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The irony is that if you want to die you just have to stay where you are, but if you want to live, you'll have to cut yourself again.

Some Serial Killers seem to delight in killing, but don't seem to care who their victims are. A Poetic Serial Killer, on the other hand, picks victims who are guilty, in the killer's mind at least, of some sin or other, and kills each victim in a way that reflects that perceived guilt. He may also arrange the scene of the crime in a tableau to make a similar point to the investigating police.

Can be considered a dark counterpart to the Vigilante Man. Compare Ironic Hell, Death by Sex, Criminal Mind Games. For serial killers who follow a theme, but the theme isn't poetically appropriate to the victims, see Theme Serial Killer.

Examples of Poetic Serial Killer include:


  • Kevin from Sin City always chose hookers, apparently perceiving them as sinful, in order to satisfy his craving for human flesh. He apparently "felt the Hand of God" on him when he killed, but was consumed with guilt. A Catholic Cardinal and adoptive father convinced him to go after prostitutes instead.


  • The Abominable Dr. Phibes had the titular character (played by Vincent Price) poetically murdering the doctors he feels were responsible for botching his wife's operation. Each of the murders was based on one of the "Ten Plagues of the Egyptians" from Exodus (though a couple weren't quite faithful to the original — bats instead of flies, for example). Particularly amusing is the murder for "beasts" — the victim gets impaled with a statue of a unicorn.
    • No longer applies to Phibes in the sequel, however, where he's still killing in needlessly elaborate ways, but his victims aren't particularly carefully chosen, and are mostly just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • The titular killer in the Saw movies would arrange a Death Trap for each of his victims reflecting the flaw or sin that they embodied; as he was a Knight Templar who wanted to make people "better" than they were, the traps were arranged so that only by overcoming the punished flaw could they escape.
  • In Se7en, the killer kills those guilty of the Seven Deadly Sins. The first, a glutton, is force-fed to death, and the other victims suffer similar punishments.
    • Well, the first one he started was a drug dealer, his choice for Sloth, who he'd kept gradually starving to death on a narcotic IV for a year as of the start of the movie. They didn't find him 'til later, though. Much, much later.
  • Theatre of Blood had a washed-up Shakespearean actor (Vincent Price again) killing the critics who had failed to recognise his genius in ways based on death scenes from Shakespeare, with each death also being appropriate to the victim's character flaws.
  • In the Sleepaway Camp sequels, the (newly) female serial killer often comments upon the sins of her victims. Slightly subverted in that she seems to make up excuses to kill people who catch her in the act.
  • In Righteous Kill, the killer has been (and continuously is) killing the scum of society. What separates this from The Scourge of God, however, is that he literally writes each victim a poem.
  • Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? had chefs being bumped off in ways related to their famous dishes. For example, Jacqueline Bisset opens the oven to find her chef husband being cooked alive inside.
  • The killer in Cornered murders his latest victims in the exact same ways they said they'd kill him if they got the chance, leading him to go on a rant about how deep down, they're just as twisted as he is.


  • The killer in Ben Elton's Past Mortem targets absolute bastards and kills them in ways too horrific to mention here, basing his methods on acts of bullying and abuse committed by the victims when they were children and adolescents. He has to work extremely hard sometimes to find a way to reflect the original abuse and make it fatal. He also kept the man who tormented him as a youth locked in a dungeon to experiment with the methods for his next victims so he gets it right.
  • The killer in Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None invited nine people who had committed some offense to an isolated island and killed them in order of least guilty to most guilty.
  • Vassago in Dean Koontz's Hideaway takes his victims to an area of the abandoned theme park fashioned to look like hell, torturing them to death and posing their bodies in ways he thinks would suit their flaws and sins. He also thinks he's from Hell and if he does this enough, will get to go home.
  • Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club has a serial killer in 19th century Boston killing people in ways that reflect the punishments of sinners in Dante's Inferno.
  • The villain of part two of the original Night Watch novel is a Muggle serial killer who murders Dark Others, believing them to be the source of all evil and himself, the only person who can recognize them. What he doesn't know is that Dark Is Not Evil in this setting and that low-level Dark Others he targets are usually no more evil (selfish, arrogant, manipulative) than Muggles around them, whereas high-level ones (some of whom are truly evil) are way beyond his reach.
  • Extirpon in the Gerosha Chronicles literally uses the nature of someone's heart as they are committing a crime and nature of the crime itself to fuel the ex-nihlo genesis of whatever it is he plans to use to punish them with, almost always making it appropriate to their offense.
  • Consto in Stationery Voyagers first begins as a typical Serial Killer targeting prostitutes. He later reasons that a lot of his victims were victimized by Pentacko and didn't actively choose their life. So he decides to kill his victims while going up a chain of command, ending with killing Pentacko himself.

 "To be like leprosy and make like a fungus... to devour them from below, and eat them from inside. Save the head for last!"


Live Action TV

  • Dexter occasionally indulges in this: the pedophile Serial Killer is confronted with the corpses of his victims before being killed, the serial drunk driver is presented with a home movie of his latest victim from the trial where he was found innocent...
    • Though generally, he just uses pictures of their victims.
      • He does, however, often pick a place of significance — a boxing ring for a retired boxer, a room full of defunct gambling equipment for a gambler who pays off his debts by acting as an enforcer... and that drunk driver? To add to the poetry, he was offed in a closed down liquor store.
    • Season 6 also has Travis and Professor Gellar, who are much less ambiguous than Dexter.
  • Shane Casey on CSI: NY, who targeted victims who were involved in his brother's case. The methods and the cryptic tshirts the victims were dressed in all represented their role. One victim, a witness, had nails driven through his eyes. The judge had the Scales of Justice. Hawkes, the coroner at the time, was to have had Hades, lord of the underworld
  • There was a Robot Chicken sketch that parodied Seven using the Smurfs, with Jokey Smurf as the serial killer. Baker Smurf was baked alive in an oven, Lazy Smurf was killed in his recliner, and so on.
    • Chronic Masturbator Smurf was found with his wang chopped off and stuffed up his Smurfhole.
  • Epitafios involved a serial killer motivated by the deaths of four students in a hostage situation. The killer killed anyone who had contributed to their deaths, even inadvertently, sometimes in a way that mirrored their contributing mistake.
  • The killer in the Criminal Minds episode "Reckoner" would do nasty things to his victims' bodies that represented crimes they themselves had committed.

Video Games

  • The evil magician in the horror game Phantasmagoria killed each of his wives in a way that reflected the thing that annoyed him most about that particular wife (which was sometimes an actual flaw, but other times some small and not-necessarily-bad thing — for example, spending too much time gardening).
  • SKX from Condemned: Criminal Origins falls into this trope quite nicely. Tailing main protagonist Thomas, he finds the Killers that Thomas takes up as cases, killing them one by one using their own methods the killers used on their victims (I.E. Killing the matchmaker by strangling and posing with mannequins, forcing the torturer to suicide, etc...)
  • While the particulars may vary from game to game, Silent Hill is sometimes this trope applied to a Genius Loci.