What is it about serial killers that makes them both fascinating and the thing of nightmares? How is it that characters like Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates actually take on the audience’s sympathy? Why are there whole cable channels devoted to true crime? Maybe we’ll get the answer to some of those questions by the new Netflix series, Mindhunter.
Set in 1979, the series, which is produced and directed by David Fincher, focuses on a pair of FBI agents played by Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff, who in attempting to solve ongoing serial killer crimes, interview those who are in jail, having been committed of being mass murderers themselves.
The show is based on the book Mind Hunter: Inside FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, which was written by author Mark Olshaker and former FBI special agent John E. Douglas, who was also one of the first criminal profilers. As Douglas has explained it, when he was a young FBI agent he enjoyed investigations and making arrests, but what he found himself increasingly drawn to was learning something about the subjects and, more importantly, why they perpetrated the crimes that they did.
“In 1977,” he said, “when I was promoted and transferred to the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy, I hoped I would learn more about the motives behind criminal behavior. The students [of the psychology classes that were taught at the FBI Academy] and I found the classes entertaining and sometimes humorous, and the instructors received the highest praises each semester from their students. Yet I still felt there was something missing. None of the instructors had actually gone into prisons and personally asked violent offenders about the specifics of their crimes. I wanted to know about the offenders’ pre-offense behaviors, victim selections, personal backgrounds, motivations and post-offense behaviors and how they were identified so I could apply that information to present day classes.
“By the early 1980s,” he added, “another colleague and I received a federal grant to conduct research on serial murderers. It seemed obvious to me that to learn from the ‘experts,’ it was necessary to speak to them.”
Obviously Douglas was on to something, and the television series Mindhunter is one of the results. The show will begin streaming on Netflix October 13th.