“THE JEFFREY DAHMER FILES”— An Experimental Documentary


The Jeffrey Dahmer Files”

An Experimental Documentary

Amos Lassen

Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in 1991 in the summer yet so much is still unknown about the man who committed such terrible crimes. This experimental documentary uses archival footage, interviews, and fictionalized scenarios to tell the story of the people around Dahmer that summer. Director Chris J. Thompson shows us here the interworking of the case from two differing perspectives. The medical examiner, Jeffrey Jentzen who was assigned to the case shows how many have found different definitions of the word disaster ad then has Patrick Kennedy discuss how humans who tend to react in courageous manners when dealing with tragedy and/or despair can change their behavior since they change when immediately face something like this. It seems that courage might be another name for fear combined with prayer.

We look at how one murder changed totally the lives of three innocent people and how the Dahmer case has made them further their lives. Kennedy had the deepest and most explicit connections to the case. We learn that during their early meetings, Dahmer and Kennedy spoke about religion and alcohol and its effects. This was when Dahmer had been arrested after a skeleton had been found in his refrigerator and then Kennedy speaks of how he felt when he found six skulls and other body parts throughout Dahmer’s home. (Even as I write this now I cannot help thinking about how bizarre this story was).

Using re-enactments and interviews from townspeople who were there, this gruesome story unfolds. Dahmer’s scenes have little dialogue which is fine. To see an actual re-enactment could be very unsettling and nightmarish.


The actual Dahmer crime was a real-life horror film as grisly as they come and as ghoulish as any might dare to be. Jentzen tells us that he never went to horror films—he had no need to, he was part of a real one. He had to investigate and gut the apartment and then identify the bodies that were removed from it. They were dismembered and mutilated and decomposition had begun. He had to identify many from small facial details and anatomical structures. One of the neighbors tells how she was affected and she was just living there—there was always a smell of death she says and later her apartment became a curiosity for the morbid. Some came to sit on the coach that Dahmer had given her or just wanted to touch anything he had touched. Dahmer was not the only sick person here.

This is probably most minimalist film I have ever seen. Yet here is a film that includes the aspects of what filmmaking is all about—drama, uncertainty, impending crisis, and craft. This is truly experimental film—more so than a documentary. Aside from Kennedy and Jentzen, the film focuses on Pamela Bass who was Dahmer’s neighbor. Andrew Swant plays Dahmer in the re-enactment scenes and he is excellent but I could help wishing that this was fiction and not a true story.

This is a horror movie but not in the usual sense. There are no actual scenes of blood, severed heads, or other grizzly images. This is a look at three people whose lives were changed by Jeffrey Dahmer and when they talk the horror begins. What they have to say is intersected with short docudramas of Dahmer living his life and he is seen as dull and uninteresting which is in such contrast to the crimes he committed. He just looks like an ordinary guy. The real problem is that the director brings fact and fiction together and the film’s aim is lost. In fact, I am not sure what that aim is. Regardless this is an interesting experiment and the film is the most horrible non-horror film I have ever seen.


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