Over the years, Hollywood has come under attack for the level of violence sometimes depicted on screen. In the 1980s, a number of films were classed as ‘video nasties’ and banned from the shelves. These included Driller Killer and Last House On The Left as examples of films that the government felt would have a corrupting influence on the public, due to the level of violence on display.
People are capable of dreadful acts of violence, but whether or not a film is responsible is up for debate. Many argue if the individual grew up in a violent home or if there was a mental illness behind the driving force of the crime. For these following killers, it was a movie that they claimed motivated them to kill.
10. Halloween (1978)
17-year-old Jake Evans of Aledo, Texas, watched the remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween three times before the urge to kill struck. Impressed by the ease in which the main character, Michael Myers, committed the murders, and the lack of remorse the character felt, Evans plotted his own course of the murder.
At first, Evans intended to kill his 15-year-old sister and his mother with a knife, which was the weapon of Michael Myers’ choice. However, he decided on a revolver which he stole from his grandfather. He wanted to make the killing less painful for his family he later admitted to the police.
Then on September 2012, he entered his sister’s bedroom and turned the gun on her. At first, she thought he was joking, typical of her brother’s erratic behavior, yet sadly it was no joke and he shot her in the back of the head. He then moved on to his mother’s room and pointed the gun at her. He shot her three times until she was dead. Afterwards, he heard a noise from his sister’s room and he realized he had failed to properly kill her, returning to her room he shot her again until he was satisfied she was gone.
Evans then dialed 911 to confess his crime. He told the operator that the killing “just kind of happened”. When she asked for more details Evans told her he had been planning to kill for a while and when asked who, he said “pretty much anybody”. When the operator asked him why he killed two members of his family, he said “they were just suffocating me in a way…I’m pretty, I guess, evil..” He then told the operator “This is going to really mess me up in the future”.
As he was under 18-years-old he avoided the death penalty and received a 45-year sentence instead.
9. Bug (2006)
In 2007, millionaire insurance executive Alberto Izaga was holidaying with his wife Ligia in New York. They decided to watch Bug at the cinema while they were away together. The movie follows ex-soldier Peter Evans as he becomes increasingly unhinged, believing his home has been infested by insects and that he is the subject of government testing.
On their return to London, Alberto became increasingly paranoid and his mental state began deteriorating rapidly. He had recently listened to a seminar by a Jesuit Priest and believed he was part of their sect, recruited against his will to take over the financial world. The day before Alberto committed murder he told a friend he had been unable to sleep for 72 hours.
Then on June 2nd, Alberto and his wife put their baby daughter to bed. At 9 pm, an exhausted Alberto retired to bed himself. He managed to sleep but at 4.30am he awoke, ranted about the Jesuit Priest to his wife and then began to talk obsessively about the film Bug.
Tragically he then went into his 2-year-old daughter’s room, picked her up and fatally smashed her head against the floor. He yelled “God doesn’t exist! The universe doesn’t exist! Humanity doesn’t exist”. His panicked wife tried to stop him from ringing for the police.
During his trial, a psychiatrist told the court that Alberto had a “severe form of mental illness” where he lost appreciation of what is real and imaginary, a clear resemblance of the character Peter Evans in Bug who also lost the capability to think sanely. It was a sad day in court. The prosecutor himself stated that Alberto was “the last person capable of killing another human and least of all his flesh and blood”. Alberto was found guilty of murder by reason of insanity. Following the case, he was transferred to a secure mental unit for the clinically insane.
8. Scream (1996)
Scream (1996) is partly based on the true story of the Gainesville Ripper, Danny Rollings, who was an American serial killer responsible for murdering five students in Gainesville, Florida, by breaking into their accommodation.
Two years later in 1998, Gina Castillo was murdered in her East Imperial Highway, Los Angeles, apartment by her 16-year-old son, Mario Salvador Padilla, and 15-year-old nephew, Samuel Jeremiah Ramirez. Inspired by the killer in Wes Craven’s 1996 movie Scream, they fantasized about committing murder themselves and Gina was their chosen victim.
The young boys waited for the opportunity to kill her, watching from a distance before beginning a brutal attack. Unable to afford the Ghostface mask and grim reaper style costume used by the film’s killer, they instead lifted the shirts they were wearing over their heads as they pounced, using four knives and a screwdriver to stab her to death. They inflicted a total of 45 wounds on her body before stealing money and fleeing the scene. The boys were later caught and arrested.
