“I push him back hard with a bloodied glove and start randomly stabbing him in the

lace and head,

tinally slashing his throat open in two briet chopping motions; an arc of red-brown blood spatters the white BMW 320i parked at the kerb, setting off its car alarm, tour tountainlike bursts

coming trom below -

his chin .. He bent over

Boyle, still handcuffed to the table leg. Boyle, partly eviscerated, his face hacked to pieces, seemed to have exploded blood in the cell, the walls and the stripped cot covered with gouts

and splashes

The astounding box office success of the new film The Silence Of The Lambs is based on the emergence of a new kind of monster for the 903. But does the media obsession with serial murders reflect what is happening ‘out there’. Tom Lappin investigates the cosy relationship between serial killers ; and the media. '

hese cheery extracts are from Bret Easton Ellis‘s American Psycho and Thomas Harris’s The Silence Of The Lambs, seemingly the only subjects worth having any opinions about in educated American circles in 1991. Forget the GulfWar, Ellis’s visceral designer sociopath Pat Bateman, and Dr Hannibal ‘The Cannibal‘ Lecter, played unforgettably by Anthony Hopkins in Jonathan Demme‘s film adaptation of Harris‘s thriller, have been absorbing the Stateside chattering classes to the exclusion of any other topic. pushing the subject of gruesome mass murder into the intellectual salons, where previously it had been confined to the downtown video rental store.

‘50 what’s new'?‘ you might ask. Horror has always had an ability to score heavily in the American market. and neither Ellis nor Demme demur at shocking their audience. Nevertheless, there is a marked difference. The psychopathic serial killers we are presented with in both works are a radical departure from previous pulp novel and Hollywood treatments. Hitherto. the psychopath has been seen almost as a hazard of nature, an aberrant cancer having nothing to do with the society he attacks, an outlaw that has to be hunted down and eliminated by the forces of law and order. Motivations are explained away simplistically and

far as writing to newspaper columnists

suggesting their own nicknames. David

Berkowitz asked to be called Son Of Sam in tribute to another serial killer he ‘respected‘

; outrageous their acts the more coverage

hastily, usually by telling us in the first or last :

scene that the deviant is inadequate, or has some sub-Freudian neurosis.

As the FBI Behavioural Science Unit agents at Quantico, Virginia are perfectly aware, the most dangerous serial killers are at the opposite extreme intelligent, with a complete lack of self-doubt, and externally indistinguishable from the decent citizenry. Bateman and Lecter are vastly more sophisticated, and hence terrifyingly

6The List31 May-13June 1991

earned Ed Gein notoriety in the 505. 5 Something more extreme is required to ; make an impression in the 905. i

murders in earlier times, the serial killer in

publicity and attention the only discernible

plausible, creations than any Norman Bates

or Freddie Kruegers. They are perfectly at home in society, whether purchasing nouvelle cuisine with platinum Amex cards, or writing erudite papers for psychiatric journals. Media-friendly. articulate and arrogantly confident, the psycho of the 90s has been repositioned in print and on screen right in the midst ofcontemporary society. It‘s a case of fiction finally catching up with reality. Despite countless tales ofmultiple

contemporary America has become very much a product of the modern age, influenced by (and influential towards) TV and newspapers, with this craving for


Last year‘s scourge of New York was ‘The Zodiac Killer‘ who selected his victims by their star signs. Previous killers have gone as

and taunted police for two years until his capture in 1977. With an estimated 20—30 serial killers at large in the USA, competition for column inches can dictate the extent and nature ofcrimes. Killers have to do their own PR, and the more

they achieve. In a sick mirroring of showbusiness hype, serial killers have to be that tad more outrageous to top the ‘Most Wanted‘ charts. Skinning his victims alive

Blanket media coverage has earned the serial killer the opportunity to become a counterculture hero. From Manson through 3 to the Tallahassee psychopath Ted Bundy, mass murderers have attracted ghoulish I