque and violent horror movies around that age as well and I don't really have the urge to hurt or kill anyone. At the very least I may have been desynthesized to seeing such violent things and may be a bit more "unemotional" than most people but I still have feelings though,and care for things and people, I guess it depends on the person viewing them?

  6. I think that people are often mistaking the symptom for the cause here. Link minds think alike, and it's easy for killers to find an interest in slasher films. There were brutal murders long before television and it was never required then, I doubt it would be now. 

  7. I have killed millions of players in
    Call of Duty
    Counter Strike Global Offensive
    League of Legends
    Contract Wars
    Shadowgun Deadzone
    Battlefield
    Minecraft
    THERE DAT DOS MAKE MEH A SERIAL [MLG] Xxx_Ki113r_xxX

  8. I really hate to say this, but I thoroughly agree with this idea. I myself had under come moments and times to where I felt similarly, not to sound like I'm grabbing at attention. Horror films and violent video games I always passed off as how it is… My argument as to why they are fine is that we have violence all around us in our homes, shows, papers, and neighborhoods. The difference here is the switch between needing to in a sense of survival, and wanting to in a state of mental delusion. I find myself personally with much confusion and anger issues, and have even had homicidal fantasies in dreams over the past few years. It was until I came upon the Indie video game called "Hotline Miami" in which you play as a mass murderer for hire that brutally slaughters everyone within an entire building and holds no shame or guilt because the acts were not commited by you, but by the masks you wear, allowing you to live your life guilt free. I found myself showing similar symptoms to the point of obsessing over and purchasing a mask of my own, but I've more or less subsided over time with age to the best of my knowledge. Regardless, I feel that there is some truth to this.

  9. This is not the movies fault it is the idiots fault that they did it like I watch a lot of horror movies but I would never hurt somebody

  10. look horror movies don't cause violence neither do video games people if u agree with great if not READ THIS now some people are just born psychos and when they watch a movie if there already crazy they go into a fantasy world where they are the killer in the movie and some people have dark emotions in them or are abused or other things and they feel no one will help them so technically that puts them on the borderline and if the watch a movie that there way they think they need to handle it so leave a comment and tell me what you all think

  11. This is an interesting video. Soooo many universities have wasted thousands of $$ on studies of this very subject and more often than not, have come up inconclusive. Do video games do the same? Studies have shown the same results. Look….what is boils down to is this-what is the person's home life like? Look at most of the serial killers in the past, they all have a common thread-father was an alcoholic, abusive, rape was involved…the list goes on. So, like in this video, the media gets a little "tid bit" of info….the kids watched a horror movie 2 days before the killing. AHA!! That's headline news. Who cares if the father was an alcoholic? That won't make the headlines….but the movie ____(fill in the blank) will!!! Let's get real people….people/kids "learn" this behavior from influences in their life….family, friends, etc. THAT's the bottom line.

  12. You can't blame movies for killings. No show or movie can provoke a mentally-sane person to commit such horrific acts. Even if a movie is used as a motive for a killer, they already have the mindset that it's okay to kill someone.

  13. If your committing a crime based on a movie, T.V show or game you were most likely mentally unstable in the first place. compare the amount of people that watched the movies compared to the amount of copy cat killers and you'll see that is the minority that actually commit the crimes after watching them on T.V.

  14. The train track is in Liverpool on Walton Lane, not outside of liverpool. Just letting you know.. I walk under the tracks almost everyday

  15. If a young child is often exposed to violence while growing up through media maybe it is possible for this to affect them in later life, like so when they are exposed to abuse in person. But honestly they don't create them but when someone with possible sociopathic traits is exposed to certain media something might click in their mind and pursue them even further to commit murder.

  16. Today's so called Horror movies are nothing more than torture porn. That being said, someone who watches a horror movie such as Freddy Krueger, and then emulates what they see is mentally disturbed.

  17. The questions I would like to ask is What the fu$k do theses killers get out of taking someone life, what happiness, joy. What could make you do these things to others, killing children that are just came into the world, teenagers that are just starting to really get into the world, a working man/woman trying to make money for they're family and you just say no And take there life away.

  18. Personally I believe it is the way those people are raised.
    I have watched many horror movies, all Scream's, all Saw's, all A Nightmare On Elm Street's you name it I have probably watched it. Also I play many violent games that get blamed for countless stuff like school shootings and many other things, like Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and much much more and I have never killed or hurt someone before and I do not plan on doing that in the future and many of my friends have watched the movies I have watched and the games and we have never hurt someone. I believe the people that do hurt someone blame movies and games because there is something wrong with them mentally and some are just looking for an excuse.

