Film adaptations of serial killers and tragedies have been a long standing tradition in American media and entertainment for decades. The methods they use to depict the criminals, however, have existed in various fashions.
The Strangler/The Boston Strangler
The 1964 film The Strangler is a crime film based on the infamous actions of the eponymous Boston Strangler, a serial killer who took the lives of 13 women within the span of a year and a half. The film was released before the eventual confession of the likely perpetrator Albert DeSalvo, who was detained in October, 6 months after. Appealing to both pathos and ethos, the movie sets its sights on gaining an audience based on the "scare factor" given. Be reminded, the film came out while the killer was loose, so the sense of intrigue could be created in individuals who enjoy the ominousness of a threat who's existence is not limited to the big screen. Furthermore, basing a film off of a "true figure" such as the Boston Strangler adds a form of credibility to the film makers, as they are entrusted to create a work that properly portrays the actions of a real person.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)/ Ed Gein
The 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, however, decided to capitalize on the "based on true events" motif to the extreme. The film in its original release advertised itself on a true story. A tagline even stated, "What happened is true. Now the motion picture that's just as real." This statement is obviously false, almost completely. The only truth this holds is the rough basis on body-snatching serial killer Ed Gein, who would collect victims' bodies, similar to the cannibalistic nature of the Sawyer family found in the film. Similar to The Strangler, the film markets itself by using pathos and ethos to attract an audience. It used ethos, even more so than The Strangler, to come off as borderline biographical in that everything that happened in the film,"is true" and thus is a credible source of information regarding our culture (the film also served as a slight political commentary) and murderers. And of course, as a horror film, pathos was the driving force it used to inspire fear into its viewers, making allusions to its supposed truth. The film even had an opening crawl saying, "The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin."
Next Time: Helter Skelter and Charles Manson