One of the immediate takeaways from David Fincher’s new Netflix series, “Mindhunter,” is that there are a lot of creepy characters. Between the convicted criminals FBI Agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) visit in prison and the suspects they try to send there, the list of people who give us the heebie-jeebies grows faster than Holden’s ego.
Behind these fascinating minds are a formidable ensemble of actors evoking the worst within us. Some of their faces may be familiar, others may be brand new, but each and every one offers a particularly striking performance — and not just because they talk about having sex with decapitated heads.
Below, IndieWire has listed each and every killer studied in Season 1, noting who played them, what they’ve done, and how each cast member found the humanity in monsters. (Or, in the case of the BTK Killer, hinted at.) Now then, without further ado, the best of the worst in “Mindhunter”:
[Editor’s Note: The following list contains spoilers for “Mindhunter” Season 1.]
8. Monte Ralph Rissell
Played by: Sam Strike
Crime(s): Between 1976 and 1977, Rissell murdered five women between the ages of 22 and 34 in Virginia.
Rissell’s love of Big Red pop — you know, like, soda — might be the most distinguishing thing about him. He had little remorse and was very upfront — annoyed, even — while recounting his first murder. “And that’s that,” he says, once he’s done succinctly discussing the rape. “No more drama.”
When he tried to be funny, Rissell’s casual but provocative attitude was markedly gross — especially when he slipped into an accent, mocking his victim — but Strike’s best moment as a performer came when he mentioned how his brother had cancer and that’s why he couldn’t kill a victim who told him her dad had cancer. He couldn’t fathom the concept of empathy, so he described the act as “showing mercy.” Strike really contemplated that, earning the offense taken by his character when Tench gets pissed off. It’s a pivotal moment for the character, but one that shouldn’t be overplayed, and Strike found that steady groove throughout.
7. Darrell Gene Devier
Played By: Adam Zastrow
Crime(s): On November 30, 1979, Devier raped and beat a 12-year-old girl with a large rock in Georgia.
Most of what made Devier interesting came through context. He beat the lie detector test Ford and Tench didn’t want him to take, and that gave him a cocky, self-assured attitude when he was politely invited to talk to the agents. Watching it slowly build and then backfire makes for an effective interrogation scene, but Zastrow’s most telling moment came when the rock was revealed. That murder weapon was pivotal for the character, and he never recovered from the sight of it.
Both Zastrow and Strike emphasize the subtlety needed for these performances. Sure, there are a few particularly demented men with distinct and plentiful quirks, but these two are asked to portray killers differently. Strike is playing a convict who’s been living with who he is long enough to accept it, and Zastrow is asked to flip, in a quick turn, from an overconfident fella doing the cops a favor to a man whose life is literally over. If either performance is too big, “Mindhunter” turns into a melodrama. Their plight would overwhelm what’s going on with the main characters, and this series is always focused first and foremost on how these interviews change Holden and Tench, not what happens to the killers.
6. Benjamin Barnwright
Played By: Joseph Cross
Crime(s): Hitting, stabbing, and possibly murdering his fiance along with his brother-in-law, Frank Janderman, and sister, Rose.
Whether or not Benji actually delivered the final blow to poor Beverly Jean is largely irrelevant to evaluating his disturbing behavior. It’s the crying. It’s all about the crying. Every time Benji is pushed into discussing his dead ex, he bursts into uncontrollable weeping. At first, the investigators debate how authentic his remorse actually is, and later they find out it’s a mix of actual regret, fear of being caught, and a false front. He knows what happened — he hit her, called his brother-in-law for help, and then allowed him to rape and humiliate Beverly Jean — and likely regrets it. But he’s also covering it up, and is such a timid fellow his tears are likely more due to being afraid of the consequences than anything else.
Cross captures this blend effectively, and makes Benji stand out for his hair-raising duplicity, but his turn still works as an object of (very slight) pity later on, when it’s made clear the D.A. is prosecuting the wrong person. Frank should be going to the chair. Benji should be going to an institution. One is more dangerous than the other, even if Benji is still clearly a very messed up dude.
5. Richard Speck
Played By: Jack Erdie
Crime(s): On July 13 and 14, 1966, Erdie raped and murdered eight student nurses in Chicago, IL.
Speck is a vile piece of shit, but he also acts like a vile piece of shit. Considering what he’s in prison for, he’s obviously not all talk and no action, but that’s what he’s relegated to in prison. Hamstrung by his holdings, Speck doubles down on the vulgarities, and Erdie conveys an equal amount of frustration and delight in Speck’s dealing with the cops. He loves the attention, as evidenced by his fan club sending nude photographs to him in prison, but he wants to do something about it. And he can’t.
Continue reading for the top four creepiest killers and an answer to the question: “Who the heck is that ADT guy?” Hint: the acronym is a clue.