During the 1980s, Britain experienced something of a moral panic. Spearheaded by the conservative activist Mary Whitehouse and using the 1959 Obscene Publications Act as a weapon, the horror film market came in for an almighty hammering. The term that would stick with popular culture was simplistic but catchy: ‘video nasty’.
The proliferation of VHS in the early ‘80s brought horror movies into our homes like never before. Soon enough, as worry spread about the impact that fake blood-splattered gorefests would have on children and the vulnerable, titles began being banned. Then, the Video Recordings Act was brought in in 1984, limiting who could watch what by age.
Since then, we’ve seen similar moral outrages and panics with things like ‘violent video games’, yet no proof has ever been proffered that such explicitly violent content can cause a person to commit violence.
That said, it seems likely that particularly gruesome viewing may shape the way that a person inclined to extreme violence carries out their violent crime. Here are six examples of killers who were inspired by horror films.
1. Jake Evans - Halloween film series
On 3rd October 2012, Jake Evans, a 17-year-old teenager from Aledo, Texas, dialled 911. He told the operator, calmly and monotonously, that he had shot his mother and sister.
Jake confessed to the murders in more detail in writing in January 2013. He claimed he was motivated to kill after seeing Rob Zombie's 2007 Halloween remake three times in one week. He further admitted to planning to murder not just his mother and younger sister, but also his older sisters and grandparents.
‘After I watched the movie I put it back in the case and threw it in the trash can so that people wouldn’t think that it influenced me in any way,' Evans described in his confession. 'I was amazed at how at ease the boy was during the murders and how little remorse he had afterward. I was thinking to myself it would be the same for me when I kill someone.’
2. Patricia Frazier - The Exorcist
Four-year-old Khunji Wilson was discovered dead in her mother's car on 22nd February 1980 in quite harrowing circumstances.
Patricia Ann Frazier, Khunji’s mother, had a history of mental health concerns, having been institutionalised four years prior for a nervous breakdown. She had, it was later revealed, watched William Friedkin's iconic horror The Exorcist on television before becoming convinced her daughter was possessed by demons.
Spirits - apparently - told Frazier to cut out her daughter's heart after she saw ‘grass sprouting out of her daughter's chest’. She did this unthinkable act 10 days after seeing the film.
She was judged 'not guilty' of first-degree murder due to insanity and sent to a psychiatric facility for treatment.
3. Allan Menzies - Queen of the Damned
By no means a horror classic, this Aaliyah-starring 2002 film - based on an Anne Rice book - is mostly famous for its lead actress’ tragic death before its release. To a small nook of Scotland, it’s remembered for something different but just as devastating.
On 11th December 2002, Allan Menzies, then 22, murdered his 21-year-old friend, Thomas McKendrick, in the West Lothian hamlet where they both lived. Thomas was killed by Menzies and buried in a shallow grave outside his house.
Menzies hit Thomas over the head and then repeatedly stabbed him. According to some reports, Menzies claimed to have drunk some of Thomas’ blood and even eaten a part of his head. Menzies testified in court that he committed the crime because Akasha, the main character from Queen of the Damned, instructed him to kill for her.
4. Mark Branch - Friday the 13th
19-year-old Mark Branch obsessively rented horror films and generally gravitated towards the more extreme end of the movie market. According to one movie rental store clerk who knew him, Branch rented ‘strictly gore, period. The gorier, the better’. A subsequent investigation of his residence revealed he owned 75 horror films, 64 true crime books, lots of knives, hockey masks, and a large machete.
On 24th October 1988, he played out a horror film in real life when he murdered an 18-year-old college student while dressed up as Friday the 13th's renowned central villain, Jason Voorhees. The infamous hockey mask and machete played central roles in his costume.
5. Mario Padilla and Samuel Ramirez - Scream
Two teenagers who stabbed one of their mothers 45 times in 1998 were infatuated with the horror film Scream and used it as inspiration.
Mario Padilla, 16, solicited the help of his 16-year-old cousin, Samuel Ramirez, to assist in the murder of his mother, Gina Castillo, 37, at their home in Lynwood, California. All just because she asked him to do chores and grounded him when he refused.
Both killers had admitted to being obsessed with the 1996 film Scream, thinking the murders in it were ‘cool’. Padilla told his friends that they were ‘the perfect way to kill somebody'.
According to witnesses, the two lads were heard to describe their murder fantasies as ‘doing a Scream’ or ‘busting a Scream’. They even intended to buy outfits and a voice distortion machine to meticulously recreate the film's executions. They allegedly discussed going on ‘a killing spree’.
Padilla was given life in prison without the possibility of release, while his cousin was sentenced to 45 years to life.
6. Robert Berdella - The Collector
The 1965 psychological horror The Collector is an excellent film about obsession. Based on John Fowles’ dark 1963 novel, it stars Terence Stamp as the man who ‘collects’ women.
The Butcher of Kansas City, Robert Berdella, loved both the book and the film. A truly twisted character, Berdella abducted, raped, tortured and killed six women in Missouri in the 1980s. He was such a fan of the film - speaking of it so much - that it became one of his nicknames after capture. He was caught and imprisoned in 1988 before dying of a heart attack four years later.