With the advent of found footage, fake documentaries have been an established staple of the horror genre. Going all the way back to 1980’s Cannibal Holocaust, we have horror films that purport to be “real” pieces of documentary filmmaking. However, you typically don’t find many mockumentaries in the horror genre.
While technically anything found footage could be considered mockumentary, the term is most commonly associated with parody and satire, in the vein of Best in Show, The Office, and Parks & Recreation. When it comes to true horror mockumentaries that make use of satire and comedy, the best example is a much lesser known gem How to be a Serial Killer.
Premiering at the New York City Horror Film Festival in 2008, and releasing on DVD a year later, this movie sadly failed to get much coverage. To date, very few people have even heard of it. Having worked at a Suncoast Video from 2007-2013, this is the only reason I became aware of it when it was first released.
We only received two copies of the DVD (one of which I bought), and I’ve been on a lifelong mission to bring this movie to more people’s attention ever since…
Henry, Seminar of a Serial Killer
One part documentary narrative, one part self-help infomercial, the movie is centered around proclaimed serial killer Mike Wilson (Dameon Clark). We see him meeting a timid video store clerk Bart (Matthew Gray Gubler) and show him the ropes of what it takes to be a serial killer.
Bart has always felt like the world hasn’t gone his way, but taking on serial killing is giving him a sense of purpose. However, the more Mike shows him, the more nervous Bart becomes as he wonders if he will have what it takes, and fears what Mike might do if he doesn’t.
Mike constantly makes jokes about how he could easily kill Bart and Matthew Gray Gubler does a fantastic job of demonstrating how uncomfortable he is by the whole situation. There’s a definite dom/sub dynamic between the two of them (albeit in a platonic manner)., and in a weird way, Mike is who we wish we had the courage to be, while Bart is more so who we actually are.
All the while, the narrative is intercut with this infomercial style self-help seminar, in which Mike Wilson goes over his rules, tips, and tricks for being a successful serial killer. And here is where the movie shines. He’s charismatic and fun in a way that satirically captures why society is so obsessed with serial killers.
Tapping Into Primal Urges
The real reason that Mike Wilson is such a fun and compelling character is that he’s the embodiment of all of our darkest fantasies and urges played out. Between killing a rude customer, and killing a driver that cut him off, Mike plays out the frustrated venting that we might say in a moment of anger. And the movie’s incredibly dark sense of humor allows us to enjoy that feeling guilt-free, knowing it’s all comedy.
Even his “rules” seem to make him out to be more of a twisted vigilante than a traditional serial killer. If Dexter made us sympathize with a serial killer in a dramatic sense, this movie does the same in a comedic one.
How to Be a Serial Killer is the epitome of bizarrely creative low budget indie cinema that’s both entertaining and deserving of a wider audience. It’s sort of like Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer meets The Office, and we need more strange mashups like that!
What did you think of How to be a Serial Killer? What are some of your favorite horror comedies? Let us know in the comments!