  19. Let's not forget the evil books:

    Dracula by Bram Stoker
    Rage by Stephen King
    Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
    Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    The Turner Diaries by William Luther Pierce
    Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
    Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
    The Collector by John Fowles

    All of these reportedly caused murder and homicide.

    …Ridiculous…

    It's excuses by the perpetrators

  20. i don't think movies make people do that. people just don't like to take responsibility for what they do. it is ALWAYS someone else fault.

  21. I once watched a special on National Geographic when I was a child about cannibals from Brazil, and now my main source of long pork comes from homeless folks. Go figure?

  22. Horror movies….. serial killers…….. horror movies….. serial killers…… don't seem to think horror movies have any real effects on people. I have seen some pretty fucked up horror movies like the following:

    Saw 3: When I saw the movie for the first (and last) time I could not sleep for 3 bloody nights in a row, even the dosages of Phenergan did not help me get any sleep.

    I decided to watch the movie again a few days later with the commentary on and was interested to see how the movie was made so I watched the special features that showed how the movie was made and wasn't freaked out the next time I saw the movie and slept rather well that night

    The Hills Have Eyes: Pretty fucked up! Cannibalistic mutant humans killing and butchering military personnel and civilians, not only did they eat the poor bastards they raped and tried to impregnate their captives. 

    I saw the movie several more times because I didn't understand the story line and saw it several more times and I was impressed at how the movie was made.

    Human Centipede 1 & 2: Fucked up beyond human reckoning and too disgusting to even comment on.

    I saw the first Human Centipede movie for a second time but threw up, I stupidly watched the second one and yet again threw up. I swear to ManBearPig I am NOT going to fucking watch the 3rd Human Centipede! FUCK THAT SHIT!

    Texas Chainsaw Massacre: It's pretty much about a family of psychopaths that lived in the desert area of Texas who murdered a Police Officer, butchered, cooked and ate him. They tried human meat and developed a liking for it and enjoyed it so much they would murder everyone that strayed too close to satisfy their taste of human flesh.

    I saw the movie several times and it creeped me out the first four times but after watching it a few more times and watching how they made the movie I actually really enjoyed it despite all the fake blood and gore. Those scenes went from putting my nerves on edge to bloody hell they must of had a shit load of fun making the movie. I became so desensitized to the blood and gore I happily sat down and enjoyed eating a large chunk of roasted meat with vegetables and home made gravy.

    I can tell the difference between reality and imaginary, fact and fiction. I know that violence against another is a criminal offence and it can land you in prison, in some countries and a handful of states in USA can land you the death penalty if you have been charged of committing murder. Horror movies are entertaining but like video games you should never emulate them in real life scenarios because you can find yourself in prison or awaiting the death penalty.

  23. I love GTA V. I've played hundreds of hours of it. However, I'll be the first to admit that it normalizes violence through desenitization, glorifies murder, and encourages greed. One YOUNG kid played it, stopped, grabbed a gun, and killed his grandmother. He was definitely influenced by graphic violence. Not everyone is always at risk though, and it's definitely loads of fun.

  24. Add video games to this list. We can see the aggression and anger in how people drive on the freeways. Faster, faster, faster, get out of my WAY is the mantra of the day.

  25. We are all responsible for every member of society. Making excuses for their behavior does not absolve us of our responsibility for their actions.

  26. Is it Possible for psychopaths to be aware that they are a psychopath and even take pride in it? I have seen so many doctors and I was only diagnosed with OCD and some anger issues. But recently alot has changed and only i seem to noticed it. I started abusing animals and weaker people around me and I am afraid to say I actually enjoy it. What's happening to me? I am always coming up with ridiculous plans and plots to kill people or animals although I wouldn't say they are unprovoked but everyday I just can't help but feel the need to hurt someone or something to make myself feel better….. Am I a psychopath? I have always suspect so but am I just overthinking it? Can anyone at all please just tell me what is wrong with me? Anyone?

  27. according to my mother: when I was three years old I watched one of the Child's Play movies. Soon after, as my mother and grandmother were sleeping, I cut off all of my mother's hair, stabbed my grandmother in the head with a pencil (one that was luckily dull) and hit my mother in the head with a hammer. I'm unsure if it was on the same night, I never asked, and I may have the pencil and the hammer switched in my head. I have no recollection of this event and I've asked little question on the matter.

