From handsome boys to serial killers – This is how Hollywood sexualizes psychopaths

Hollywood has always been fascinated by monsters – be they supernatural horrors or flesh-and-blood people – just as society’s interest in creepy things has never waned: this is proven by our constant and ever-increasing curiosity about criminals. In the 1930s, for example, gangster films inspired by Al Capone or Bonnie and Clyde were produced one after the other, and since then the audience’s stimulus threshold has only increased: so nowadays, the mainstream media is no longer just about the gang wars of a few bootleggers, they have been replaced by serial killers.

But not only gangsters were replaced, but also supernatural monsters in horror films. As we said, people like to be scared – it’s no coincidence that the horror genre has enjoyed unbroken popularity for almost 100 years – so the Scream-type slasher genre became stronger, and various mentally ill killers terrorized the horror characters and the audience one after the other. At the same time, it is a more nuanced representation of serial killers than the Seventhben, Silence of the Lambsyou are in The horrorrather, it provided the actors with a flourishing career and prestige, as, for example, Charlize Theron and Anthony Hopkins each won an Oscar for their performances – of course, it’s another question who was able to take advantage of the recognition (*khm* we’re looking at you, Kevin Spacey *khm* ).

By 2022, however, something has slipped. In the last decade, productions about serial killers have come in droves, and Hollywood seems to care less and less about deterrence or authentic portrayal. They try to address the viewers from a different direction. Because as it is American Psycho also foretold when he cast Christian Bale as the character of the otherwise attractive Patrick Bateman, films and series about psychopathic killers are usually handsome, and in fact, former teenage heartthrobs are hired for the roles. The list of stars who have disguised themselves as cold-blooded sociopaths in recent years is roughly the same as the characters on the posters on the wall of an average teenage girl.

Christian Bale in American Psycho (Photo: Profimedia)

Angel faces

The wave of movies and series about notorious serial killers casting young, sexy actors is not new. Ross Lynch, the former Disney star, is already a teenager in 2017 Jeffrey Dahmer got into the skin of the My Friend Dahmer in the film, and a year later in Gossip Girl Penn Badgley, who played the former guy next door, had to warn the You his viewers not to fall in love with his character in the series. The fictitious Joe Goldberg observes and manipulates the women he likes, around whom, by the way, people start falling as soon as the man enters their lives: the people of the Internet made him the romantic hero of 2018.

He's a serial killer by heart

Scene from the third season of You Photo: JOHN P. FLEENOR/NETFLIX

By Jamie Dornan (The chase), James Franco (True Story) and Eddie Redmayne (The other sister) have already provided their conventionally attractive appearance for each monster. In 2019, it’s one of a kind Ted Bundy-renaissance started: Zac Efron started the series Damn mad, shockingly evil and vile, followed by Chad Michael Murray (Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman) is in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel handsome son Luke Kirby (No Man of God) in 2021. And now it looks like the circle is closed, because we’re back to Dahmer. This time, the serial killer who committed rape, cannibalism, necrophilia, and torture is portrayed by Evan Peters in the Netflix series about him.

He's a serial killer by heart

Scene from The Beast: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Photo: Netflix)

And what is the consequence of this trend? The appearance of Hollywood heartthrobs simply blinds the viewers: they only see the correct face, not the inhuman acts it represents. Thus, on the one hand, they involuntarily begin to sympathize with the anti-hero of the production, and on the other hand, they produce an immeasurable amount of fan videos and posts, in which the (often real-life) serial killers are sexualized or portrayed in a romantic light. For example, the TikTok video below has almost 10 million views and more than a million and a half likes:


she eat your heart out like jeffrey dahmer… #evanpeters #fyp #foryoupage #hoteditions #viralvideo #jeffreydahmer #edit #dahmer

♬ original sound – idk.

Also, a group of young viewers – who are presumably the Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Storythey first heard about the man from – yet they show an alarming amount of empathy in the videos and in the comment sections towards the killer who often attacks juveniles.

  • “Jeff was a good man, that’s why he killed the men so quickly, he didn’t want to hurt them. I cried when he died.”
  • “He didn’t hurt them that much, he just drugged and strangled them.”
  • “It’s sad what he went through.”
  • “I wish he had gotten the help he needed before all of this happened. Very sad.”
  • “Sometimes I wish he was still alive. Then I would definitely write to him.”

It’s not (just) the media’s fault

Although it is a fact that productions featuring handsome boys do a lot of damage to the message “psychopaths and serial killers are objectively bad, it is not healthy to be attracted to them”, the fascination with criminals is not a product of the 21st century. And no, we’re not talking about the golden age of gangster movies. But to the phenomenon that – as Lee Frost-Facchini, a psychologist, stated to the English Cosmopolitan – “virtually every serial killer, from Ted Bundy to Charles Manson to David Berkowitz, has received large numbers of love letters from female fans”. Psychologist Linda Chikán explained the phenomenon to nlc a few years ago:

“It is certain that there is a lot of attention on serial killers, most of the time the media also broadcasts the process of the investigation, and the summaries of their trials are among the most watched programs. These men appear to be charismatic on the screen, they often behave confidently, one might say phlegmatic, they can attract women in the same way as any other celebrity.”

He's a serial killer by heart

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy (Photo: Profimedia)

And indeed: whether we’re talking about Bundy or Dahmer, the most notorious killers still have small, but all the more vocal, fan bases. Which can be found online anywhere from Tumblr to TikTok, just like the average pop star. That is why it would be important to tell their story in such a way that the production does not humanize or make the perpetrator sympathetic (The other sisterin spite of the fact that Eddie Redmayne’s character is responsible for the death of 400 people, the nurse is portrayed as a particularly good person). This avoids creating empathy in the audience, which causes the viewer to try to understand the monster’s behavior just because the actor portraying him looks good. To finally take it a step further and become a fan, then sexualize and romanticize serial killers. While all of this is being watched by the relatives of the victims who are still alive today.

(Source: Cosmopolitan UK, Rolling Stone)