If there’s two things Hollywood loves, it’s beautiful people and stories about serial killers. Unfortunately, those two things end up overlapping quite a bit.
The logic is simple: Attractive, bankable actors are sought after for roles because movie studios and television networks know the star-power can draw audiences to their projects. They also know that audiences flock to true-crime re-tellings and fictional narratives about homicidal maniacs. Therefore, a lot of hot people wind up getting cast to play said homicidal maniacs.
What does that leave us with? Conflicting feelings!
Throughout film and TV history, a number of notable screen hunks have stepped into the minds of murderers, leaving us, as viewers, with a queasy mix of thirst and fear. But it seems to be happening more and more frequently these days!
Below is a list of 5 recent examples where gorgeous actors have been cast to play terrifying killers, real and fictional—unfortunately haunting both our nightmares and our daydreams.
Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg, You
When Netflix saved Lifetime’s little-seen thriller series from cancellation, You became a hit, introducing audiences to the creepy stalker Joe Goldberg. The thing is, he’s played by former Gossip Girl hunk Penn Badgley, an actor so charismatic that many fans have fallen for Joe by extension. Speaking to VICE, Badgley shared his confused feelings on the matter: “Every one of my greatest fears and hopes for people’s engagement [with You] came to be fulfilled. There were the reactions of overlooking all of Joe’s faults, which is the whole point of the show, and just being really into him. … It was both gratifying and troubling.”
Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
If you don’t know about serial killer Ted Bundy, this Netflix movie’s title says it all. In the ’70s, he terrified the country by taking a suspected 30+ victims across multiple states. And yet, during his trials for the murders, he met and fell in love with a woman named Carole Ann Boone, a relationship that plays a significant role in the film. Not to make light of the situation, but it’s a little easier to see where Boone is coming from in Extremely Wicked, considering the fearsome Bundy is played by hearthtrob Zac Efron who, well, looks like Zac Efron!
Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez, American Horror Story: 1984
The ninth season of Ryan Murphy‘s horror anthology played it especially fast and loose with reality, making the real-life Night Stalker Richard Ramirez a part of his fictional slasher tale at Camp Redwood. A campy genre pastiche, 1984 is not at all concerned with the details of Ramirez’s grisly true crimes, but instead uses him as an agent of chaos. Murphy employs the handsome actor Zach Villa (of the upcoming Hypochondriac) to play the Night Stalker with all the swagger of a rock star, stealing hearts and lives throughout the season’s twisty narrative.
Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Ryan Murphy sure does have a type, doesn’t he? The TV creator followed up the story of O.J. Simpson’s trial with an American Crime Story all about serial killer Andrew Cunanan, notorious for murdering renowned Italian designer Gianna Versace. Reuniting with Murphy is the dashing Glee breakout Darren Criss, in a terrifying—and Emmy-winning—role that’s a far cry from his time as a Dalton Academy Warbler. Unlike 1984, Versace mostly sticks to the facts for a thought-provoking take on homophobia and gay shame.
Ross Lynch as Jeffrey Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer
Before The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Ross Lynch broke out of the Disney star mold with his terrifying turn as a young Jeffrey Dahmer. Adapted from a graphic novel of the same name—by cartoonist John Backderf, who actually knew Dahmer in high school—the indie provides an unsettling look at what makes a killer. With floppy hair and wire-frame glasses, Lynch disappears into the role, exploring the dark, sometimes homoerotic fantasies that fueled Dahmer’s rage.