Serial Killer Culture: The Movie
True-crime filmmaker examines a subculture of dark fascination.
Posted February 24, 2013
John Borowski is finishing up his fourth film, and if it’s like the other three, it will be unique, raw, and compelling. I asked him about his body of work (so to speak), with focus on this new project about the fans, artists, buyers and sellers of serial killer-associated items. I teach a course on serial killers, devoting an entire class to those who create or collect “dark” items, so I’m eager to see the finished product.
You have devoted a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources to creating quality films on specific cases, such as Albert Fish, Carl Panzram and H. H. Holmes. What draws you to this subject?
My interest in serial killers is a combination of growing up watching horror films and my curiosity of morbid and macabre subjects, which can range from the stories of Edgar Allen Poe to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. In making films on serial killers, I hope to attempt to understand them and their actions. They are human beings just like all the rest of us and I feel it is society's responsibility to attempt to understand them and not just execute them so they are out of sight, out of mind.
There must be a reason for their existence and I’m attempting to figure that out. Maybe there is no answer, but I find their lives fascinating, especially the serial killers with interesting psychological components. Gein, Nilsen, Dahmer, and Fish I find the most interesting because their actions are not only extreme and bizarre, but there seems to be definite trauma in their past which can be referenced to in causing their actions as a murderer.
Tell us about Serial Killer Culture:
Over the last 5 years of filming my third film, Carl Panzram: The Spirit of Hatred and Vengeance, I began filming footage for Serial Killer Culture. I wanted to connect the dots of all the people whom I had read about or came in contact with while studying serial killers and their impact on pop culture, including artists who are inspired to create art based on serial killers. The intention is to shed light on why artists, collectors and the public are fascinated by serial killers, murder, crime, and death. The film also highlights the historical importance of archiving true crime artifacts and literature so that future generations may learn about true crime history.
Already interviewed are: Artist Joe Coleman, Murder Metal band Macabre, Collector and artist Matthew Aaron and his Last Dime Museum, Joe Hiles of skcentral.com, The Dahmer Tours, and musicians The World Famous Crawlspace Brothers. Further interviews will be: Collector Rick Staton, The National Crime Museum, The Museum of Death, Hart Fisher, and victims advocate Andy Kahan.
Another film, Collectors, was released some time ago. Do you address this culture from a different perspective?
My film is not called "murderabilia" or "macabre collecting" for a reason. There has never before been a film like Serial Killer Culture. Instead of focusing only on collectors, which plays a small part in my film, I chose to focus on the reasons artists are inspired to create works based on serial killers, as well as the public's fascination with serial killing and true crime, as exhibited by museums such as the National Crime Museum in Washington DC and tours such as the Dahmer Tour in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The film is more of a study of the pop culture influence that serial killers have had on America and the reasons why serial killers have become celebrities.
Do you have a position on the controversy over selling and collecting items associated with horrific crimes?
I have a live and let live philosophy. I understand the pain that the victims went through as well as the pain with which their relatives, friends and loved ones still deal on a daily basis. Even though these awful acts were committed on others, I am still interested in serial killers and the psychology behind their actions. I would like to think there are lessons to be learned from the stories I portray in my documentary films so that people may learn from these horrific cases. I choose to look into the heart of evil rather than ignore it.
To illustrate how deep feelings on this subject are, one of the posts on my youtube site was the following: "All you people who think it's cool to befriend and/or communicate with a serial killer, you guys are a bunch of sick f***s. My aunt was Keith's first victim and it appalls me to see people trying to reach out to a monster who killed women for his own sick pleasure. You should be ashamed to give attention to such a lunatic. I hope you never get to experience the horrific tragedy of losing a loved one because then you would know how it feels for the family to keep being reminded of the scumbag."
These are powerful words. I cannot imagine the pain that the relatives of a victim of violent crime must deal with, as it must be extremely difficult.
Are you a collector, yourself, of serial killer-related items?
There seems to be several categories of collecting serial killer related items. There are items such as evidence and items that have been retrieved from the property of a serial killer. Then there are items such as writings and artwork created by serial killers. I have no interest in collecting them. I read and own many true crime books because I am interested in the psychology of the serial killer and what makes them continue to kill. I have always had an interest in the macabre and horror films, so that is where my interest in serial killers stems from, the horror of their acts.
I would be interested in corresponding with serial killers if they could honesty answer questions about their background and thought process. That would be the only appeal to me to write to a serial killer. I do own one letter, which is from Keith Jesperson, who murdered eight women. He wrote to the Crime Scene event asking if I would produce a film on his life. I found it very interesting that a serial killer knew of me and the films I’ve created. I never wrote him back.
I have been on both the Jack the Ripper tour in London and the Jeffrey Dahmer tour in Milwaukee and they are amazing experiences. Nothing can take the place of walking the same ground where serial killers stalked their victims. Even though time and progress have taken their toll on the urban landscape, I will never forget walking the cobblestone streets of London, looking up at the moon in the background of the Ten Bells pub and getting a chilling feeling that one of Jack's victim's may have seen the same image on her fateful night.
What are your plans for promoting the film?
The Internet helps immensely and I am crowdfunding Serial Killer Culture through the site Indiegogo at: www.indiegogo.com/skculture. For myself as an independent filmmaker, there are three major hurdles to overcome: Raising the funds, production, and distribution/marketing/promotion. Each is a mountain to climb.
Unfortunately I do not have a budget for promotion, but luckily I do have a solid international fanbase who spread the word about my films. This does help but even after I have made three films, I still have not made the appropriate connections to be able to properly fund and distribute my films.
Any future films in the works?
My desire is to create feature films as well as documentaries and I am in the process of writing several feature scripts in the horror genre as well as other genres. I am beginning production on a documentary focusing on the study of German serial killer Peter Kurten, which also concentrates on the study of the brains of serial killers. Kurten was one of the first serial killers to be studied psychologically and his brain was also studied. I have already filmed Kurten's mummified head at Ripley's Believe it or Not museum. The film will trace the path Kurten's head took after he was executed by guillotine and also the study of other killers brains such as Gacy and Dahmer. My intention is to have Christoph Waltz portray the voice of Peter Kurten.
Where can people find out more about yourself and your films?
The best place is my website at: www.johnborowski.com.