A young blonde shaggy-haired Jeffrey Dahmer stares out blankly from behind the cover of large thick glasses and a plethora of other children. He holds an empty gaze; the numb subdued look of an apathetic boy who’s used to having his face blacked out in the school yearbook. Shoving himself in where he didn’t belong, acting out, screaming for help, only to have his many cries for attention fall on deaf ears. This is the photo of the first official image for the upcoming 2017 Tribeca Film Festival pick My Friend Dahmer, and it is as haunting as it is effective.
There’s been a few noteworthy horror films that outwardly brought Dahmer’s infamous existence to the big screen, such as Dahmer (2002), Jeffrey Dahmer: The Secret Life (1993), The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2012), as well as some not-so-obvious inspirations, such as The Voices (2014) and Silence of the Lambs (1991), but what’s so intriguing about the upcoming My Friend Dahmer is the particular moment in time that it chooses to focus on Dahmer’s life – his adolescence. The majority of Americans are familiar with Dahmer’s murderous tendencies as a fully grown adult, but what about the period of his life that led to that point? What about the ignored little boy who grew to be so desperate for attention that he resorted to killing and containing cadavers in his very own home, just so he could get some people to spend some time with him?
That’s what director Marc Meyers hopes to explore in his new film, and it will be exciting to see the result of his efforts – especially since he’s so committed to authenticity that he’s willing to shoot scenes in the real life old Dahmer home, and hire a Disney star to elicit the empathy needed to relate to someone so innately sinister.
Based on the graphic novel by John Backderf, a.k.a. “Derf”, a famous cartoonist who went to high school with Dahmer, My Friend Dahmer details the teenage years of the notorious serial killer, all leading up to his first murder which occurred two weeks after his high school graduation. Ross Lynch, a well-known Disney heartthrob, portrays Dahmer, adding an air of controversy to an already suspect film premise, which will supposedly be quite sympathetic to the serial murderer.
Most people are at least vaguely aware of who Jeffrey Dahmer is. Eventually caught in 1991 and sentenced to fifteen consecutive life sentences (937 years) in federal prison, Dahmer is responsible for the murder of at least seventeen young men, most of whom were African American, and some of whom had their remains mutilated, eaten, or both. Infected with an insatiable lust for the kill, Dahmer took his first life at age eighteen when he picked up a hitchhiker off the side of the road, brought him back to his parents’ house for sex, drugged the man, beat him to death, woke up, and remembered nothing. From there Dahmer supposedly took a brief hiatus from killing after he enlisted in the army, where he claims he did not commit any murders at all (although some men did come forward claiming Jeffrey sexually assaulted them), until he was discharged for his drinking problem in 1981.
Once again a free man, Dahmer picked up right where he left off, prowling the local gay bars and bath houses, bringing home young men, and strangling them in their sleep. The need to control his subjects completely consumed him, as he established total dominance and ownership over the victims by killing them, having his way with the corpses, cutting them up, and storing the parts around his apartment – in the freezer, in large plastic bins, even electing to capture the moments for all eternity in polaroid pictures. Growing madder with power over time, his sickening tactics took on a dark experimental twist as his body count flourished. He even went so far as to try to turn some of his victims into living zombies by performing unorthodox lobotomies on them, drilling holes into their skulls, and pouring muriatic acid into their brains. It never worked, of course, but all of his depraved methods of murdering and disposing of bodies (or rather, lack thereof) highlights a desperate need for one thing: companionship.
Ever since he was a little boy, Jeffrey Dahmer was neglected by everyone around him. His parents claim today that they were just as shocked as everyone else to learn of their son’s ghastly pastimes, but evidently, Jeffrey’s father wrote a book detailing his son’s alarmingly introverted nature as a boy, begging the question of why he wouldn’t try harder to intervene in his troubled boy’s life. At school, Dahmer had a small handful of friends, who, when they weren’t busy being impressed by his strange taxidermy collection, would egg Dahmer on and laugh hysterically as he faked epileptic seizures and mimicked people with cerebral palsy. He drank heavily during school hours, even being so bold as to carry a coffee cup full of liquor with him as he nonchalantly strolled through the halls, and yet, he went unnoticed, teachers and guidance counselors and authority figures of all types failing to see what was right in front of them.
His friends sometimes wondered why he had such a fascination with road kill, his dad briefly pondered why his son had suddenly developed an interest in his chemist’s acid, and yet, no one could be bothered to reach out. No one thought to pray for the one sinner who needed it the most.
The neglect didn’t end when Dahmer grew into adulthood, it simply shifted from classmates and teachers to members of law enforcement. Although he claimed at first that the only reason why he sought out the men that he did was because of a sexual preference, Dahmer later admitted to therapists in prison that he purposely targeted young African American and Asian men because he knew that their disappearance wouldn’t cause as much of a red flag as someone with an Aryan background. At one point, a fourteen-year-old Laotian boy even managed to escape Dahmer’s grasp, running out into the street naked, bloody, handcuffed, and crying for help, but police actually returned the boy to Dahmer once he calmed them down by claiming it was simply a lover’s spat. As blatantly obvious as Dahmer was about brutally torturing and murdering men in broad daylight, the cops let his horrid crimes continue for an astonishing thirteen total active years.
My Friend Dahmer premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in April of 2017.