Netflix’s latest true-crime blockbuster hit is called Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, bizarrely using the murderer’s last name twice in the title. Some people wish the Milwaukee killer didn’t have quite so much exposure. As of Tuesday, Dahmer was No. 1 on Netflix, but it’s brought with it plenty of controversy. Let’s break it down.
Dahmer: The basics
Jeffrey Dahmer was real, of course, but the things he did were so horrible it almost seems impossible. Born in Milwaukee in 1960, he had a troubled childhood, with an early interest in dead animals and dissection. Then, over 13 years beginning in 1978, he murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys, committing necrophilia and cannibalism, and preserving body parts and bones. he was finally caught in 1991 and sentenced to 17 terms of life imprisonment. Another inmate beat Dahmer to death in prison in 1994.
The 10-episode series jumps between Dahmer’s unhappy childhood, his murders and his eventual arrest. In addition to the horror of Dahmer’s crimes, the series shows how the Milwaukee police didn’t listen to neighbors who warned them something was going on in the killer’s apartment. Two officers actually returned one of Dahmer’s victims to him when the boy, badly injured and drugged, tried to escape the house of horrors.
The show is disturbing, often gory, and a grim watch. After about a week on Netflix, it has mixed or average reviews from critics on Metacritic, and generally favorable reviews from users.
Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter wrote in his review, “Put through a different editing process, there is an intelligent interrogation of Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes, the real people impacted and the consequences here. It’s frequently lost or obscured.”
Fienberg and other critics call out episode six, titled Silenced, as an exceptional episode within the series. It focuses on one of the men Dahmer killed, Tony Hughes. “Tony was deaf and, in placing a Black, deaf, gay character at the center of the narrative, the series is giving voice to somebody whose voice has too frequently been excluded from gawking serial killer portraits,” Fienberg writes.
But Caroline Framke of Variety writes that, unfortunately, “Silenced is the exception rather than the rule,” and not all the episodes are as well-done.
Who plays Jeffrey Dahmer?
Dahmer is played by Evan Peters, who has held multiple roles in various American Horror Story seasons and who plays Quicksilver in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dahmer reunites Peters with director Ryan Murphy, who co-created both American Horror Story and Dahmer.
Dahmer features two iconic actors
Michael Learned, famous for her role as rural mother Olivia Walton on The Waltons, stars as Dahmer’s grandmother, Catherine. Learned is a 1970s icon, but there’s also a 1980s icon starring in this show. Molly Ringwald, of John Hughes movie fame, plays Dahmer’s stepmother, Shari. You’ll barely recognize her.
The series also stars Richard Jenkins as Dahmer’s father, Lionel. Niecy Nash plays Glenda Cleveland, Dahmer’s apartment neighbor who tries everything she can to make the Milwaukee police pay attention to the horrific smells and sounds coming from behind his door.
The controversial reaction to Dahmer
With any true-crime show, there’s the question of whether the show is glamorizing the criminal at the expense of the victims. Rita Isbell, the sister of Errol Lindsey, one of the men Dahmer murdered, talked to Insider about the show. She gave an emotional victim impact statement at Dahmer’s 1992 sentencing, a scene that is re-created in the series.
“I was never contacted about the show,” Isbell told Insider. “I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it.”
Others have posted on social media asking that the victims be remembered, not the man whose name appears twice in the show’s title.
All 10 episodes of Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, are now available for streaming on Netflix.