This is a fictionalized, low-budget but surprisingly well-done true-crime story of the notorious serial killer, cannibal and necrophile: Jeffrey Dahmer. Apartment 213 in the house, yo!
I have a history with this movie. It started out innocently enough in my ex-boyfriend’s basement back in 1993. I had just graduated high school and was doing what any promising young adult would be doing on a Friday night; shots of Perma Frost and rolling joints while watching their band practice. Duh.
But this night was different; as my boozy, bloodshot eyes slowly came back into focus I spy the shiny new poster wrapped around the water heater. You guessed it, it’s a poster for Carl Crew’s (Blood Diner
) magnum opus The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer.
Being an avid fan of all things macabre and having followed the case since the story broke it became my mission to track this movie down. I eventually did but, unfortunately, not until about 10 years later.(Come on! Life happens! You spend a decade moving all over the country involved in a variety of underhanded and above the board enterprises. Well, didn’t you
As luck would finally have it, working in a po-dunk, shit-hole mom-and-pop video store deep in the meaty bowels of West Virginia is where I spied my love. DAHMER in big red letters printed on that VHS spine bright as sunlight on a well-adjusted kid’s kindergarten finger painting; it was now finally and eternally: MINE.
The 10 years that had passed between seeing the poster that had sparked so much desire in my young heart and the actuality of holding the VHS in my hands was no more than a blur, a blindspot, the white noise after a tape ejects. Whatever had happened between then and now was insignificant, it was in my grasp, a decade leading up only to this moment.
On my first sit down with it what struck me the most was the factual accuracy. Say what you will about the film’s low budget or uneven casting, a movie goes much further with me if I can tell that they did their homework and actually cared about what they were putting out there. As far as I’m concerned, having heart trumps having a budget any day of the week. Carl Crew really shines here in the titular role and while he may not have an overly impressive scorecard of acting gigs he knocks this one out of the park. Having scripted as well as produced and starred in this should be enough to show anyone his level of commitment.
I’m not gonna try to talk this up like it’s the best serial killer flick out there, it doesn’t come anywhere near Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
territory, but despite its disadvantages it has a starkness that works. It’s shot in a sort of dramatic mockumentary style that relies heavily on Dahmer’s first person voice-over narration. Sometimes poignant, sometimes unintentionally giggly, the film does its job which is to entertain. Several murder reenactments take place as we witness him start out as the fledgling killer in Bath Township, Ohio all the way to his downward spiral and eventual arrest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There are some gruesome bits for those among us who like our meat on the rare side, but there is also a character study for you to feast on as well.
Had this film had money for better casting (some of the supporting characters can take you out of the moment, but rest assured what you lose in realism you gain in a whole new level of entertainment) and more effects, art direction/set design I think a hell of a lot more people would be talking about it.
I say it so often, that so many of these movies that I watch “have it all” but it’s really true. It’s simultaneously engaging as a dramatic piece of horror as well as inadvertently dipping its toes into black comedy.
In the decade that’s passed since finding my childhood grail I’ve sat transfixed many a night as Mr. Crew escorts me through the creature comforts of home entertainment. Perhaps it’s my biased history with the film, or maybe it’s my natural inclination to perpetually see the glass as half-full, but this movie entertains me in ways that most movies couldn’t do if they had a team of suits being paid top dollar around the clock intent on churning out a blockbuster.
At the end of the day movies are made to delight and uplift. This is a cooperative effort that doesn’t exist without the viewer, unafraid to feed his (or her) soul with whatsoever it may seek, accepting a film for what it is as well as isn’t.
Intervision was smart enough to give this a DVD release in 2011 that you can still pick up on the cheap. I highly recommend it to anyone with a penchant for serial killers, the Dahmer case in general or just a love of low budget indies with far too much heart. This film will not disappoint.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:
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Jocelyn lives on 35 acres of woodland in an undisclosed Appalachian location. When not boozing it up or fighting the power she's tending her organic garden or collecting punk/soundtrack albums. Her best friends walk on 4 legs. She does not own a cell phone.