An Actual Psychiatrist On How To Treat Michael Myers And Other Horror Psychopaths
Warning: Sexual Abuse and Suicide Discussion.
Horror cinema is filled with some rather colorful characters, especially in the category of diabolical villains who like their breakfast with a side plate of murder. Guys like Michael Myers and that dude who enjoys wearing people’s faces are probably more famous than most countries’ presidents. After all, we do tend to remember those who seemingly suffer from some or other unfathomable disturbance.
Many armchair psychologists have shared their diagnoses of movies’ favorite horror villains online, but we here at Cracked wanted to get some answers from the real pros. Call us controversial, but we don’t often take internet folks with usernames like “ToeJam_3000” all too seriously. Instead, we asked Dr. Anthony Tobia, Interim Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to not only share his diagnoses of guys like Michael Myers and John “Jigsaw” Kramer, but also tell us how he thinks these blokes with major mental health problems should’ve been treated in the first place.
Because let’s face it, Halloween’s Dr. Loomis sure dropped the ball on Myers, over and over again.
Patient Name: Michael Myers, Halloween Fame
Arguably the official face of horror slasher villains, Michael Myers is the masked guy who just can’t stop doing a murder. While the Halloween movies (some more so than others) sure tried to push the idea that he’s this supernatural “Shape of Evil,” he’s really just a troubled kid who grew into a troubled man whose singular goal is to knife sexually active youngins and also his bloodline. We bet it’s all because his parents dressed him up as a clown for Halloween.
Dr. Tobia believes that Myers suffers from Conversion Disorder, a mental illness “characterized by loss of sensory and/or motor function,” which explains why Myers never says “I’m back, bozos!,” or utters anything else for that matter. Other than that — except for a possible Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), which Tobia admits is “too low-hanging of fruit” — our doc doesn’t believe that there are any additional diagnoses for Mute Myers as we know him. He also reasons that the guy probably isn’t a psychopath. “Signs of psychopathy overlap with those that define ASPD,” Tobia told us in an interview. “What distinguishes psychopathy are traits such as superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self-worth, parasitic lifestyle, history of promiscuous sexual relationships, and frequent marital relationships. While David Fincher’s John Doe (Se7en, 1995) may ‘better qualify’ for the designation of psychopathy, Michael Myers does not appear to meet the diagnosis of a psychopath.”
Myers lost his ability to speak at the age of six, and his propensity for violence seems to have manifested on the night he saw his sister Judith getting frisky with her boyfriend. Tobia points to this being some good ol’ Freudian theory at work: “At his age (6), it would be developmentally appropriate for Michael to have been curious (perhaps even anxious) about the opposite sex. In this case, Michael’s Oedipal complex plays out with Judith, an older sister in the role of a displaced ‘mother object.’” Folks have claimed that Myers killing his sister for doing some sex possibly points to him being sexually abused as a child, but Tobia says that such a theory would’ve been part of the initial inquiry into Myers’ afflictions. Since it’s never been brought up in one of the many, many movies, it’s likely that any physical or sexual trauma was ruled out.
Of course, how thoroughly Dr. Samuel Loomis even investigated these possibilities back in the ‘70s remains uncertain. After trying to get through to Myers while treating him at Smith's Grove Sanitarium for 15 years, Loomis ended up calling the killer’s condition “pure evil” — which we all know is not an official diagnosis you’d find in any psychiatric manual. Instead of poking and prodding Myers to say “boobies” at least once, what should the ludicrous Loomis have done to treat the kid? Tobias suggests that Myers should’ve been engaged in psychotherapy the moment he was diagnosed with Conversion Disorder: “Nonverbal therapies — such as art or music therapy — should have been part of an initial biopsychosocial treatment plan. Therapy would also address the posttraumatic stress Michael likely experienced after the death of his sister.” He further suggests that, if Myers was diagnosed with PTSD, proper medication should’ve been administered and monitored “under the care of a child/adolescent psychiatrist.”
As fun as many of the Halloween sequels ended up being, it would’ve been pretty rad watching Myers deal with his feelings by learning how to shred a guitar.
Patient Name: Norman Bates, Psycho Fame
As some cinephiles and psychiatry fans might know by now, the guy who turned the Bates Motel into a roadside death trap is, contrary to the film’s title, not an actual psychopath. Instead, he shows clear signs of psychosis which, as Tobia explains, “is broadly defined by a significant breach in reality testing and/or communication,” with individuals “suffering from delusions or perceptual disturbances.” The fact that Norman thinks his dead mother Norma is somehow still alive and scolding him for peeping at the ladies could indicate “a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder, such as Schizophrenia.” In fact, “emerging medical literature suggests a relationship between dissociative symptoms and psychosis,” because Norman Bates totally suffers from a fictional case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).
While some folks have condemned Psycho's depiction of DID as gross stigmatization of the mental health condition, Tobia reckons it’s far less so than what many other films present (although he does admit that M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is “a guilty pleasure of mine”). His argument is that it’s not the DID that causes Bates violent tendencies — “individuals who suffer from DID are not necessarily prone to violence” — but rather a “co-occurring mental disorder,” like Schizophrenia.
The fact that Norman also suffered from emotional (and perhaps even physical and/or sexual abuse) at the hands of his ever-domineering mother Norma could possibly explain the onset of his DID. “That domineering and enmeshed parenting style (of Norma) certainly lent to Norman’s sexual repression. In addition to this emotional abuse, Dr. Richmond is likely to inquire about sexual trauma given evidence of DID and what we understand about the etiology of the disorder. During severe traumatic events such as childhood sexual abuse, a child may ‘freeze’ or dissociate. If the abuse is severe enough, the child may enter into an altered mental state (AMS) so that the event isn’t processed or encoded as a memory. The AMS may evolve into a distinct personality state that takes over the individual’s conscious awareness, which may ultimately result in a diagnosis of DID.”
