Previously, prolific horror exploitation director Pete Jacelone (I cover much of his output here) has indulged in making explicitly repulsive, fictional homo-horrotic takes on real life serial killer John Wayne Gacy (my blog here).
The Cannibal Killer: The Real Story of Jeffrey Dahmer is prefaced with a message letting us know a) this is a fictionalized account, b) the intention is not to disrespect the families of the victims, and c) the stance in making this fictionalized account is nonetheless an effort to present the facts of Dahmer’s story.
Don’t get me wrong. The Cannibal Killer is still sure to offend plenty of viewers, but it is more of a low budget docuhorror than his previous efforts, which seemed to have one goal—to make us squirm with shock and disgust.
Being quite familiar with the stories of the serial killers Pete tackles, I noticed immediately that as fucked up as his other films are, the Dahmer story is much more disturbing because it’s presented as an intimate journey with the killer through his crimes—told to us by Dahmer as he looks right at the camera like a cast member on a reality show in confessional clips.
Starting with Dahmer’s attraction to dead animals as a child, the film briefly touches upon incidents leading to “the making of a serial killer”.
There is definitely revisionist fiction here, but it is still a disturbing reminder of how an actual person could morph into a monster, and how a man’s loathing of his own sexual orientation can serve as a catalyst for unthinkable horrors.
Watching the sexualizing of Dahmer’s encounters with each victim is extremely uncomfortable to say the least—as it should be, because just as with the Gacy case, it’s hard to imagine how Dahmer was able to “seduce” his victims before flipping a switch that turned on his ability to do heinous things to them.
The movie doesn’t hold back, showing Dahmer gleefully killing, cooking, and eating victims.
Dahmer also delves into his technique of making men into “zombies” by drilling into their heads then pouring acid into their brains.
The scenes are crafted to be a brutal depiction of what may have transpired once Dahmer’s victims were in his apartment, yet I still didn’t feel they simply resorted to gore so disgusting you want to puke. Maybe because I’ve kind of scene it all in horror before at this point. Not sure. Depending on how you look at it, the scenes may seem to be glorifying the murders because they are so shamelessly graphic compared to the way they’re handled in other Dahmer movies. For me they’re so sleazy and sick that they also have a major impact when you stop to think it’s close to what victims of Dahmer and many other serial killers go through in the last moments of their lives.
Outside of Dahmer and his victims, there are a few scenes featuring other characters, but they feel a little off in tone. There’s an oddly, darkly humorous instance when Dahmer’s grandmother makes a surprise discovery.
And a scene based on a factual aspect of the Dahmer story has one of his zombified boys escaping and begging two women on the street for help. Compared to the raw quality of the kill scenes, the low budget indie quality here makes the situation come across more like a goofy game of charades. Not to mention the fact-based encounter is rather whitewashed; everyone involved is Caucasian, which wasn’t the case in reality.
The final act of The Cannibal Killer plays out as a series of his pickups turned murder, so it does begin to get a bit repetitive and feel exploitative, but an unexpected occurrence throws Dahmer off his game at the end. The final scene makes for a rather disheartening comment on how Dahmer’s inability to tame the monster inside and just enjoy a well-adjusted life led to the tragic deaths of so many innocent young men.