The Snowman may sound like a fun new holiday movie, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The film is a Norwegian-set thriller about a vicious serial killer, nicknamed "The Snowman," who commits his crimes during snow storms, mutilating his victims and leaving clues for the authorities in the form of grotesque snowman. It's pretty nasty stuff, but does it have a basis in reality? Is The Snowman a real serial killer?
Thankfully, he's not. The movie is a complete work of fiction, based upon the novel of the same name by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. The book is part of Nesbø's Harry Hole (pronounced "Who-luh") series of novels, which feature the protagonist detective Harry Hole — played by Michael Fassbender in the film — investigating different crimes. The Snowman is actually the seventh entry in the book series, as it was preceded by The Bat, Cockroaches, The Redbreast, Nemesis, The Devil's Star, and The Redeemer. Since The Snowman was first published in 2007, Nesbø has followed it up with four more installments: The Leopard, Phantom, Police, and earlier this year, The Thirst, making for a total of 11 Harry Hole novels in the series since Nesbø published the first one back in 1997.
Nesbø has had quite a life, but he doesn't have any experience in actual detective work. Currently one of the world's best-selling crime writers, the author also played soccer for Norway’s premier league team Molde, spent time in the Norwegian military, worked as a financial analyst, and formed the Norweigan chart-topping band Di Derre as their lead vocalist and guitarist. It wasn't until he was tasked with writing a memoir in support of the band that Nesbø instead came up with the character of Harry Hole, according to his website, and shortly thereafter he penned his debut novel, The Bat.
Reportedly, Nesbø wasn't really influenced by any real-life crime story while creating Hole, nor was he greatly influenced by other literary characters. Instead, he mostly based Hole on his memories of American crime and detective movies, and even structured his first book the way a screenwriter would write a screenplay, according to The Telegraph's Tim Adler. However, some real life inspirations have made their way into his works. "[Hole's] second name was the family name of the local police officer where my grandmother lived. I never saw this police officer, Mr. Hole, but my grandmother would always say to us kids, if you're not home by 8 o'clock, then Hole would come and get you. I always imagined this really big, scary guy," he told The Sydney Morning Herald's Jason Steger.
Nesbø also admitted that, while working on The Bat in Australia, some local Aboriginal tales he heard at the Australian Museum in Sydney helped influence that book's titular serial killer. The stories revolved around the Bat Man, a creature who, when woken up, "flies up into the sky and from that moment on, death is introduced to the world," according to The Sydney Morning Herald. It's unclear if Nesbø had a similar type of influence when creating the Snowman killer.
Probably the closest real-life version of the Snowman is notorious Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. In 1992, Chikatilo was convicted of murdering 52 people in the Soviet Union between 1978 and 1990 — though he confessed to 56 murders — and was executed two years later, according to Biography.com. Like the Snowman killer, Chikatilo mutilated his victims, cutting off parts of their bodies. Plus, given the climate of the Soviet Union, a number of his victims met their end in the snowy woods, though snow wasn't as much of a key factor for his killings as it is in The Snowman.
Thankfully, there's no real serial killer on the loose turning his victims into snowmen like in The Snowman, but that doesn't make the new movie's plot any less disturbing.