This article focuses on a cycle of late 1960s true crime films depicting topical
mass/serial murders. It argues that the conjoined ethical and aesthetic
approaches of these films were shaped within and by a complex climate of
contestation as they moved from newspaper headlines to best-sellers lists to
cinema screens. While this cycle was central to critical debates about screen
violence during this key moment of institutional, regulatory and aesthetic
transition, they have been almost entirely neglected or, at best, misunderstood.
Meeting at the intersection of, and therefore falling between the gaps, of
scholarship on the Gothic horror revival and New Hollywood’s violent
revisionism, this cycle reversed the generational critical divisions that
instigated a new era in filmmaking and criticism. Adopting a historical
reception studies approach, this article challenges dominant understandings of
the depiction and reception of violence and horror in this defining period.