It's Time to Stop Dramatizing Serial Killers Who Violently Murder Women

Illustration for article titled It's Time to Stop Dramatizing Serial Killers Who Violently Murder Women
Photo: Michael Goulding (AP)

In the latest somewhat icky news from Hollywood, Anna Kendrick is set to star in a film based on the true story of the time when serial killer Rodney Alcala competed on the popular game show The Dating Game—and actually won a date with a contestant named Cheryl Bradshaw.

Advertisement

Rodney Alcala, who went on The Dating Game in 1978, would receive his first murder charge just a year later for the death of 12-year-old Robin Samsoe. However, at the time of his appearance on the series, he already had a criminal history that included a charge for the attempted murder of an 8-year-old girl—a fact that no one working on the show knew, as the technology that allows for the sharing of criminal records across state lines wasn’t yet easily accessible. It would later come out that Alcala had already murdered at least five women by the time he appeared on tv.

“The ‘Dating Game’ appearance is just a bizarre part about this case,” said Matt Murphy, a former prosecutor who was assigned to Rodney Alcala’s case in 2003. “And I think that what it reflects is the narcissism and the ego and the arrogance of a serial killer.”

Advertisement

When he was on The Dating Game, Alcala’s raunchy answers charmed Bradshaw enough for her to choose him as the winner, but she was quickly put off upon meeting him face-to-face. Contestant coordinator Ellen Metzger said that the day after meeting Alcala, Bradshaw phoned her to call off the date. “She said, ‘Ellen, I can’t go out with this guy. There’s weird vibes that are coming off of him. He’s very strange. I am not comfortable. Is that going to be a problem?’ And of course, I said, ‘No.’”

Alcala would eventually be convicted of murdering seven different women in the 1970s. He is still alive, and currently serving out his sentence at Corcoran State Prison.

Although the popularity of true crime is certainly nothing new, there is a more recent uptick in fictionalized versions of stories centering around real-life serial killers. The announcement of this film about Rodney Alcala comes just days after the news that Chad Michael Murray would be playing serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy in a new movie—less than two years after another former teen heartthrob, Zac Efron, portrayed Bundy in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. It’s genuinely disturbing to see the revisionist history that imagines Bundy, a man whose notoriety stems entirely from the fact that he raped and murdered at least 30 women and girls, as an unusually handsome and charming man.

The choice to romanticize the stories of actual men who violently attacked and murdered women and girls is not a neutral one. By turning the actions of these predators into films and television series featuring beloved actors, the entertainment industry contributes to mythologizing that affords killers a celebrity-adjacent status and minimizes the true horror of their actions, while their victims are rarely named.

Advertisement

It’s unsettling how comfortable we are with creating entertainment out of the murders of people whose families and loved ones are likely still in mourning.

Freelance writer & night blogger at Jezebel. Lover of television, astrology, and sandwiches.

DISCUSSION

Ignatius Reilly's Valve

Not to apologize for this genre, which is certainly icky, but isn’t it a pretty well-established fact (from cops, witnesses and people who knew him socially) that Bundy was fairly charming and good-looking (though it’s amazing what was considered hot in the 70s), and that’s why he was able to talk women into going places with him, etc? I mean, I find Zac Efron utterly unappealing, so the casting is still questionable to me, but I don’t think that’s revisionist history by anyone. Bundy was a charmer. It’s why he got away with so much.

Just as an aside, Mark Harmon did a hell of a turn as Bundy in the TV movie The Deliberate Stranger. The movie’s pretty bad, as they all are, but Harmon’s performance will freeze your blood...and the fact that it’s sexy Mark Harmon makes it no less chilling. I think the statement that these movies “romanticize” serial killers is inaccurate. No one comes out thinking they were just really misunderstood decent guys. If anything, I think casting charismatic actors helps us understand that a lot of creeps can be quite likeable in their everyday lives, which helps us all. I just wish the movies weren’t always so poorly made.