Murder, torture, stalking, and all other manner of criminal activity existed in and of itself, of course, for eons before the late 19th century dawn of motion-picture technology.
However, movies have been blamed for copycat crimes virtually since the birth of the medium.
Since the horror genre has proven so popular from the most primitive days of cinema on — check out Thomas Edison’s 1910 Frankenstein some time — fright fare has naturally come up as a scapegoat when guilty parties are looking to claim that anything other than themselves “made” them do it.
The following films have been and continue to be both endured and enjoyed by millions of viewers worldwide without violent consequences — especially during Halloween season. And then there are these tragically atypical incidents.
AMERICAN PSYCHO (1999)
In May 2014, Elliot Rodger, 22, killed 6 and wounded 14 others during a shooting spree that ended with his suicide. In YouTube videos discovered after the spree, Rodger raged about being a virgin and not being able to get a girlfriend. He also said he idolized Patrick Batemen, the misogynistic, serial-slaying Wall Street anti-hero of the 1991 Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho and its popular 1999 movie adaptation starring Christian Bale. [Daily Mail]
CHILD’S PLAY 2 (1990)
Australia’s all-time worse mass murderer, Martin Bryant, slaughtered 35 people and injured 23 more during the Port Arthur shooting massacre in Tasmania. Afterward, Bryant’s ex-girlfriend, identified only as “Mary,” told reporters that the killer was attached to the demonic doll scare film, Child’s Play 2. According to Mary:
“[Martin] loved Chucky [the doll’s name], he used to go on about it all the time. It comes to life and it has to kill this boy so that it can be real and then it just goes around killing all these people…. There was a phrase out of that movie that [Bryant] used to say: `Don’t f … with the Chuck!’ He used to get excited when he’d say that. He would think he was really cool.’’
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994)
After seeing the Tom Cruise thriller Interview With the Vampire in 1994, San Francisco resident Daniel Sterling, 25, announced to his girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen, “I’m going to kill you and drink your blood.” He then stabbed her seven times in the chest and back. Stellwagen survived the attack. From jail, Sterling told the San Francisco Chronicle he was innocent, noting: “I was influenced by the movie. I enjoyed the movie. But I cannot sit here and blame the movie.” [New York Times]
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
Spree murderer Daniel Gonzalez of England is so deeply associated with the Nightmare on Elm Street fright film franchise that he’s actually nicknamed after the films’s razor-fingered monster figure — i.e., Gonzalez is nicknamed the “Freddy Krueger Killer.” Gonzalez actually committed the first of his four slayings while wearing a hockey mask in the tradition of Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th. After a two-day reign of terror, police apprehended Gonzalez, who was described as a “paranoid schizophrenic.” In jail, the killer wrote letters to himself, gleefully pointing out how he was like Freddy Krueger and stating that the spree was “one of the best things I’ve done in my life.” [The Telegraph]
THE PURGE (2013)
Indianapolis serial murderer Jonathan Cruz embarked on a three-day crime spree in May 2015 in which he shot three separate strangers at close range and committed a spate of robberies, violent intimidations, and property damage. All the transgressions seemed to be committed randomly until Cruz, known by the nickname “Sav Hunna,” started leaving clues that led investigators straight to him. Upon being arrested, Cruz, who was described as being “obsessed” with horror films, told police he was just out on a “purge,” citing the political-themed horror-film franchise about one night each year of lawless mayhem that launched in 2013 with The Purge. [The Independent]
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
In 2004, Michael Hernandez, age 14, stabbed his classmate Jamie Gough to death in the bathroom of Southwood Middle School in Florida. Acquaintances described Hernandez as a horror-film devotee who distressingly identified with Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal villain of Silence of the Lambs, along with its sequels and other spin-offs. Hernandez also reportedly looked up to Patrick Bateman of American Psycho and dreamed of being a serial killer to whom God had given special powers. He remains behind bars after being re-sentenced in 2016. [Miami Herald]
Just in time for Saw V to hit theaters in 2007, a pair of teenage girls imitated the movie’s villain Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) during a prank call to Beverly Dickinson, 52, that sent the victim to the hospital with a stroke. Mimicking Jigsaw’s voice and the film series’s modus operandi of setting up life-or-death-trap escape challenges, the girls said, “There is toxic gas that will be fogged out in ten minutes. It will kill you in half a minute, so you decide, it’s your game. Do you want to live or die?” Dickinson, who heard the message while sitting in her car in a funeral procession, had a stroke on the spot. It was reported at the time that she was recovering in the hospital, but having difficulty sleeping. The girls were charged with phone harassment.
In a 1998 incident that became known simply as the “Scream murder,” killer cousins Mario Padilla, 16, and Samuel Ramirez, 15, stabbed Gino Castillo, Padilla’s mother, to death. Their motive was to collect money from her killing in order to finance a Scream-themed murder spree. They had hoped to buy accoutrements associated with the film, including Ghostface masks, hooded black robes, and a telephone voice changer. They got caught before that happened. [CBS News]
In addition, two years later, Thierry Jaradin, 21, actually did pull off a homicidal Scream homage. The Belgian truck driver donned a full Ghostface costume, hid in the bedroom of his 15-year-old neighbor Alisson Cambier, and then stabbed her to death, puncturing her flesh with two kitchen knives more than 30 times. [The Guardian]
Main image: Christian Bale in American Psycho, publicity still