Serial killers are as common as wacky sitcom neighbors these days on TV. Are they a reflection of a growing cultural anxiety, or just a reflection of the more mature environment that cable has created? Who cares? We like them and networks are happy to provide them. Here are some of our favorite TV slashers, past and present:
Dexter Morgan ("Dexter")
The daddy of them all. Others had come before, but nobody has had as big an impact on the TV landscape as Michael C. Hall's killer with a conscience. His previous role as undertaker David Fisher on "Six Feet Under" makes us wonder if maybe David didn't live a double life. Wait: a serial killer who keeps his funeral home business booming in tough economic times with a steady stream of new clients? Somebody get Hollywood on the phone — we've got a script for them!
Scalpel? Naw, chainsaw!
Hannibal Lecter ("Hannibal")
If Dexter's the daddy, Hannibal "the Cannibal" is granddaddy. What started out as a terrible idea (bringing a beloved cinema classic to TV) turned into a guilty pleasure, which turned into a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity pleasure.
"Jaws" made us afraid of the water; Hannibal made us afraid of haute cuisine.
Joe Carroll ("The Following")
In the '80s, we liked our serial killers silent and dumb: Jason, Michael Myers, Christine (OK, fine, a possessed '58 Plymouth Fury does make some noise). But ever since Dr. Lecter, we've liked professor types or, hey, how about an actual English professor? Carroll is obsessed with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, which is only surprising in that there aren't more killers obsessed with Poe; half his books are practically instruction manuals for crazed psychopaths.
Nevermore. But since the show was renewed for another season, then a whole bunch more.
Norman Bates ("Bates Motel")
Crazy's gotta come from somewhere, right? This "spiritual prequel" to one of the infamous scenes in the history of film casts the adorable Freddie Highmore (Charlie from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") as the future Mrs. Bates and shows us how he got that way. Cute and cuddly psycho killers? It's like Chucky from "Child's Play" all over again!
Start with a bath; we'll work our way up to the shower.
Billy Flynn ("Criminal Minds")
In a show full of serial killers, it takes something special to stand out. But how? Maybe by killing a detective's family as a child, then killing the rest of his family as an adult? And maybe by casting Tim Curry, best known as Dr. Frank-N-Furter from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and the killer clown from Stephen King's "It"? Yup, that oughtta do it.
Is it more or less creepy if he sings all his lines?
Sometimes it's nice to watch a nice serial killing without worrying that you might end up as a victim. Sylar from "Heroes" kills only superpowered people, so unless, y'know, you can fly or shoot lasers from your eyes, you're probably safe.
He had such a future as a guy who does ear piercings in a mall...
Bob ("Twin Peaks")
Arguably the first TV serial killer to enter the mainstream (soap operas had been using them for years — usually as a neat way to lose expensive actors from the cast), the otherworldly entity who killed Laura Palmer fixated America ... for the first season, at least.
Blood? A metaphor for blood? A simile of a metaphor? With David Lynch, it's so hard to tell.
Nicole Wallace ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent")
Crime-of-the-week procedurals are full of recurring killers, but few match up to Olivia d'Abo's Nicole Wallace. The perfect combination of beauty, brains, and bats-in-the-belfry crazy, her interplay with Vincent D'Onofrio's Detective Goren made her a fan favorite.
No kissing in the interrogation room!
Rene Lenier ("True Blood")
In Bon Temps, Louisiana, where everybody's a vampire, psychic, fairy, werewolf, werepanther, or werefairy (that's not an actual thing — it just sounds funny), it's hard for a normal human to make an impact. Unless, of course, you're a serial killer who kills vampire lovers. His greatest crime may have been his weekly murdering of the Cajun accent.
The accent sounds completely normal if you've also taken a shovel to the head.
Chris Keller ("Oz")
It can be hard to shake your initial impression of an actor, especially if you spent five seasons with him as an inmate of Oz before 12 years on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." Unless, of course, you believe it takes a thief to catch a thief. Or in this case, it takes a sex-crazed killer to catch a sex-crazed killer.
Like Meat Loaf, he would do anything for love. Unlike Meat Loaf, he would also do that.