“It’s Always the Same, and It’s Always Different” Mythologisation and the Serial Killer in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

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Smyth, David A. (2015)
  • Publisher: Graduate Students’ Union of the University of Dublin, Trinity College
  • Subject: myth | popular culture | reality | serial killers | America
    mesheuropmc: humanities | chemical and pharmacologic phenomena

Serial killers are important in American horror because of their ability to exist between ‘myth’ and ‘reality’. The serial killer is one of the most important American myths, but it is one firmly rooted in real life: unlike Paul Bunyan or Superman, serial killers do exist. This essay examines the relationship between the ‘myth’ and the ‘reality’ of serial killers, and the complex relationship between the American public and the serial killer, using Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as a guide. Firstly, the essay will discuss the creation and importance of American myths, before moving on to examine how the serial killer fits into the American myth mould. It will demonstrate that the serial killer is a mythologised figure in American culture, and that, as a result of this mythologisation, the serial killer as a figure in ‘reality’ is destabilised and made ‘safe’. Following this, the essay assesses John McNaughton’s Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer as a reaction against the mythologisation of the serial killer in popular culture. By utilising McNaughton’s film, the essay will deconstruct the ‘myth’ of the serial killer as presented in American popular culture. The essay also focuses on how McNaughton’s film reiterates the myth of the serial killer in its final moments, and how this reflects on the place of the serial killer in American myth.
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