Both boys told authorities the film and its sequel had inspired them to kill. Padilla told his probation officer the horror movie caused him to “fantasize how to do things I could not do.” He said his mother deserved to die because she often grounded him and made him put out the trash. His plans were to use the stolen money to buy grim reaper costumes and electronic voice boxes to further reenact the film’s killings.
Both boys were found guilty of murder as well as conspiring to kill five other people, including Padilla’s stepfather. Mario was given a life sentence without possibility of parole. His cousin was given 25 years for his part in the killing. The judge refused to allow the insanity plea stating that the boys had shown great planning for the murder and therefore were in complete control over their actions.
7. Taxi Driver (1976)
In 1976, Robert De Niro starred in Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver as Travis Bickle, a violent loner who becomes obsessed with killing the pimp of a child prostitute. The character is based on a man named Arthur Bremer who in 1972 attempted to assassinate presidential candidate George Wallace.
When Taxi Driver hit the movies, a young man named John Hinckley Jr, who suffered from depression and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, watched the movie 15 times. He became fascinated with the movie’s co-star, actress Jodie Foster, enrolling at Yale University where she studied and he would slip love poems under her door. Hinckley Jr began searching for a way to impress the young actress and considered hijacking an aircraft or committing suicide.
Ultimately he decided to emulate the character of Travis Bickle by assassinating President Reagan. With an ongoing decline in his mental health, he earnestly made plans to carry out the killing. Hinckley began to research the assassination of John F. Kennedy and read through documents that Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin, had written.
On March 30th, 1981, at 2.25 pm, Hinckley fired six bullets at the President outside the Hilton hotel in Washington D.C. A bullet ricocheted off the presidential limousine and hit Reagan in the chest, narrowly missing his heart injuring him but not fatally. Amidst the panicking crowds, Hinkley made no effort to escape and was arrested at the scene.
In custody, Hinckley referred to the shooting as a demonstration of his love for Jodie Foster. He called it “the greatest love offering in the history of the world”. During the trial, the jury was shown parts of Taxi Driver as evidence for Hinckley’s unstable mind. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to the psychiatric facility at St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington where he remains to this day.
6. Natural Born Killers (1994)
Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers depicts a loving couple who aspire to become celebrities. Rather than appearing on a televised talent show or reality programme they decide to go on a killing spree. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis play Mickey Knox and Mallory Wilson, the couple who embark on a murderous rampage and become a media sensation as a result. Needless to say, the film was marred by controversy due to the high level of violence displayed in the film. It later gained notoriety for inspiring several real-life killings.
In 1994, a 14-year-old boy from Texas decapitated a 13-year-old classmate because he “wanted to be famous like the Natural Born Killers.” A year later, 15-year-old Jason Lewis from Georgia killed his parents with a shotgun claiming he wanted to emulate Mickey and Mallory.
The highest-profile case was the Columbine High School Massacre in Colorado. On April 20th, 1999, students of the school, seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher whilst injuring 24 others. Following the massacre, they committed suicide.
Later the police discovered audio tapes left by the killers in their basement. With a remarkable resemblance to Mallory and Mickey in ‘Natural Born Killers’, Harris and Klebold are heard debating on the possibility of Hollywood adapting their life story following the murders. Dylan Klebold is also heard saying “You’ve been giving us shit for years. You’re fucking gonna pay for all the shit! We don’t give a shit. Because we’re gonna die to do it.” Several films were released that were inspired or directly related to those shocking events including Bowling for Columbine, Elephant and Zero Hour.
5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
In 1962, Anthony Burgess wrote the novella A Clockwork Orange, a disturbing tale of a dystopian future in Britain where teenage delinquents roam the streets with no fear of consequence. The book was reviled by some of the mainstream press for glorifying violence. Director Stanley Kubrick adapted the book to film in 1971 focusing on one teenage gang, the ‘Droogs’, who are characterized by their dress sense of thin braces, white strides, and bowler hats.
Alex, the leader of the gang, is obsessed by ‘ultra-violence’ and he leads his followers to commit a series of drug-fuelled murders. These include beating a homeless man to death, a deadly home invasion, and the brutal rape and murder of a woman while Alex gives a rendition of Singin in the Rain. The film was a critical and commercial hit, yet it wasn’t long before the mainstream media launched a campaign for the film to be banned, especially when a number of supposed copycat killings took place.
In the UK, a homeless man was beaten to death by a group of teenage boys. A woman was savagely raped by a group of men who gleefully sang Singin in the Rain as they carried out their sick crime. Another incident saw a group of teenage boys dressed in the ‘Droogs’ distinctive uniform as they killed a younger boy. The media stated ‘A Clockwork Orange was responsible for these dreadful crimes.
