The Secret Life of Jeffrey Dahmer
Director - David R. Bowen
Cast - Carl Crew, Cassidy Phillips, Donna Stewart Bowen
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $19.95
Distributor - Intervision Pictures Corp.
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 2/5
I’ve been a fan of horror films for most of my life, but I never could get into the ones that purported to tell the “true” stories of the most infamous serial killers in human history. Most of these movies were highly sensationalized and served as little more than exploitation wallet fillers for the talent-deprived likes of Ulli Lommel and Rene Cardona Jr. They cut out any trace of sensible psychological insight or emotional core and got right down to the sick, gory details. David Bowen’s The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer attempts to bridge the gap between character study and true crime exploitation, and most of the time it succeeds when it’s not an endless string of scenes of men parading around in nothing but their underwear and then getting brutally murdered.
The movie opens with Dahmer (played by Carl Crew, who also wrote the screenplay and co-produced) driving through while narrating with his inner thoughts. He talks about how he always wanted to see what it would it be like to kill another human being, so right there we can tell things aren’t going to get too deep with this guy. Plus with the eerily soft soundtrack playing under the narration it feels like we’re listening to some prog-rock concept album about mass murder. I often find it hard to understand our society’s fascination with serial murderers. Take away their desire for mass slaughter and you’re left with some pretty boring people. Look at Charles Manson: on the outside he was the leader of a crazed cult attempting to incite a race riot, but in prison he’s nothing more than another crazy old man bursting into incoherent rants just to keep getting attention. He’s basically Grandpa Simpson. But enough of my soap boxing, back to the review.
Any chance of getting any serious insight into who Dahmer was is immediately scuttled after he commits his first kill. From there we get countless vignettes where he brings home a succession of potential victims usually with the promise of a nice cash payment for posing for some nude photos. It stops being a movie about Dahmer and quickly turns into the kind of movie Dahmer would love watching. With every victim he claims his methods of killing improve; after starting off bashing hitchhikers in the skull with a brick his childhood fondness for chemistry provides Dahmer with inventive ways of disposing of his dead. Intercut with these scenes are brief scenes where he must keep doing a rehabilitation tap dance for his probation officer and spending time with his beloved grandmother. I especially enjoyed those fleeting moments because they didn’t involve scantily-clad dudes getting strangled and then dumped into a barrel of hydrochloric acid. To say the structure of this movie was repetitive would be putting it gently. Throughout the movie Dahmer keeps justifying the killings in his mind with some tired excuse that he was afraid the people he killed would leave him and he’d be lonely. What a crock of shit. Judging by the parade of men willing to strip to their underwear for some quick cash or his perverse enjoyment loneliness is one thing Dahmer never has to worry about, but whatever.
Bowen shoots the movie like he’s trying to capture the mood and texture of John McNaughton’s seminal horror classic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but it comes off more like he’s staging a reenactment of the Dahmer killings for an episode of Unsolved Mysteries or America’s Most Wanted with an occasional bit of dime store gore. The actual blood content is kept to a minimum so most of the carnage is left to our imaginations. At one point we get to see Dahmer make a half-ass attempt to create a zombie by drilling holes in a victim’s skull and then pouring acid down the holes. It never works but you can’t fault the guy for not giving up on his dream. There’s also a pitiful effort by Bowen and Crew to inject some humor into the story but their idea of hilarity is to have Dahmer continuously harassed by his neighbors, including a stereotypical pissed-off Jamaican woman, because of the foul odors coming from his apartment. Rapier wit like that doesn’t belong in some cheap true crime flick, it belongs on an episode of Three’s Company!
There are a few questions the movie raises but never answers and I’m not sure that’s because of liberties taken with the real story (which the movie cops to at the very beginning) or it could be the truth and I’m just too lazy to research the case for myself, but seriously folks I’m just reviewing a movie and my time is more precious than to spending it obsessing over some sick fuck cannibal maniac. But one thing that nags at me: how did two of Dahmer’s potential victims manage to get away and yet he was never arrested?
Carl Crew, probably best known for playing one of the homicidal brothers in the 1987 schlock horror Blood Diner, acquits himself well as Dahmer; as star, writer, and one of the producers this is definitely his show and Crew must have saw this movie as a golden opportunity to demonstrate his acting talent. He’s at his best when he’s bringing Dahmer’s simmering intensity, conflicting emotions, and murderous rage to the forefront. But there are a few too many times when he turns into a blubbering mess, usually when he’s confronted by a unloving family member over the phone. Crew’s the star of the show and he comes off looking the best acting-wise, not surprising given that most of the cast seems to have been recruited from local community theater groups.
The film is presented in a grainy full frame transfer with a decent mono soundtrack, perfectly replicating the experience of watching a film on VHS thanks to the magic of DVD. Well done Intervision.
A serviceable commentary by Bowen and Crew, a trailer, and previews for Sledgehammer, Things, and A Night to Dismember are the only bonus features on tap.
Serial killer flicks have never be my cup of tea and The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer did nothing to change those feelings. It’s fine for what it is but its repetitive structure and lack of real insight keeps it from having any real impact. In any case, I did like the scene where Dahmer commits one of his murders while wearing a She-Devils on Wheels T-shirt.