Film and TV

Beyond Candy: The Best Movies and Shows About Killers With a Texas Twist

Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde, about the infamous Texas outlaws.
Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde, about the infamous Texas outlaws. Getty Images
Even in a vast media world overrun by superheroes and lightsabers, true crime stories remain just as popular as ever with viewers. Who wants to watch a fake crime show when you can get a story that has some basis in reality — giving it that extra creepy factor?

Of course, most films and television shows that claim they are “based on a true story” are almost always complete fabrications. It doesn’t matter! No one is going to complain about Goodfellas not sticking to the facts.

Serial killers are more popular than ever (sorry to put it that way). Even before modern slasher movies emerged in the 1970s, Alfred Hitchcock created the concept of a remorseless, disturbed killer with the character of Norman Bates in the 1960 classic Psycho. Bates inspired future horror icons like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddie Krueger.

Hollywood is always looking for human interest stories about famous moments in true crime history, and the popularity of Tiger King and Making a Murderer have certainly proved them right. Sometimes, a story is too good for just one adaptation. This year, rival streaming services HBO and Hulu are both releasing highly anticipated shows that explore the life of the famous Texas serial killer Candy Montgomery.

Montgomery was a homemaker who lived in Wylie. After having an affair with a middle school teacher, Montgomery killer her lover’s wife with an ax. Betty Gore was reportedly stabbed over 41 times. Montgomery claimed self defense and was acquitted at her trial on October 30, 1980.

Wandavision star Elizabeth Olsen is set to play Montgomery in HBO’s limited series Love and Death, which co-stars Patrick Fugit, Lily Rabe, Keir Gilchrist, Elizabeth Marvel, Tom Pelphrey, Krysten Ritter, and Dallas’ Jesse Plemons. Hulu’s version, Candy, began airing in early May and Jessica Biel stars in the titular role. So far, Candy has received mixed reviews, so we’re waiting for the HBO version to see the definitive version of the events.

If you’re looking for more Texas killers (again, we won’t judge), they have frequently popped up throughout the course of film history. Here’s just a preview of some of the classics that you’ll want to check out.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Perhaps the most famous case of serial murders in American history became one of the most important films in the development of modern cinema. In the 1960s, Hollywood began to decline after the box office failure of several major blockbusters bombed. The old guard was literally dying out. However, a generation of young filmmakers known as the “New Hollywood” took a hold of the industry and created more challenging, subversive films. Arthur Penn’s classic serial killer film Bonnie and Clyde shocked audiences with its graphic violence, language and sexual content.

The Sugarland Express (1974)
You probably associate Steven Spielberg with friendly aliens, dinosaurs, sharks and Indiana Jones, yet his theatrical feature film debut, the 1974 true crime thriller The Sugarland Express, is a nihilistic satire that’s closer to Bonnie and Clyde than it is to West Side Story. Future comedy icon Goldie Hawn stars as the Texas killer Lou Jean Poplin, inspired by the story of real-life killer Ila Fae Holiday. Even if The Sugarland Express plays fast and loose with the facts, Spielberg got the Texas details right. The film was shot on location in Sugar Land and San Antonio.

Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

The real life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas inspired the iconic horror classic Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, in which future Guardians of the Galaxy star Michael Rooker takes on the role of the titular murderer, who claimed to Texas Rangers in 1983 that he had killed more than 600 people. Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer is not for the faint of heart. It was one of the rare mainstream Hollywood films to receive an “X” rating before the label “NC-17” was created in 1990. Films that got the X rating often struggled financially, as audiences would often mistake them for pornographic films.

JFK (1991)
Is there a more famous case in Texas true crime history than the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? To go one step further, is there a more controversial moment in American history, period? Everyone has their own opinions on who Lee Harvey Oswald really was, and conspiracy theories have developed widely since the dark day he shot JFK in 1963. Oliver Stone’s 1991 film takes a conspiracy-themed approach, but incorporates many figures who were there during the events. You can’t go wrong with Gary Oldman as Oswald.

Baby Blues (2008)
Yeah, so this isn’t an adaptation of the comic strip. Baby Blues recounts the shocking true story of Houston woman Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children in 2001. Yates was convicted of capital murder in 2001, but managed to avoid the death penalty. A subsequent retrial in 2006 deemed her not guilty due to insanity. You’re not going to want to read too many more details, and you should probably just watch the film if you love to get angry.

Texas Killing Fields

Anyone who has traveled the long stretch on Interstate Highway 45 between Houston and Galveston has most likely heard the story of the “Texas killing fields.” The disappearance of young women on Houston’s edge has puzzled locals and investigators for years. The 2011 thriller Texas Killing Fields is loosely (and we mean very loosely) inspired by the mysterious unsolved case. Avatar star Sam Worthington plays the Texas City detective Mike Souder, who pieces together the clues to determine that a serial killer is responsible.

The Highwaymen

If you’re looking for a double feature with Bonnie & Clyde, this 2019 Netflix film shows another perspective on the same story. The film follows the two Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) who actually tracked down the lovesick outlaw couple. The Highwaymen was long in the making; it was once pitched as a star vehicle for Robert Redford and Paul Newman. If you need to hear Costner wax poetic about the glory days of the Texas Rangers, then the Netflix film more than fits the bill. Bonnie & Clyde is the film that launched the youth generation of Hollywood, but The Highwaymen is basically the pinnacle of a “dad movie.”

Mindhunter Season Two (2009)
David Fincher knows a thing or two about making crime movies; the famously intense filmmaker helmed such classics as Se7en, Zodiac, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl. Fincher’s Netflix series Mindhunter is just as grizzly and disturbing as anything else he has ever done, but its stories are true. Mindhunter adapts the memoir of retired FBI agent John E. Douglas, who profiled some of the most famously demented figures in true crime history and coined the phrase “serial killer.” The series includes horror figures such as Charles Manson and John Wayne Gacy, and the second season introduced the Texas serial killer Elmer Wayne Henley Jr., who murdered and assaulted at least 28 teenage boys during the early 1970s before he confessed. Henley’s reign of terror is known as the “Houston Mass Murders.”
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.