After a recent rough cut screening of Cyrus, Mind of a Serial Killer, a member of the audience came up to me and said “Wow, that story is pretty gruesome.”
“Well, you know it’s based on true stories?” I said.
“You mean there is a Cyrus out there?”
“I mean there are a lot of Cyruses out there. Remember, when Albert says ‘At any given time the FBI says there are 30 to 50 serial killers operating in the US.’ That’s a real number.” And it is – as are all the other statistics and facts in Cyrus.
But, perhaps the best place to start is the beginning rather than the end. I had been doing a lot of research on serial killers for another project – and the real facts and stories of these people were absolutely horrifying. What makes them tick? Where do they come from? What they do to their victims and why? At the same time, I was driving to a horror convention in Minnesota to talk and passed by a creepy deserted farm house. The thought hit me – what if all the things I had been reading about took place in that house – it sent chills down my spine. So the next day I sat down and wrote a short story called “Roadkill” based on my research and the house – and that turned into Cyrus.
As the script developed, I wanted to include more of the actual research I had gathered, yet, I wanted to keep the story moving. So I introduced the documentary elements of the “news type” interviews by Maria. For example, the characters of Albert and Dallas are actually composites of
interviews with 5 clinical psychologist discussing their research and the Macdonald triad (also known as the triad of sociopathy). The triad was first identified by J.M. Macdonald in "The Threat to Kill", a 1963 paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Or for example, the character of Vivian is based on a young Belgian girl, who managed to escape from a serial killer after 3 weeks of repeated rape and torture. All of the “documentary footage” in Cyrus was taken from public or private interviews and incorporated into the script.
As for Cyrus and Emmett: their relationship (and a large portion of the story line) was premised upon a German serial killer from the early 1900s.
Fritz Haarmann, a homeless vagrant who'd once been institutionalized, learned to butcher meat, which allowed him enough income to buy a home. Having a protected space, he began to find wandering children at the train station and take them home. He teamed up with a male prostitute named Hans Graf who was better at getting boys to come with him. He'd take them to Haarman's home, where Haarman would feed them and then force them to have sex.
Together they trapped and killed an estimated 50 young men over a period of five years. They were finally stopped when someone found a sack of skulls and bones in the Leine Canal and turned them into the police. Since Haarmann lived near the canal and had been arrested before for sexual assault, investigators searched his home. They found clothing from missing boys and bloodstains on the walls. Again, they arrested Haarmann and he confessed.
He called his victims "game" and described how he would grab them, sleepy from a large meal, and while sodomizing them would chew through their throat until the head was ractically severed from the body. As he tasted their blood, he achieved orgasm. He would then cut the flesh from their bodies, consume some of it, and sell some on the open market as butchered meat. The rest of the parts he dumped into the canal. However, the research on Haarmann (and most serial killers) is usually limited to one time segment or developmental portion of their lives. As such, I was faced with the options of completely fictionalizing aspects of Cyrus’ life or pasting it together from the aspects of other serial killer’s lives that I could document. To that end, I premised large portions of Cyrus’ early life on Henry Lee Lucas and filled in the missing formative phases with documented chapters from the lives of various notorious serial killers (including Albert Fish). I believe that it is these truths, which have been thinly veiled by fiction, that make Cyrus a truly haunting and accurate glimpse into the mind of a serial killer. As Emmett says in the movie, “The truth screams – no matter how long it takes.” So while I have taken license with some of the story line (for example changing the young children to college students), I sincerely hope and believe that the movie presents a simultaneously beautiful and horrific examination of the destructive nature of cause and effect leading to the creation of a serial killer and to that end, I feel much like Tom, the narrator in Tennessee Williams’ Glass
Thank you. I hope you enjoy Cyrus.
Mark A. Vadik