The July 22, 1991, arrest of sadistic serial slayer Jeffrey Dahmer immediately shocked and captivated the public. As the sickening details of Dahmer’s doings came to light — cannibalism, cruel sexual tortures, an apartment full of mutilated human remains, insane attempts to turn victims into “zombies” — the saga seemed to play more and more like a real life horror movie.
By sheer coincidence, a gory fright film titled Body Parts was scheduled to open just 10 days after the Dahmer bust. Paramount pulled ads for the movie in the Milwaukee area but, elsewhere, nonstop headlines and TV reports about Dahmer’s dastardly doings certainly didn’t hurt the thriller at the box office.
In addition, just a few months earlier, the cannibal classic Silence of the Lambs had proven to be a critical and box office smash.
Thus, the connection between Jeffrey Dahmer and movies dates back to when the world first learned of his hideous existence.
As with other true-life tales of horrible death dealers, Dahmer has since been the direct subject for a number of films and an unofficial inspiration for a multitude of others. Here’s a look at some of the most notorious and/or noteworthy.
The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer (1993)
Rushed into production on a bargain budget, the direct-to-VHS cash-in The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer does bear the distinction of being the only movie related to the killer to be released before its main subject was beaten to death in prison. Writer-producer Carl Crew stars in the title role. He previously appeared in the cult cannibal comedy Blood Diner (1987).
A multidimensional, disturbingly human performance by future Academy Award–nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) in the lead elevates Dahmer above a pack of other true-crime exploitation biopics that flooded video stores in the early 2000s (among them: Ed Gein , Bundy , and Gacy ). It also makes Dahmer’s crimes all that much more chilling.
Further distinguishing Dahmer is that producers respected the actual victims enough to change their names. In addition, key members of the special-effects crew who render Dahmer’s grotesque transgressions so visually believable here went on to bring even more pain, suffering, and explicit bloodletting to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004)!
Raising Jeffrey Dahmer (2006)
Raising Jeffrey Dahmer depicts the story of its title figure from the point of view of his father, Lionel Dahmer (Scott Cordes). Young Jeffrey is played Luke Adams; Rusty Sneary portrays the killer as an adult. The acting is effective, and the story is told out of sequence, which occasionally adds the air of a fever dream.
Dahmer vs. Gacy (2010)
Sick humor and over-the-top splatter gore abound in Dahmer vs. Gacy, a cheapo horror comedy about a top-secret government DNA project to create the ultimate serial killer and use him as a weapon. Mad scientists resurrect both Jeffrey Dahmer (Ford Austin) and notorious Chicago slayer John Wayne Gacy (Randal Malone), who each promptly escape into the public and attempt to one-up each other with murderous mayhem. Dahmer finally gets to create his own army of flesh-hungry zombies.
My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Based on an acclaimed 2011 graphic novel of the same name by John “Derf” Backderf, the upcoming film My Friend Dahmer will star Ross Lynch as the Milwaukee murderer during his dorky, pre-cannibal 1970s adolescence. Eyebrows have been raised over the fact that Lynch is best known as a Disney star, going from the Disney Channel series Austin & Ally to the network’s popular Teen Beach Movie films. This new role can rightly be called a departure.
Watch Investigation Discovery’s original scripted mini-series, SERIAL THRILLER with ID GO. Each installment of the SERIAL THRILLER trilogy propels viewers into a chilling true crime story of a real-life serial killer.
Main photo: still from Dahmer (2002)