From Silence of the Lambs to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer to Monster, America's fascination with murderous villains has reached a cinematic peak. Where movie monsters were once mythical beasts (The Wolfman, Frankenstein), irradiated superbugs (Them, Mothra), or satanic imps (The Omen, The Exorcist), they're now people like you and me (well, almost). Our fears about ancient monsters, nuclear leakage, and God's wrath have waned even as our concerns about serial assassins have escalated, exaggerated by hysterical media stories.
What may come as something of a shock, however, is that the serial-slayer preoccupation isn't confined to U.S. borders. Though Americans seem particularly apt at producing coldblooded executioners, international coverage of notorious Yanks like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer helped spread global paranoia, as did the well-reported crimes of foreign butchers such as Andrei Chikatilo and Rafael Resendez-Ramirez.
So it's no surprise that curator Steven Jay Schneider found plenty of possibilities when putting together “Unnatural Born Killers,” a six-film series of serial-killer movies from around the world. On three Fridays in January, Schneider presents a double feature of blood-soaked flicks from Romania, China, South Korea, South Africa, and Hungary. Each is a gory jewel in its own right, but three in particular stand out. A taut low-budget psychosexual thriller from 1963, The Sadist (the series' only U.S. entry) stars underrated vintage actor Arch Hall Jr. as a Charlie Starkweather simulacrum who menaces three teachers trapped at a roadside gas station. Also compelling are Dr. Lamb, a hideously realistic 2002 Hong Kong take on the murders committed by real-life butcher Lam Guo-wen, and Nexxt (aka Frau Plastic Chicken Show), a 2001 Hungarian film that gives brutal offings a surreal spin by presenting a “reality” show featuring the ferocious Alex, the “real” inspiration for Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. If you can sleep well after these human-creature features, you're a stronger viewer than we are.