director John Borowski
Though the etymology of the term “serial killer” goes back to the 1970’s, it was the late 1980’s but specifically the by the early 1990’s that these eerie horrible characters moved from cultural obscurity into mainstream obsession. And then into cult celebrities.
I recall when first living in San Francisco, probably 1991, that I first heard of serial killer collectibles, from trading cards to purchasing artwork by some of the most notorious death row inmates, like John Wayne Gacy.
John Borowski’s documentary, Serial Killer Culture, kind of misses the mark of actually looking into this evolution or what it signifies, but rather interviews some of the collectors and artists who have obsessed over the effluvia and artifacts of serial killers. A couple of the interviewees here are among the original group that reached out to people like Gacy or Richard Ramirez seeking their artwork, letters, or signatures.
The collectors acknowledge the morbidity of their interests and state rather ironically that they are not trying to glorify or justify their subjects. There certainly is history here and there certainly is value in understanding these people, who they were, what shaped them into what they became. What can we learn from it. But the collectors tend toward creepy obsessiveness and enjoy blurring the lines between themselves and the people that they obsess over.
The artists tend to be less creepy, though some of them are collectors, too. They certainly do tend to at least seek to transform the subject matter into something. And some of them are very talented.
Borowski’s approach includes interviewing himself. He’s made three documentaries about serial killers, one of which even inspired one of his other interview subjects, a death metal band, to sing about serial killers. While Borowski does seem to have to more grounded approach to the material (I have some of his other films queued to watch), I think including himself as one of his interviews is a forfeiture of sorts. And while his discussion of approach to the material and why it’s important gives some grounding to the overall interest, it also underscores how the film doesn’t do much else besides highlighting collectors and artists obsessed with the material rather than an actual discourse on the “culture” of “serial killers”.
So, it’s not bad and kind of interesting, but far from being compelling on its own.