TV’s Most Terrifying Serial Killers, Ranked

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The Greatest Serial Killers in Television History, Ranked  

Though television largely serves as a medium for entertainment, there are a few productions that have managed to truly capture viewers’ attention through horror and fear. When it comes to TV shows about serial killers, there is no better example than the chilling onscreen depictions of some of the world’s most notorious and horrifying murderers. From real-life tales to fictional characters, this list takes a look at the most disturbing and terrifying serial killers in the history of television, ranking each one according to the amount of terror they have inflicted.

  1. Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal

Despite being one of the most popular serial killer characters in horror media, Hannibal Lecter, who is brought to life by Mads Mikkelsen in the NBC series Hannibal, is still the most terrifying serial killer ever to be portrayed on television. This critically acclaimed psychological thriller follows Lecter as he uses his incredibly sharp mind and dark charms to manipulate and kill his victims. He also provides plenty of thrilling moments for viewers.

  1. David Fisher in Dexter

Michael C. Hall has played David Fisher in the Showtime original series Dexter for 8 seasons. Fisher is a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Police Department who also acts as a serial killer in his own time. Striking a balance between a sense of curiosity and a morbid fascination, Fisher is one of the most captivating serial killers in television history.

  1. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho

This classic Christian Bale blockbuster takes a deep dive into the mind of a psychopathic Wall Street banker, who is mastering the “American Dream” but harboring a horror within. Patrick Bateman, played by Bale in the HBO series American Psycho, is a master of manipulation and murder, hiding his horrific tendencies all the while. This unique show oozes with fear and suspense throughout, allowing viewers to get inside the mind of a twisted killer in a new way.

  1. Joe Carroll in The Following

The Fox serial killer drama The Following had fans’ hearts pounding with its central serial killer Joe Carroll. Carried out by actor James Purefoy, Carroll has been delivering chilling onscreen performances for 3 seasons. An English literature professor and seemingly model husband, Carroll unleashes his dark and erratic behavior when he is murdering those who he views as untouchables.

  1. Leonard Shelby in Memento

Memento is an Oscar-nominated psychological thriller starring Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man with short-term memory loss who is determined to find and kill the man who killed his wife. Leonard’s relatively blank slate allows the audience to get inside his head, as he follows clues with macabre precision in order to find his revenge. His terrifying demeanor and calculated behavior make Leonard one of the most chilling serial killers in television history.

Famous Fictional Serial Killer Television Characters  

With the increase of crime dramas on television, there has been an influx of serial killers who are captivating viewers with their psychotic natures and twisted demeanors. From fictional masterminds to morally deprived devils, these characters have been the source of gripping storylines and unnerving moments. Here are some of the most famous fictional serial killer characters in television:

  1. Arthur Mitchell in Dexter

The Trinity Killer from the fourth season of him Emmy award-winning series Dexter, Arthur Mitchell, is one of the most vicious and intense characters to ever appear on TV. Played by John Lithgow, Mitchell seems like a normal family man on the outside, while plotting and executing horrifying acts of violence on the inside.

  1. Bertha Krueger in American Horror Story

Bertha Krueger was one of the creepiest murderous villains ever to grace the small screen. Played by Emma Roberts in the FX series American Horror Story: Coven, Krueger, a.k.a. Madame LaLaurie, uses her wealth and privilege to satisfy her dark desires and appetite for carnage. Her bizarre sexual rituals and unbridled sadism makes her one of the scariest characters in television history.

  1. Dexter Morgan in Dexter

Though Dexter Morgan is considered one of the most beloved serial killer characters on television, he is also one of the most frightening. Dexter, played by Michael C. Hall, was a Miami homicide detective by day and a vigilant serial killer by night, as he enforced his own sickening code of justice to rid the world of criminals. His chilling demeanor and controlled violence had viewers hooked from the moment he stepped on screen.

  1. Viktor Adler in Luther

Meet the ultimate charismatic serial killer, Viktor Adler (Paul Rattray), who was one of the most compelling characters to be featured on Luther. Not only did Adler manage to evade the police and spin a web of intrigue with his sly sarcasm and expert manipulation, he also had a way of seducing his victims just moments before his deadly attacks.

  1. Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men

Though No Country For Old Men was primarily a movie experience, Josh Brolin’s portrayal of Anton Chigurh still managed to seep into television in a series of mesmerizing moments. Chigurh, whose cold and ruthless method of murder is based on his skewed sense of justice, is one of the most terrifying serial killers to ever be featured on the big and small screens alike.

Real-Life Serial Killers Portrayed on Television  

Though the majority of serial killer portrayals on television are fictional, there are a few instances where the true events have made it to the small screen. Here are some of the real-life serial killers who have been featured in television series, with chilling attention to detail:

  1. Jeffrey Dahmer in Mindhunter

Netflix’s Mindhunter follows a pair of FBI agents delving into the minds of some of history’s worst killers, and one of them is the known cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer. The show offers audiences a disturbingly accurate look at the amateur photographer, who committed heinous acts throughout the 1980s.

  1. Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

The theatrical film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, examining the life of one of history’s most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy, also functions as a “horror” movie. The background music and the macabre subject matter make this a one-of-a-kind viewing experience, with Zac Efron’s chilling performance as Bundy providing further clarity on the dark tale.

  1. Richard Ramirez in The Night Stalker

In 1992, ABC aired a mini-series based on the life of serial killer Richard Ramirez, who was known as the “Night Stalker” during the 1980s. The network used a lighthearted and comedic approach to the true story, helping to bring in more viewers but also more controversy. Actor lou Diamond Phillips brought to life the true depths of Ramirez’s horrors.

Though horror is a common part of television, the use of serial killers to arouse fear and dread is a special craft. From the popular Hannibal Lecter to the brutal Richard Ramirez, television has provided us with an unparalleled level of terror in the shape of these real-life and fictional serial killers. With their ability to draw people in with curious fascination and chills, this rank of the most terrifying killers will continue to keep viewers on the edge of their seats and afraid of what comes next.

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