Serial killers did not wait for the term “serial killer” to appear (in Time, October 1983) to commit their crimes, nor to captivate the public. All audiences: “I search under the regular features of this man for the monster and do not find him”, writes the novelist Colette, legal chronicler during the Landru trial, in 1921.

To decipher this ambiguous feeling, directors Céline Chassé and Paul Sanfourche summon specialized journalists, authors, writers, historians… Without concern for chronology – which may seem confusing -, but with a few effective twists.

First “school case”, Charles Sobhraj, known as “the Serpent”, author of around twenty crimes in the 1970s, convicted, escaped, then convicted again, before leaving prison in September 2022, at aged 78, and touring television sets.

Horror subgenre

In the cinema, Psycho, by Alfred Hitchcock (1960), is remarkable because, for the first time, the director tries to understand the psyche of the criminal, inspired by the American serial killer Ed Gein (1906-1984). Played by Anthony Perkins (1932-1992), his character Norman Bates even attracts sympathy. The film is thus at the origin of the “psycho killer” quickly renamed “slasher”, a subgenre of horror film, which will experience its golden age in the 1980s and 1990s, notably with The Silence of the Lambs, by Jonathan Demme (1991), with Anthony Hopkins, fascinating as a cannibalistic psychopath, and Jodie Foster.

Also, after these masterpieces, It Happened Near You (1992), by Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde, stands out. Even if he denounces, through humor, the use of news items by the media. “This is well seen, because the media stopped at nothing from the end of the 1970s,” underlines Patricia Tourancheau, journalist and director. It will first be an interview with Ted Bundy, who admitted to around thirty homicides between 1974 and 1978, before his execution in January 1989. Then Charles Manson, the “evil guru”, who will become a quasi-pop star after having ordered, among other things, the murder of Sharon Tate, in 1969, the wife of director Roman Polanski.

Involuntarily, Stéphane Bourgoin will stop. His interviews with several serial killers, including Ottis Toole (1947-1996), cannibal and necrophiliac, earned him the status of “expert” since the 1980s, until we discovered, in 2020, that he met “only” thirteen serial killers. Tonight, on camera, he admits: “I’m stupid. I extrapolated a bit. »

In France, the media coverage went up a notch during the seven-year hunt for Guy Georges, followed on television almost live by the public until 1998. In the press, Paris Match acquired for “one good price” the exclusive photos of photographer Yan Morvan, who testifies here. Crime sells. This is evidenced by the success of “Bring in the Accused”, notably presented by Christophe Hondelatte between 2000 and 2012.

Today, interest in “true crime” continues. Without hesitation. “It’s up to everyone to choose, in their desire to watch and therefore to contribute to success,” suggests Maxime Chattam, one of the masters of French thrillers. It’s up to everyone to decide whether or not to watch this documentary.