9 Actors Who've Given Bone-Chilling Portrayals of Real-Life Serial Killers

A closer look at Hollywood stars' transformations into history's most prolific serial killers.

By Alyssa Ray Jan 31, 2021 8:30 AMTags
Watch: Zac Efron Is Lucky He Didn't Have to Get Into Ted Bundy's Mind

Some faces you just can't forget.

That was the thought lurking in the back of our heads as we tried to figure out why the culprit at the heart of Netflix's Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer seemed so familiar to us. As true crime fans, we've consumed many hours of bone-chilling docu-series and fictional films about serial killers.

Still, as we tuned into the Netflix docu-series for the first time, which dropped on Jan. 13, Richard Ramirez's face was eerily familiar to us. Before long, it hit us that season nine of American Horror Story had incorporated Ramirez's haunting murders into their narrative.

So, it wasn't technically Ramirez who we were recognizing, it was the actor who portrayed the prolific murderer. And while American Horror Story: 1984 wasn't an accurate retelling of Ramirez's crimes, actor Zach Villa was just as terrifying as the real-life killer he was portraying.

This isn't the first time that serial killers have received the Hollywood treatment. In fact, many of your favorite stars have played some of history's most horrific criminals.

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Case in point: Charlize Theron won an Oscar for Monster, where she played a woman who killed seven men by shooting them.

And don't forget the time Zac Efron gave a pretty convincing performance as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Who could've predicted that Zac would go from Troy Bolton to Ted Bundy? We didn't.

Watch: Macaulay Culkin Joins "American Horror Story" Season 10

For a closer look at the stars who've played serial killers, scroll through the images below!

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy

Zac Efron portrayed prolific serial killer Ted Bundy in the 2019 film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Just before his execution, which took place in 1989, Bundy confessed to 30 homicides in the '70s.

 

Jeremy Renner as Jeffrey Dahmer

2002's Dahmer featured Jeremy Renner as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who is known for killing and dismembering almost 20 men and boys between 1978 and 1991.

Chad Michael Murray as Ted Bundy

Chad Michael Murray also stepped into Bundy's murderous shoes for the 2021 film Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman.

Joshua Jackson as Dr. Christopher Duntsch

Joshua Jackson embodied Texan neurosurgeon Dr. Christopher Duntsch in 2021 Peacock series Dr. Death, inspired by the podcast of the same name.

Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer

Another Dahmer! In Marc Meyers' 2017 film My Friend DahmerRoss Lynch portrayed serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's high school days.

Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan

For The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime StoryDarren Criss left his Glee persona behind as he portrayed serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The performance earned Criss an Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award.

Damon Herriman as Charles Manson

Damon Herriman has played infamous cult leader Charles Manson on not one, but two occasions. In Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood, Herriman is referred to as "Charlie." For a 2019 episode of Mindhunter, Herriman played Charles Manson for a scene opposite Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany.

Evan Peters as Charles Manson

In American Horror Story: Cult, the Manson family murders were recreated. For the scene, AHS lead Evan Peters channeled the infamous cult leader, Charles Manson.

Cameron Britton as Ed Kemper

Mindhunter does it again! Cameron Britton gave a bone-chilling portrayal as Ed Kemper on Netflix's Mindhunter.

John Cusack as Robert Hansen

In 2013's The Frozen Ground, John Cusack portrayed serial killer Robert Hansen (aka Butcher Baker). After abducting, raping and murdering at least 17 women, he was arrested and convicted in 1983.

Brian Dennehy as John Wayne Gacy

Brian Dennehy played John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer and sex offender who murdered at least 33 young men/boys between 1972 and 1978, in a two-part television special in 1992.

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos

Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. Monster, which came out in 2003, also stars Christina Ricci as a character based on Wuornos' ex-girlfriend Tyria Moore.

Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez

In season nine of American Horror Story, Zach Villa played real-life serial killer Richard Ramirez (aka Night Stalker). Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco residents between 1984 and 1985. The death row inmate died in prison in 2013.

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is streaming now on Netflix.

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