Becoming Evil: Serial Killers DVD Review: This Academic Series Has a Lot of Challenges

Interesting subject matter wrapped into a not-so-interesting series.
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I love true crime. I listen to true-crime podcasts. I will watch true-crime television shows. And I absolutely love documentaries about true crime. So of course, I was excited when I was offered the chance to review a 6-1/2 hour investigative documentary series on serial killers. While Becoming Evil:Serial Killers covers a lot different serial killers, some more notorious than others, this academic series has a lot of challenges. 

From the beginning, Becoming Evil feels dated as if the series was over a decade or so old. However, this is a new series released this week. And while it is possible that a lot of the footage is older, the experts featured in this series are still active experts in their field whose current photos look very much like how they look throughout the series. The series also includes coverage of Joseph Deangelo, the Golden State Killer, who was only caught in 2018.

Then there is the opening of each episode of the series. The introduction is not a traditional title sequence. It is instead a very short title sequence that moves into an interview clip with Dr. Frederic G. Reamer discussing why people are fascinated by serial killers . This same three-minute sequence is used at the beginning of every episode of the series. The first time I noticed this was when episode one ended and episode two began. SInce the same introduction played, which includes the interview clip, it made me think that I had accidentally started the same episode over again. Creating a more traditional title sequence and moving the clip with Dr. Reamer would have easily avoided this confusion.

Each episode of Becoming Evil focuses on a different topic in regards to serial killers and mixes photos, news footage, and interviews with experts. While I enjoyed the use of a lot of photos and videos throughout, their sizing ratios are off and because of this, you can see the pixelation in many of the images. There are also a lot of odd camera zooms and random pans that are incredibly distracting from the very beginning of episode one and continue throughout the entire seven-episode run.

This series is also very tone deaf in regards to issues of race, sexuality, and gender. I should not be that surprised since this is a series mostly full of older white male experts. With only one female expert, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychologist (who has written over 60 books and 1,000 articles), is used very sparingly throughout the entire series. There are also no experts of color at all. Knowing this, I am not surprised that inclusive language is not being used. However, this is dangerous because when it comes to discussing marginalized people in regards to crime, this lack of understanding and sensitivity can lead to reinforcing racism, sexism, and homophobia. I was cringing when phrases like "taking up the gay lifestyle" were used.

In regards to gender, while the series does address women as both perpetrators of crime and victims of crime throughout (including an entire episode of female serial killers), women are discussed in very sweeping and generalized terms. Deeper issues of gender and how the patriarchy may have affected these women are merely glossed over. This is the same issue the series runs into in regards to addressing people of color who are serial killers and victims. This tone deafness is not just the fault of the experts who speak on camera, but the way the narration for the series is written as well. Although the narrator does a good job throughout most of the series, he should not try to emulate females in recounting testimony. These moments in the series sound more like poor imitations than earnest attempts.

While this series is meant to be an academic series, it just did not hold my attention. Not only is a lot of the same information repeated in the first few episodes, but the writing and editing create a slow pacing overall. The experts used throughout the film are also not that engaging to a large audience. It is evident that the experts are academics and professors. While they may be used to being in front of a classroom, they do not seem like people who are used to being on camera. It is not that these experts are awkward; they just don't engage the audience well. Their interviews are also all staged at different angles with differing lighting levels. So some of the experts are being shot from the side, some more head on. The overall look of the interviews lacks consistency and also proves a distraction.

The executive producer of Becoming Evil is Dr. Dirk Duran-Gibson. Not only is he the executive producer, but he is also one of the featured experts throughout the series. And it becomes evident that Dr. Duran-Gibson has enlisted the help of his colleagues/friends as the other experts for this series.  It is also revealed in the sixth episode that Dr. Duran-Gibson has also recently written a new book about Jack the Ripper. So that piece of information led me to conclude that this series is not just an academic project for him but also a promotional project as well.

The series is broken up into seven episodes:

1. Mind of the Serial Killer

2. Victims and the Media

3. America's Most Notorious Serial Killers: The First Wave

4. The Second Wave: America's Most Notorious Serial Killers (and no that is not a typo, they decided to swap the order for this title only)

5. Lady Serial Killers

6. International Serial Killers

7. America's Most Notorious Serial Killers:The New Wave

While this is by far not my favorite true-crime series, I did find that the episodes five and six held my attention much more than the others. Both "Lady Serial Killers" and "International Serial Killers" cover some interesting cases that are not as known in the true crime world.

Becoming Evil:Serial Killers is distributed by Mill Creek Entertainment. This two-disc set has no special features, has a runtime of 6 hours 28 minutes, and is not rated. Becoming Evil:Serial Killers is out now on DVD and Digital.

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