Portraits In Evil is a ten part series about America’s most infamous serial killers. What makes this set of documentaries quite unique is that it speaks of them in chronological order, grouping them in sets of (usually) three per episode, with a theme linking the three killers. Each episode has three experts (two criminologists and one true crime author) discussing the serial killers.
Episode One discusses ‘The Monster Within And Among Us‘, and discusses Jack The Ripper (even though he’s not American), since he is pretty much the first recognised serial killer. Since a lack of real footage is obvious, this episode uses footage from an old black and white move, loosely based on Jack The Ripper.
Episode Two is on ‘Killers Without Conscience’. This is the 1800’s and talks of H. H. Holmes (Doctor Death), and Jane Toppan (The Angel of Death). I never really realised how prolific Holmes was until I saw this episode. He’s definitely in my Top 5 serial killers now.
Episode Three is ‘The Bogeyman’s Gonna Eat You‘ and is dominated by the story of Albert Fish (The Vampire of Brooklyn) mid-to-late-1800’s era. A depraved old man who killed, and ate, a child, mutilated himself with needles in his groin, and other strangeness. The episode shows how the Peter Lorre film, ‘M’, used Fish as it’s basis.
Episode Four moves in to the 1900’s with ‘Serial Killing Begins Again‘ (after WWII) and talks of The Boston Strangler, Ed Gein, and The Lipstick Killer. ‘Jekyl and Hyde’ footage is used here to show how serial killers can almost hold a dual-personaility. Ed Gein – top of my serial killer list – the basis for many many horror icons (Leatherface et al.).
Episode Five discusses the killers who are just ‘Men Who Love To Kill‘. These are The Zodiac Killer, The Son Of Sam, Charles Manson, and Ted Bundy. Most had no real motive, moved from State to State, didn’t know the victims and just seemed to have a love of killing. Only The Zodiac Killer is officially still at large. Like Jack The Ripper, he was never caught and seemed to just ‘vanish’.
Episode Six looks at ‘Homosexual Serial Killers‘, John Wayne Gacy (The Killer Clown), and The Highway Killers. Gacy is easily the most well known in this episode, but the Highway Killers show’s that sometimes serial killing can happen in groups/pairs.
Episode Seven shows ‘Buddy Serial Killing‘ really starting to take off, with The Hillside Stranglers and The Beltway Snipers. The Snipers were really very different in their serial killing, since they killed from a distance, something that hadn’t really been done, or considered, before. Usually serial killers are more up close and ‘personal’.
Episode Eight discusses ‘The Many Faces Of Serial Killers’ with the Gainsville Ripper, the Unabomber and Henry Lee Lucas. Showing that serial killers come from all walks of life and from all levels of intellect.
Episode Nine is on how ‘To Catch A Serial Killer‘ and explains how killers such as, The Green Rover Killer and BTK, were caught. Usually using sheer luck, or small, seemingly insignificant items. Interestingly, it also pokes a finger at the cops saying how they are reluctant to involve the FBI, or even share information between one another.
And Episode Ten tries to explain ‘Why Serial Killers Kill‘ using The Night Stalker, and Jeffrey Dahmer. Showing that most are completely sane, choose to kill and crave control/attention. Ramirez (THe Night Stalker) basically became a rock star with women wanting to marry him, while Dahmer, using cannibalism, wanted to simply keep his victims forever.
This is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in serial killers. I doesn’t delve deeply into the background of all the killers mentioned, but gives you enough info to begin to wonder what makes these people tick. Also, in its favour, is that it is dirt cheap, under $10, from places like Amazon. Had the episodes been longer and given more detail on each of the killers, this would have easily been five stars, but for it’s price point, you really can’t complain. Grab it while you can!