Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesday Pt. 26: The Jeffrey Dahmer Files


“A disaster is different things to different people at different times. And for us, at this time, this was a disaster.”

There was a stretch of a few months that I think I was watching a movie about either Ed Gein or Jeffrey Dahmer, every other week. All of them made to different amounts of success. The first time I saw The Jeffrey Dahmer Files was nearly two years ago. Trying to explain your state’s most notorious serial killers can be a bit difficult without sounding deranged or absolutely horrible. You want to grasp the full problem without sounding sickofantic. The best, most “educational” way I informed my own husband about Dahmer was by watching this documentary with him.

What this 2012 documentary shows is not some in-depth horror show, but rather assumes that the audience already knows the basics about the crimes. Jeff mostly covers the days leading up and following Dahmer’s arrest.  A detective, a former neighbour, and a medical examiner are three people who were all wrapped up in Dahmer’s case.

Some serial killer movies can be almost a fantasy version of facts. They are what we want them to be without any consideration for victims or reality. Some documentaries even get it wrong by ignoring the world that the very criminals had to live in. Thankfully this documentary opens up that world in a interesting, informative way.

I really liked Pamela Bass the best out of all the interviewees. She brings a tall-tale aspect to the documentary. She helps to illustrate how much the Dahmer has been ingrained into the modern American myths. He’s more of a character out of story now than feeling like the true horror he was.

But really, each interviewee offers such a different aspect to the story. It does help give a scope of how far-reaching these crimes were. Pat Kennedy, head detective of the case, acts as a sort of tragic hero of the story. He’s a man whose city let down its community. Kennedy faced backlash over his close relationship with Dahmer over the course of the trial. The case ended Kennedy’s first marriage.

Jeffrey Lentzen, the medical examiner, adds a solid base of fact with his story. He keeps a stoic face throughout. But while he was perhaps the most emotionally detached from the case, his words often left the most unsettling feeling with me. His delivery about how he never sees horror films really got to me. He doesn’t say “because what I see is much worse” but you can just fill in the blanks how horrible the things he sees are every day.

The reenactments are often what divides audiences, but I think they’re done fairly well. They often leave much up to the imagination. For many viewers, this might not be the right sort of film for them. Are you looking for intense amount of details on the deaths of the victims? It’s not here. It’s almost even danced around instead of leading you by the hand the entire way, but like the people interviewed in the documentary, you are mostly informed of what only people looking from the outside would know.

The Jeffrey Dahmer case is a fantastic documentary and I still enjoyed it upon second viewing. If you’re interested in a subtle true-crime documentaries, then this is a smartly made film that is definitely worth a watch.

Bonus fun: one of the reenactment scenes in the optometrist features Mark Borchardt (of American Movie fame and director of Coven). American Movie director Chris Smith works as the executive producer.

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