The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2013)
Review by Jude Felton
Not long prior to writing this review, I had been involved in a short discussion about the 1992 movie, Man Bites Dog. This Belgian movie was an incredibly dark yet humorous look into the life of a serial killer, as a camera crew follows him about his daily business. One year prior to Man Bites Dog getting its release the world would become aware of the crimes and arrest of Jeffrey Dahmer. There was nothing humorous about what would be found in his fridge in the Oxford Apartments in Milwaukee.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files is a truly fascinating documentary that interweaves archive footage, interviews and re-enactments from the time surrounding Dahmer’s arrest. For those that don’t know, Dahmer was eventually found guilty of the murder of 17 men and sentenced to over 900 years in jail. Of course, he was not to see much of that sentence, having been murdered himself after serving only two years.
I recall reading several books about the case, back in my youth, and all seemed to focus on the more exploitative side of Dahmer’s life; emphasizing on his sexual preferences, his cruising of gay bars and so forth. At the end of the day they were all very sensationalist, and in all likelihood just looking to make a quick buck off these heinous crimes.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files instead focuses on enlightening interviews with Dahmer’s neighbor, Pamela Bass, the investigating officer, Pat Kennedy, and Jeffrey Jensen, who was the medical examiner. What makes these interviews so interesting, aside from there close proximity to Dahmer as a person, is their constant referral to him as “Jeff”. Pamela saw him as not just a neighbor, but as a friend; after all, that’s what he was. Kennedy got very close to Dahmer as well, having supplied clothes for his court appearance and so forth. Jensen, who does not talk about any relationship, instead talks with a cold detachment about the grisly finds.
What this film does, that I have not seen before, is bring to light to impact of these crimes on those that lived in the Oxford Apartments; which subsequently became a media circus before finally being torn down. These were crimes that had a huge impact on those around them.
As well as these interviews, we also get to see some archive photos and film footage from the crime scene, which are fortunately not too graphic. We all know what happened, what was found and what Dahmer was capable of. What is most scary is that it all happened next door, with no one any the wiser as to what was going on in his apartment.
Lacing the film together are dramatizations of Dahmer going about his business; buying bleach or a large storage container. Things that in hindsight should maybe have set alarm bells ringing, long before the day of his arrest. It really is a quite eye-opening piece of film, and really gives a unique perspective on what happened over twenty years ago.
If I had to draw any fault from this excellent documentary, it would be that it was too short. At 76 minutes it seemed to only scratch the surface, so to speak. Granted, the focus is on the night of his arrest, and short time after, but I felt that there was maybe more that could have been expanded on. Nonetheless, this is quite riveting viewing, without being sensationalistic or distasteful. Serial killers are so often put on a mysterious pedestal, and seen as some sort of strange hero for some reason, but the cold hard truth is that they are brutal and scary individuals.
Aside from the short running time, there really is nothing to fault this film; it’s quite simply required viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in true crime, or just a damned fine documentary.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Films is released by IFC and is available on VOD and Digital. It is also currently playing select theaters. You can watch the film at the link below: