Jeffrey Dahmer

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.

Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesday Pt. 3: Dahmer

One of the worst claims to fame for Wisconsin is being home to two of America’s most notorious serial killers: Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer. They are names and stories that most people in the state (and the world) know well.

Many of my journalism professor were in Milwaukee to cover Dahmer’s trial. Only a few weeks ago did Christopher Scarver (the man who murdered Dahmer in prison in 1994) came forward to talk about the incident. It really is so recent that it is still fresh in many people’s minds.

Like with many serial killers, there still remains an obsession with the mythos that surround someone who kills for pleasure. Dahmer is no exception. There are half a dozen movies and documentaries about the man. But only one motion picture has had any sort of impact: the 2002 snoozefest Dahmer starring Jeremy Renner.

This little film sets out to tell the story of Dahmer – only basing the narrative around three of his victims: his first, one of his most iconic and the last one that got away. Point one against the movie: he had over 17 victims and only alluding to a few takes away from the horror that the man truly was.

There is a scene where the two women trying to save Khamtay (which is the name given to victim Konerak Sinthasomphone in the film) when he escaped from Dahmer’s apartment. This is perhaps the most compelling part in the story – one of the few scenes that actually evokes fear or any type of emotion. The police ignore the pleading women and let the victim go back to Dahmer’s apartment, after he convinces the police that they are good friends.

As previously mentioned, several of my professors covered the case. It was one of them (whom I won’t name) that broke this story of the two women being ignored by the Milwaukee police. Though it wasn’t entirely accurate (the women who saw Konerak in fact knew him), it still acts as intense tension and creates a total feel of helplessness. Knowing that this part of the story was so real makes it even more heart breaking.

That being said, other than that one scene, this movie is utterly dull. Yes, a movie about one of the world’s most notorious serial killers is boring. Terrible movies are something I love, but this was a movie that clearly set out to do something great. It works in two timelines: one of the present moving forward to his arrest and another slowly working back in time until it reaches his first victim.

The strange timelines was a complete waste of time. While it reveals many of Dahmer’s problems and possible reasons for being so insane, it takes away all suspense entirely. Watching him attack his victims feels only uncomfortable, and not entirely disturbing like it should be.

Jeremy Renner is perfection. Unfortunately, the movie let down his performance as nothing else seems to live up to his acting. He demands the attention of the camera only with a demonic gaze. It someone did a supercut of just parts including him, the movie would be infinitely better.

If you have an interest in serial killers, skip this. Instead I recommend watching  The Jeffrey Dahmer Files. Somehow this is one of those instances where the reality is so much more chilling than anything fiction could conjure. Dahmer sets out with good intentions but only ends up being as horrifying as day-old bakery.