When horror meets with a terrifying reality: the lasting appeal of the true crime genre

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The true crime genre has been a fairly consistent part of American culture with the trend coming in waves. Some enjoy it, revel in it and others just don’t seem to grasp why this new wave of interest in brutal murders, kidnappings and other horrendous acts is so fascinating. There is something morbidly appealing about hearing real-life cases that and have happened to ordinary people.

With the new releases of “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” and Netflix’s “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Cases,” people are presented an old case with new information to talk about and analyze. Netflix chose to release the docu-series around the anniversary of Bundy’s execution. The main appeal of the Bundy case, for true crime fans, is Bundy’s frightening normality. He had friends, attended college, had relationships and was charming, charismatic and handsome – not exactly the popular image of a serial killer. Now that the public gets to hear his voice, we have access to a new side of the story, told from Bundy’s own perspective. But why are we fascinated by Bundy, or any serial killer for that matter?

It could be due to the notion that this could happen to anyone. A friend, family member, loved one, the list goes on and on. That thought sends shivers down anyone’s spine, which is exactly why people are obsessed with true crime. Much like a roller coaster on the first drop, true crime fans feel a sort of adrenaline rush learning about the lives affected by a criminal. Hearing the story from the perspective of the culprit, however, is an extremely interesting and unique take. Delving into the mind of the killer begins to raise all kinds of questions, since it puts us in their shoes. The motivations, emotions and impact of the crime on the killer become a lesson in what drives these disturbed individuals to commit such heinous acts.

Another true crime documentary titled “Abducted in Plain Sight,” also on Netflix, tells the story of a child kidnapped by a pedophile. Eerily enough, it feels like a non-fiction of “The Lovely Bones” but in this case, the kidnapper was friends with the family. Hearing about these cases doesn’t only trigger an adrenaline rush, but it also makes us think about how well we know those around us and how much trust we truly put in people. In the case of “Abducted in Plain Sight,” the fact that the family knew and trusted the kidnapper is the scariest part. The thought of trusting someone you love with a monster in disguise is truly terrifying.

Even more intense are shows such as “Criminal Minds,” which can switch between fairly “vanilla” scenarios and terrifying stories of heinous crimes. While “Criminal Minds” isn’t technically true crime, since the scenarios are contrived, it still depicts these events happening in a normal world. Again, it is the depiction of plausible events, happening to ordinary people, that draws viewers in. There is something inherently intriguing about true crime or crime-related dramas, as they provide a thrilling and horrifying storyline infused with a dose of reality.

Not every true crime story is created equal, however. One of the more popular areas people get a true crime fix is Buzzfeed Unsolved. Hosts Shane Madej and Ryan Bergara have become increasingly popular among true crime fans. This little corner of the Buzzfeed media empire focuses on the supernatural and true crime. Fusing real events with conspiratorial theories and humor, Buzzfeed Unsolved takes a popular concept and makes it darkly humorous. Covering the most infamous unsolved cases, such as the Black Dahlia murder, the Jonbenet Ramsey case and the Axeman of New Orleans, Madej and Bergara allow viewers to not only learn about the cases but come up with their own theories and submit them to the show. This can bring up new perspectives and ideas as to how the murders happened. By adding humor to the mix, Buzzfeed’s project allows newcomers to the genre an easy entry into the world of true crime.

The main appeal of true crime is the terrifying reality that there are monsters in our midst. Hearing about the darker, more unsavory aspects of the world makes us realize how accommodating our lives have been and, dare I say, thankful that we have escaped such horrible fates ourselves. Whether viewers prefer real and chilling documentaries or a more light and humorous approach to the subject, the dark and gritty portrayal of these heinous will always appeal to audiences’ fascination with the macabre.

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