The UHF of the film world.
Latest news

Marina Antunes [Celluloid 07.23.13] documentary



In the decades since his arrest and murder, Jeffrey Dahmer has been the subject of numerous books, documentaries and movies, so many that one would think the well of Dahmer material had been exhausted but in comes Chris James Thompson with a new film that is neither documentary nor fiction but rather a marriage of the two.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is an interesting project in that it brings together interviews from individuals who had direct interaction with Dahmer both before and after his arrest along with dramatized clips from Dahmer's life. It's an approach that is old hat for TV but relatively uncommon in film.


Pamela Bass was a neighbour of Dahmer's, a woman who befriended the handsome but apparently lonely neighbour who had moved into the building to be closer to work. Along with Bass' interview, the other two prominent subjects are Patrick Kennedy, the police detective charged with the task of getting Dahmer to talk and Jeffrey Jentzen, the medical examiner who lead the team of individuals who had the ungrateful job of identifying Dahmer's victims.

Mixed among the talking head interviews are the re-enactments with actor Andrew Swant chillingly portraying the role of Dahmer. Swant fits the role well, a likable, nice looking, quiet guy, but the scenes that Thompson chooses to dramatize are odd. Some, like Dahmer buying and transporting the infamous plastic barrel on the bus and his return to a hotel with an obviously empty suitcase, are ridiculously effective while others, Dahmer drinking alone outside, are less so. It's also interesting that while Dahmer is decked in period attire, the director didn't go through much trouble to hide signs that the footage was shot recently. Everywhere there are signs that this isn't the 80s and though it's obviously a conscious decision, I find it hard to imagine an editor would let so many period inconsistencies slip, it's a little jarring and yet it also acts as a poignant reminder that the possibility of another Dahmer is just as likely today as it was in the 80s.

Regardless of the effectiveness of the dramatized footage, The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is at its best in the long interview portions. Its fascinating to hear Bass recount her experience with Dahmer before the arrest and the unexpected fallout that landed on her and the other neighbours after his incarceration. The public had a morbid fascination with Dahmer and anything associated with him but Bass also discovered the hate towards her and others who knew the killer, a public that sometimes treated her as if she had some hand in the murders.

Detective Kennedy speaks candidly of his time in the interview room with Dahmer and how he befriended the killer and eventually got him to talk. What's interesting about this interview is the slight air of smugness that Kennedy gives off. Admittedly he was largely and single handedly responsible for Dahmer's confession but that smugness almost feels like a barrier, a wall he has put up to remove himself from the emotional toll of the ordeal.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files doesn't provide much in the way of new information into the Dahmer case but it's an interesting new approach and presentation of familiar material which provides a great entry point for those interested but unsure of where to start with the case.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is available on DVD today.

DVD Extras: Assortment of deleted scenes, the Hot Docs Q&A, Kickstarter videos and the movie trailer.

You might also like


Leave a comment