One of the key elements established by the modern horror film is that you don't necessarily need monsters to generate terror. Rather, very often, as the old cliche goes, the worst monsters of all are ourselves. In other words, the real-life evils of the human mind can be far more terrifying than any make-believe supernatural entity. Perhaps that's why the serial killer sub-genre has proliferated so much in recent decades. (Vault of Horror: The Lucky 13)
I left graduate school with a degree in Forensic Psychology and a notion I could pursue a career probing the depths the human mind can sink through, assisting a criminal justice system burdened by such unsavory matters. It would be a lark, providing lots of fascinating party talk and dinner chat to titillate my listeners.
My notion was first tested when I was told to wear clip-on ties while in the agitated ward of a correctional facility--so I wouldn't be strangled by any of my spontaneous charges. It was vigorously challenged when sitting across the long, narrow table from me--on one of those days you've missed the coffee cart when you really shouldn't have--was an explosively violent young man wearing a straitjacket, threatening to jump over the table and choke the life out of me before the guard could stop him. What bothered me most wasn't how casually he said it, but that I believed he had a good chance of doing it, straitjacket or not. I looked at him very carefully and said, as calmly as possible, "that wouldn't be a good idea." He agreed and smiled. I started breathing again. I wondered if that guard, now suddenly standing very far away, had his cup of java that morning.
I gave up the notion entirely after watching another inmate perform a card trick. It's the one where each card is flawlessly used in telling a story, no matter what the arrangement after shuffling. This person didn't miss a pip as he went through all fifty-two pasteboards. I was impressed. He was very personable, fairly charming, always cheerful. I became depressed afterward when I found out he had placed his infant son in the oven and turned up the heat. Way up. It was the voices in his head, I was told. They told him to do bad things. I wondered if those voices helped him with his magic tricks, too.
Another notion soon occurred to me that perhaps pursuing a career in computing would be better than wearing clip-on ties and conducting Rorschach tests with serial stalkers. It was. Still is. My conversations at social gatherings are not as titillating, but I can live with that. Which brings me to Mother Productions' 52 Famous Murderers trading card set.
I doubt anyone would seriously want to trade these like Harry Potter's Famous Wizards Cards, or flip for them in the schoolyard like we did with Baseball cards (I always lost). And no matter how you shuffle this deck of infamous serial killers, their stories are always chilling and saddening.
So it's all right to be scared: the next time you're at the movies, tucked in your seat as you stare up at that make-believe serial killer cavorting safely-distant onscreen, look around you.
You never know who may be smiling at you.