Going on the DID diagnosis alone, Tobia suggests that Bates should’ve received psychotherapy as “the core of a biopsychosocial treatment plan. The ‘video dialogue,’ a type of hypnotherapy pioneered by Dr. Lou Tinnen, would be an interesting, albeit little known, option.” He also says that, currently, there are no approved medications for the treatment of DID. We didn’t ask him about anything available to treat a killer smile.
Patient Name: Leatherface, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Fame
Here’s what we know about the guy who plasters his face with other people’s faces while he munches on their butt bones. According to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Leatherface suffers from neurodegeneration (he was diagnosed at the age of 12), but the movie doesn’t really expand on it or give any further clarification. What we also know is that Leatherface was born disfigured, and was “relentlessly bullied and mocked” for having a severe skin disease — which is why he started wearing a leather mask to begin with. He was also a cannibal along with the rest of his super-domineering family, and we know that the character was based on Ed Gein because if you’re looking for the morbid and the macabre, Gein sure was it.
Tobia explains that Leatherface has what the medical community calls neurocutaneous syndrome — “that is, in addition to his neurodevelopmental delay, he has a concurrent skin manifestation.” As he points out, however, Leatherface’s violent tendencies are left unexplained, and even though actor Gunnar Hansen (who played the original Leatherface back in 1974) thought the character to have Intellectual Developmental Disorder (IDD), Tobia says that “individuals with IDD are not at any increased risk for violence than the general population.” Furthermore, while Leatherface doesn’t fit the profile for psychopathy, his “bizarre behavior may support the diagnosis of psychosis. While a diagnosis such as Schizophrenia may be considered, any history suggestive of autism spectrum disorder or a communication disorder of childhood onset makes the diagnosis of Schizophrenia challenging.” Yep, we hear that.
As for treating the man who likes to dance around with a power tool, Tobia suggests that since his family has taught him much of his learned behavior, family therapy would be a good idea (although, good luck with that). “The poor prognosis and degree of agitation (which may be in the context of a psychotic disorder) may warrant antipsychotic medication, and/or the prescribing of a mood stabilizer,” he adds. Honestly, some folks just need to put down the blood-soaked chainsaw and go for a nice, long walk.
Patient Name: John “Jigsaw” Kramer, Saw Fame
John Kramer truly is a special case. The man who likes to torture people with death mazes doesn’t seem to come from an eventful, traumatic childhood like so many other horror movie villains. He grew into a successful adult, with a stable career as a civil engineer and a happy marriage. It was only when his wife had a miscarriage (brought on by a reckless patient in her care at an addiction recovery center) that Kramer started turning, slowly, for the worse. His wife left him, he became severely depressed, and Kramer was soon diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. He tried to commit suicide but survived, and this apparently gave him a new goal in life: To teach others the value of living … by kidnapping troubled folks and forcing them to try and escape his elaborate, diabolical death rooms while his alter-ego puppet rides around on a tricycle.
The old geezer doesn’t see himself as a murderer (he argues that the victims murder themselves). On the contrary, he rather thinks of himself as a savior, even though his killings are pure revenge fantasies. He has a couple of psychopathic traits — callousness, grandiosity, and he sometimes even collects “trophies,” although not all the movies show this — and yet he only seems to have developed these traits later in life. So what gives? What’s the guy’s whole deal?
Tobia reasons that, while psychopathy is “more likely in this case than the others we discussed,” he doesn’t believe that Kramer suffers from Antisocial Personality Disorder, and thinks there’s another mental disorder that could explain his grandiosity. “We don’t fully know the role his brain tumor played in the progression of his behavior. He has an inoperable frontal lobe tumor which at least partially explains his antisocial traits that, combined with grandiose delusions, defines the persona we know as Jigsaw. But what were the origins of his delusions? I believe the etiology or origin of Kramer’s delusions are psychosocial factors.”
It turns out, John Kramer’s problems stem from not only his brain tumor, but also his inability to process and deal with the loss of his son. “Upon Jill’s miscarriage, John experienced Bereavement (grief) which could evolve over 5 stages. Given the behaviors he demonstrates in the film, it's reasonable to assume he stagnated at the anger stage. His grief reaction was prolonged (stagnation), resulting in the clinical syndrome of Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (PCBD). PCBD increases the risk for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), and in severe cases, MDD may include suicidality and psychotic features. In Kramer’s case, he demonstrated both. Additionally, I believe John Kramer also demonstrates psychosis in the form of grandiose delusions. So, my final diagnosis for John Kramer would be Major Depressive Disorder, severe, with psychotic features.”
Hot damn, that not only makes sense but also illustrates what a sad case the ventriloquist lover really is. Tobia suggests that proper treatment for Kramer’s condition would’ve involved antidepressants for his MDD, antipsychotics, and an evaluation to determine whether he might benefit from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). “ECT is the treatment of choice for MDD with psychotic features per the treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and is often preferred for older patients due to its favorable side effect profile when compared to medications.” Of course, as Tobia points out, none of this would probably have been necessary if Kramer had received the proper family therapy or grief counseling following the loss of his son. Which just goes to show that some men would rather make murder-peeping puppets of their dead sons than go to therapy.
A final thought from Dr. Tobia on studying movie villains and their afflictions: “Discussions like this are a creative way to approach sensitive topics to raise awareness of mental illness in the general public, as well as train the next generation of physicians. If one doesn’t take an educational perspective, then what we’re doing may be misinterpreted as pathologizing behavior and even promoting the stigma of mental illness.”
Great stuff. Here’s a video of that time Busta Rhymes told Michael Myers to “skedaddle.”
Zanandi is forever judging people’s horror opinions over on Twitter.