After 61 weeks of screenings in movie theatres, Kubrick decided to withdraw the film from UK release as it was here that many of the alleged ‘copycat’ killings took place. The film was not seen again until Kubrick passed away in 1999. It has since been shown in cinemas and on television, yet has not caused the same controversy that it did back in 1971.
4. The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Birth of a Nation, released in 1915, was a film about events following the American Civil War based on a novel by Thomas Dixon. The consequences of the war are seen through the eyes of two families whose friendship was disrupted when they joined opposite armies. Although many praised the film, others did not and in the words of author Ellen Scott this is “the most racist film ever made.”
The film presents a distorted view of the American South after the Civil War, glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, who in reality murdered hundreds of black men, women, and children with no mercy or remorse. In the film, however, they are given near-heroic status as they set about lynching and torturing the black community who was portrayed as subhuman. Adding further insult the primary black characters in the film are played by white men, their faces covered in burnt cork.
Screenings of the film were disrupted by people, black and white, who resented the racism on screen. Riots broke out in major cities including Boston and Philadelphia. In California, Klansmen were attacked with baseball bats and tire irons in what became a five-hour battle. Meanwhile, gangs of white racists roamed the streets hunting, assaulting and killing black people.
3. Child’s Play 3 (1991)
In 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was abducted from a shopping center in Liverpool, United Kingdom. The abductors were ten-year-old boys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. They led James to a railway embankment and it was there they abused and tortured him. The body was later found lying on the railway line, splashed in blue paint and cut in two by a train. There were 22 injuries to his head and 20 to his body. He had been beaten with an iron bar and struck by bricks.
After CCTV from the shopping center showed Thompson and Venables walking away with the young boy they were swiftly arrested. Detectives found a copy of Child’s Play 3 at the home of Venable’s father and they noticed some similarities between the film and the murder. In the film, somebody is killed under the wheels of a ghost train and there is a scene where Chucky the doll is covered in blue paint. For these reasons, the media targeted the film as being responsible for causing two young boys to kill.
Both were later tried in court for the murder and convicted to juvenile prison until 2001 when they were released with new identities. Venables wept throughout the trial whilst Thompson appeared to show no remorse.
2. The Matrix (1999)
In 2003, Josh Cooke took a shotgun, similar to the one used by Neo in The Matrix, and shot his adoptive parents dead at their home in Fairfax, Virginia. Cooke then phoned the police and confessed his crimes. During the trial, his defense lawyer claimed Cooke believed he was living in the ‘Matrix’, owned a trench coat similar to the one used by Neo in the film, and had a poster of Neo in his bedroom. He said Cooke believed he was living in this virtual world and struggled to associate with what was right and wrong.
Cooke’s mental health was further explored at the trial. He had been placed in foster care immediately after he was born because his own parents suffered from mental health problems including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Cooke had also been diagnosed with ‘simple schizophrenia’. His illness, broken background and the film could all have played a part in Cooke’s decision to kill. However, the Judge did not agree and declared the crime premeditated after a number of files on Cooke’s computer suggested he had researched the cases of other serial killers. Josh Cooke was given a 40-year sentence for double murder.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
At the age of 17, in 1998, Donald Gonzales of Woking, Surrey, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He told authorities that his role model was Freddy Krueger as the character fascinated him, especially the way in which he killed and he confided that he wished to know what it felt like. This was not the only warning sign that pointed to the danger Gonzales presented to others.
He had seen over sixty doctors and psychiatrists but was never engaged with properly despite Gonzales requesting to be admitted to hospital because he feared for his actions. His mother had contacted the local MP concerned that her son had the capacity to kill and they both begged for help but none came. Health chiefs eventually admitted they should have listened to Gonzales and his mother but by then it was too late.
In 2004, Gonzales emulated the actions of his favorite fictional serial killer. He armed himself with a variety of knives and on a drug-fuelled rampage killed a number of people, apparently at random, including a retired couple at their home. He also killed a 73-year-old woman, stabbing her to death on a footpath near to where she lived. Gonzales wore a hockey mask, slashed the woman’s throat and stabbed her in the back. He told authorities later that it felt good, and ‘one of the best things’ he had ever done in his life.
Donald Gonzales was given six life sentences for four murders and two attempted murders. He was committed to Broadmoor Hospital where, in 2007 he was found dead, his wrists slashed with shards of broken compact discs. The verdict was suicide.