Reviewed by Kryten Syxx
Starring Rusty Sneary, Scott Cordes, Cathy Barnett and Bo Svenson
Directed by Rich Ambler
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Jeffrey Dahmer’s name should be familiar to most people, horror fans or not. In 1991 Dahmer was arrested and found in possession of three severed heads and penises, bodies in vats of acid, and a shrine made of human skulls. His string of known victims (dating back to 1978) rounds out at 17, but who knows if there were more; there is evidence that Dahmer may have been involved in the disappearance and death of John Walsh’s son, Adam, in 1981. Jeffrey Dahmer left behind many unanswered questions … including why he committed these horrible acts.
Perhaps Raising Jeffrey Dahmer will shed some light on the unknown as it focuses not on Dahmer himself but on his father and stepmother. Through their eyes, mostly Lionel Dahmer’s, we get a glimpse into what may have started to shape Jeffrey at a young age into the killer he would become as an adult. Was it the product of his upbringing? Something in the womb, maybe? Or is there no clear cut solution?
Throughout Raising Jeffrey Dahmer the audience is shown different segments of the killer’s past, but not in any sort of lineal form. The film starts out with Jeff recounting one of his later murders, and we’re quickly taken back to the night of his arrest. From then on the movie skips back and forth from present (1991) to Dahmer’s childhood and young adulthood. This should have been a bit more streamlined; bouncing around between different stages of his life doesn’t add to any sort of build-up or better understanding of why he is the way he is.
The overall flow of the timeline is also hindered by an overuse of filters to let the audience know that they’re watching a section of the past or a nightmare. Blurring is commonly used for the childhood and young adult Dahmer scenes, but why? We know this is a previous event so why hurt our eyes with huge amounts of white and Glamour-Shots-like smudging?
At least the acting is pretty top notch for a film of this budget. Cordes in the role of Jeffrey’s father is a stroke of genius. He brings a very naive point of view to the whole thing that makes us able to believe he had no clue what his son really was until it was too late. When he starts putting the pieces together while dealing with the howling press at his door, you really can feel pity. What do you do now? It’s the kind of situation that terrifies more than any chainsaw-wielding lunatic could ever accomplish.
But … where are the answers? Why was Dahmer this way? Was it the pills his mother took while pregnant? Was it just some kind of chemical imbalance? We still don’t know.
Sadly, Rich Ambler’s film really doesn’t provide the audience with sufficient evidence to judge what created Dahmer’s demonic side. That is not to say the film is not important or useless, but it fails to help us any more than the countless documentaries of the past. That being said, Raising Jeffrey Dahmer is a well acted and well executed film which only suffers slightly due to budget. Rusty Sneary is almost a dead ringer for the murderer while Scott Cordes gives a heartbreaking performance as a man who just can’t find the answers in himself while his world is pulled apart thanks to his son’s unspeakable deeds.
Another bummer has to do with the total lack of special features on this disc. Aside from a trailer and stills gallery, the DVD comes with just a director’s commentary. What?! No behind-the-scenes footage or even a retrospective? Damnit! This could be forgiven if Rich Ambler had more to say in his commentary, but large gaps of silence exist. When he does decide to speak, it’s usually to reaffirm what we already know like “She’s a good actress” or “We used a dolly.”
Again … damnit!!!
3 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5