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Poetic justice in horror films

A look at ”And Then There Were None,” ”The Raven,” and other scary movies where the murders are by design

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While the murdered in Seven follows a certain number of deadly sins, and the villain in the recent Copycat reenacts some of history’s most vicious homicides, both twisted minds also hack off the best pieces of serial killer thrillers from the past. Consider the following movies, all of which showcase flamboyant killers with a particular madness to their methods.

THE RAVEN (1935, MCA/Universal)
Maniac: Bela Lugosi as an Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed surgeon (assisted by Boris Karloff).
Motive: To eliminate those preventing him from marrying the woman he loves.
Motif: The torture devices in Poe’s ”The Pit and the Pendulum” (the swinging pendulum blade, the chamber walls that close in) — executed with enough eyebrow arching to satisfy any Lugosi or Karloff fan.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945, VCI)
Maniac: A mysterious host who invites 10 strangers to an isolated island mansion.
Motive: To murder, one by one, those responsible for injustices that went unpunished.
Motif: The nursery rhyme ”Ten Little Indians” (”One chopped himself in half/And then there were six”) — retold with clever Agatha Christie twists. Remade three times as Ten Little Indians.

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, LIVE)
Maniac: Vincent Price as a disfigured concert organist/theological scholar.
Motive: To exact revenge on the surgeons who let his wife die on the operating table.
Motif: The 10 biblical plagues that devastated Pharaoh’s Egypt (locusts, pestilence, slaying of the firstborn, etc.) — visited upon his victims in a grand, campy manner.

THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973, MGM/UA)
Maniac: Price, again, this time as a hammy Shakespearean actor.
Motive: To exact revenge on critics who panned him — and to capitalize on the successful formula of Dr. Phibes.
Motif: Famous mayhem from Shakespeare’s plays (the decapitation from Cymbeline, the drowning in a vat of wine from Richard III) — staged with garishly wicked humor.

FADE TO BLACK (1980, Media)
Maniac: Dennis Christopher as a movie nerd.
Motive: To get even with all those who picked on him.
Motif: Dressing up as a different film character for each murder (Dracula, the Mummy, Hopalong Cassidy) — all committed without a hint of style or suspense.