1 ‘Zodiac’ scene shows what a ‘process-oriented serial killer’ expects from victims, criminologist says
We turn to horror as a way to safely examine the darker parts of human nature from a distance. Films provide a buffer between the reality of gruesome crimes, our fascination with them, and the people who commit them. Sometimes, however, the details of a horror thriller become so poignant that they reveal something deeper and darker about the reality of the real events that inspired them.
According to a criminologist who has studied the psychology of serial killers and their motivations, a scene in Zodiac is particularly revealing.
“Zodiac” is a 2007 film based on a real life serial killer
In 2007, the dramatic and mysterious Zodiac go to the big screen. Director David Fincher made it clear that his motivations for creating the film weren’t entirely rooted in entertainment. As someone who grew up in the Bay Area, Fincher was aware of the terror of the Zodiac Killer when a child warned him of the threat.
As Britannica reports, the “Zodiac Killer” was the nickname of a long-unidentified serial killer responsible for the deaths of at least five people between 1968 and 1969. The killer’s signature included taunting letters to authorities, a cheeky, in your face culmination of crimes. To this day, experts continue to argue over whether the identity of the Zodiac Killer has been correctly identified and whether the Zodiac Killer was responsible for other mysterious deaths.
This story is heartbreaking and, of course, ripe for film adaptations. dirty harry famously tackled the story in a 1971 action film. Fincher was “appalled” by the film’s treatment of the killer and his damage. The director aimed to give a more historically accurate picture of the murders. Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., received critical acclaim. It even opened up new investigations as fans clamored for more attention to the cases.
The Zodiac Killer was a “process-driven” serial killer
Vanity Fair hosted an interview with criminologist David Wilson to discuss how movies dealing with the subject of serial killers treat their source material. Wilson addresses the portrayal of serial killers in blockbuster films like Se7fr, psychology, Momand There is no country for old people. Along the way, Wilson closely examines Zodiac and explains a key, oh so chilling, difference between types of serial killers.
One of the ways the FBI classifies serial killers, according to Wilson, is their organization. Organized serial killers bring the tools and weapons they need to incapacitate their victims. Those who are unorganized tend to use whatever they can find at the time. Organized serial killers tend to be employed, have high IQs, and have the ability to blend into everyday life when not committing crimes.
Wilson makes another distinction between serial killers who are “act-oriented” and those who are “process-oriented”. Deed-oriented killers just want to kill. It is the act itself that animates them.
A process-oriented serial killer, on the other hand, “is interested in extending the time he spends with his victims. He wants to tie them up. He wants to see the fear they feel. He wants certain words to be spoken. He wants them to plead for their lives before he kills them. Wilson relates this to the sexual fantasy of empowerment.
A ‘Zodiac’ scene illustrates the organized and process-oriented nature of the serial killer
Using Wilson’s categorisations, it’s clear that the Zodiac Killer – at least as portrayed in the film – is a highly organized, process-oriented killer. One scene in particular illustrates this well.
In it, the killer approaches a couple who appear to be on an outdoor date. The killer is dressed in all black, wears gloves, and carries his own rope and weapons (all signs of a large organization). He doesn’t just kill the couple. Instead, he insists that the woman tie up the man before forcing the couple down, showing them the gun he is not yet using on them and threatening them with a knife. Fear and playing with its victims are part of the thrill.
Because of this process-oriented nature, efforts by victims (like the male victim in the film) to strike up a conversation and show their own humanity can actually fuel the fantasy, giving the killers exactly what they want. .
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