  28. I always wondered this myself, they should stop horror movies, unless they're controlled by the….. Illuminati

  29. Well I'v been watching horror movies since I was little, now I'm just desensitised by them, just cant get scared from horror movies, the only horror I'm still shittin my pants in is House on the Haunted Hill

  30. I like your videos but get your facts right.. in regards to the first case. Childs Play 3 was rented by the parents but even the kids claim they 1) didnt see the film 2) didnt like horror movies…

  31. If all it takes is a movie to set someone off, they're clearly not in the right state of mind anyway. If it wasn't one movie it would be another, and if it wasn't a movie it would be a history lesson in school, and if it wasn't a history lesson it would be words or actions of another drastically taken out of context. I'm so disappointed that such a large portion of humanity is capable of grasping even the most basic elements of psychology but fail to apply it

  32. When bad things happen people just look for things to blame whether it be horror movies violent video games or religion People that are psycho or mad I'm just going to do something bad anyway most people are just to do bad things

  33. ok let me get this right i never went to kill my family or some s*hit like that back in day was really in to horror movies alrigh moveing up think depends on person their countless people bet half of you watched horror movies maybe just 1 did you go off and do some thing crazy ? huh then that proves this false same kinda go for video games

  34. Rape, Murder and torture has been going on since ancient times even before movies were invented. Human beings are experts at coming up with ways to kill each other. So even without these movies people will still kill. As for my favorite scary movie it would be the Saw series (mostly up to the 3rd movie as i really liked the villein though i forget the actors name) and the final which was a cool plot twist. I never saw child's play. Is it a good movie?

  35. Humans just look for the smallest excuse to act like demons, be it religion, movies or a fucked up childhood anything to justify the insane thoughts swirling around in their heads.

  36. Alltime Conspiracies asking us whether simulated violent imagery increases the chances that WE will become violent … while SHOWING violent images in fight-club style editing cuts!!!! LOL XD

    Clearly you guys yourselves aren't all that convinced or else you guys are part of the conspiracy to make us more violent! Lol!!! XD

  37. All of these violent video games and movies are of course not responsible for what these people have done. Regular people, it has no effect on whatsoever. It only effects weak, feeble, and/or impressionable minds.

  38. I've been watching horror movies since the age of 3, even the hard-core ones like Scream (which is still my favorite Wes Craven film) and New Nightmare , Chucky and Halloween , I've even watched Pet Sematary when I was aged 4/5/6, and I've turned out great. I've even become a writer myself, some horror, others action or sci-fi. 😉

  39. Fucked up people are fucked up people. If they want to kill either inspiration will come to them or they will find it, in a book, movie or else. Saying horror movies "create" killers is ridiculous. I've been watching shit tons of horror movies for 20 years and i've never thought of, planned to or killed anybody.

  40. If parents would explain to the kids after watching something violent tell them it's not real you can't do that tell them right from basically program your kids to stay away or don't try violence cause in some form or fashion it wrong and hurts other people

  41. Saying that horror films create psychos is just like saying that I’m gonna throw a rock at you and instead of blaming me who chose to harm you with that rock because of the abnormalities in my brain to make me have lack of human life and morals, we are instead going to blame the rock. Which is an inanimate object and only has relevance because we as a human race made it that way. If you have serious mental issues and you don’t understand that you shouldn’t go out and kill people, then don’t watch horror films. I’ve watched horror films my whole life and I’ve never killed anybody.

  42. What's ironic is that the 1994 movie Natural Born Killers was inspired by real life spree killer Charles Starkweather.

  43. People who believe this absolutely have their chicken mixed up with their egg. They are looking for the ideas bc they are already fucked. I am glad you mentioned that the science backs me up.

    Edit- typo

    And I am surprised they put a 3 year old video on my recommended. That is good though. I am glad I saw it and it is great for the creator.

  44. My son has trouble with sugar. Just a little bit and he's bouncing off the walls. He was once sent home from pre-K for trying to act out some cartoon and almost stabbed another kid with a pencil. I never got the whole story of exactly what happened. I quit letting my son watch any cartoon or movie that has violence in them and I quit letting him have sugar. He ended up like being a whole nother kid. He became calmer, able to connect with others and wasn't so off the wall. It isn't that the media or the sugar itself. It was about how he was able to digest both the violence in movies and sugar is what caused the problem. It is just like anything, it depends on the person and not everything will effect everyone the same way.

  45. If your doing one on movies might as well do one on music like how people blamed Eminem, Insane Clown Posse, Limp Bizkit, and 2Pax and Biggie n Snoop n other Rap n Rock Stars music made people more violent or crazy seen bunch of shows n news were they talked bad about music artist and them promoting violence you guys should do one on that sense you did one on this

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *