Showtime’s “Dexter” returns for a sixth season on October 2. Based on Jeff Lindsay’s popular crime novels, the series stars Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, a Miami forensic expert with homicidal appetites. In a twist, he only murders the deserving — other killers, pedophiles, abusers, anyone who takes advantage of the weak — in an effort to quell his “Dark Passenger,” his name for the death drive deep inside him. Friendly and bland in public, Dexter gets away with, well, murder — an idea parodied by “The Simpsons” in their upcoming “Treehouse of Horror” episode — and his psychological struggle with this duality, revealed by his wry voiceover, enlivens the show’s procedural stories.
Here are a half-dozen examples — a murderer’s row, if you will — of Dexter’s secretly dark brethren:
“Kind Hearts & Coronets” (1949)
Drawing upon Roy Horniman’s novel Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal, Robert Hamer’s film stands as one of the great Ealing comedies. The son of a disowned heiress, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) longs to avenge his mother’s memory and inherit the family dukedom. To do so, he must remove the eight heirs (all played by Alec Guinness) standing between him and the title. Despite its chillingly comic hijinks, “Kind Hearts” also delivers a wickedly pointed study of class warfare and morality in English culture.
Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate film was based on Arthur La Bern’s novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square. After the murder of his ex-wife, Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) becomes the primary suspect in the London police hunt for the Necktie Murderer (Barry Foster), who has left a trail of dead women. Though the film identifies the killer immediately, Hitchcock creates tension by cutting between Blaney and the killer, a fruit-and-vegetable man by day, resulting in a claustrophobic and suspenseful thriller.
Takashi Miike directed the notorious adaptation of Ryu Murakami’s novel. At the behest of his teenage son and a friend, widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) “auditions” women to be his new wife. He falls for the mysterious Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), an unexpected femme fatale who enacts a grisly, psychotic vengeance on those who take advantage of her. Now a cult horror film, “Audition” is widely regarded as one of the most terrifying movies in history, featuring explicit torture scenes not for the faint of heart.
“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2006)
Based on German author Patrick Süskind’s international bestseller, Tom Tykwer’s film attempts to suggest visually the sensory experience of scents. Set in eighteenth-century France, it follows Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), an orphan whose olfactory sensitivity apprentices him to a master perfumer (Dustin Hoffman). As his obsession with creating the ideal fragrance grows, Grenouille begins murdering young women for their scents. His descent into madness symbolizing extremes artists will go to reach artistic perfection.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007)
Tim Burton interprets Stephen Sondheim’s musical as pure Grand Guignol fantasy. Johnny Depp plays the wrongfully imprisoned barber who vows revenge against the corrupt upper class, murdering them as they sit in his chair. His willing accomplice Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) bakes the bodily evidence into meat pies. Predictably, the result is a highly stylized production, depicting a monochrome Victorian London running red with rivers of blood.
“The Killer Inside Me” (2010)
Directed by Michael Winterbottom, this divisive film was based on Jim Thompson’s novel. Casey Affleck stars as Lou Ford, a deputy sheriff in a small Texas town whose amiable appearance hides homicidal and sadomasochistic urges. Unafraid of controversial material, Winterbottom does not shy away from the original text’s violence, including lengthy and graphic scenes of Lou brutalizing the women in his life (Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson), which overshadows what is a genuinely atmospheric noir.