More than 30 years have passed since the news broke of Jeffrey Dahmer’s arrest in Milwaukee. It’s still one of the most strangest criminal cases in American history. The horror of what happened occurred when public opinion against gay men was slowly changing. Sadly as the HIV/AIDS crisis was still a cause for concern, Dahmer only reinforced the stereotype that gay men are sexual predators going after younger men and even underage boys.
The crimes were elevated by the entertainment industry in an odd coincidence as The Silence of the Lambs was heading toward the home video market after a success box office. The movie contain both elements that seem to be similar to Dahmer’s. Then, there was the release of the horror movie, Body Parts, that Paramount Pictures had to pull marketing of in the Midwest after an outcry.
And as footage of the LAPD officers beating up Rodney King on the side of the road was being broadcast into every home in Middle America, people kept scratching their heads and wondered why the Milwaukee police actually let one of Dahmer’s victims go back in his grasp. The tragedy of Konerak Sinthasomphone, only 14, should have never happened. And here in Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, it’s shown in all its Keystone Kops buffoonery as Dahmer (Evan Peters) can’t even convincingly lie that Konerak (Kieran Tamondong) was of age. The rest of the residents of the apartment building try to convince the police to stop the young boy who is drugged from going back with Dahmer.
But the problem was that the majority of the apartment residents were mostly black. And Konerak was Laotian while Dahmer was white. Did Dahmer really target black people and other people of color knowing the police wouldn’t do as much if it was a white 14-year-old boy? Or was his preference just non-white people?
The 10-episode Netflix series is way too long to remain interested as it continues to repeat the same issues the 2002 Dahmer movie starrying Jeremy Renner and My Friend Dahmer did. We already knmow that Dahmer had a crazy upbrining in Bath, Ohio. His mother, Joyce (Penelepe Ann Miller) wasn’t all there in the head and spent more time arguing with his father, Lionel (Richard Jenkins) that you can’t blame Dahmer for turning to alcoholism in his teenage years.
Lionel left during his senior year followed by Joyce taking their other son with her. Jeffrey is left by himself for three months until Lionel returns with his younger future wife, Shari (Molly Ringwald). But so much is focused on this awkward period in his life as they got him into Ohio State University but he flunked out his first term, before going to the Army, where he was discharged for alcoholism.
Returning home, he had to go live with his very religious grandmother, Catherine Dahmer (Michael Learned). The series advertises that it’s told from the point of view of the victims but there’s only one episode from the point of view of one of his victims, Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford), who was deaf. The series does focus more on the victims more as Somsack Sinthasomphone is molested by Dahmer but because the judge was biased only given one year in prison with a work-release. He only spent really one week in jail.
If you thought the judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial was biased, the one portrayed here might make you shoot your TV. Somsack (Brayden Maniago) was only 13 at the time he was drugged and sexually assaulted. And the judge stops his father, Southone (Khetphet Phagnasay) during an emotional victim impact statement because he can’t undertstand his broken English. Even after a family member translates, he still stops it short. Dahmer was supposed to be on a five-year probation when he was able lure Konerak to his apartment. If the police had done their job and just checked a little more, it might have saved Konerak and others.
One of Dahmer’s neighbors, Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash) is portrayed as one of the people who tried her damnedest to get the word out. But since it was the era it was and they were mostly black tenants, no one cared. This brings in one subplot in the series that I’m not sure is as effective as it should be. The Rev. Jesse Jackson (Nigel Gibbs) actually becomes involved as two Milwaukee Police officers John Balcerzak (Scott Michael Morgan) and Joseph Gabrish (Matthew Alan) are reprimanded, suspended and later reinstated by their union. Balcerzak later served as president of the Milwaukee Police Assocation. The series has them making obscene and harassing phone calls to the Sinthasomphone household. This might have happened but it just reinforces how corrupt the police was.
The problem is the introduction of Rev. Jackson and the issue involving the police are handled so out of the blue it drags the series down. It never really finds a coherent narrative. While I’m glad it doesn’t follow on Dahmer all the way, it still exploits his victims and their families. One thing about the 2002 Dahmer movie and My Friend Dahmer was there wasn’t much exploitation of the victims. My Friend Dahmer takes place when Dahmer was in high school and ends as his picks up his first victim, a hitchhiker Steven Hicks (played here by Cameron Cowperthwaite).
There’s even a pointless reference in the 10th episode to John Wayne Gacy that seems just to drag the series out longer. I guess it was because of that stupid Dahmer vs. Gacy movie. Either way, it doesn’t really belong here. But everything else is thrown in to the mix including Lionel’s attempts to write a book; a comic book series that created focusing on Dahmer; and even Milwaukee business and civic leader Joseph Zilber who purchased all of Dahmer’s items set for auction and destroyed them so they wouldn’t garner Dahmer any more publicity. Zilber ended up giving each family $32,500.
While people are praising Peters for his work as Dahmer, it’s Nash who seems the unlikely protagonist who in the end keeps asking Milwaukee officials for a memorial park at the location of the apartment building that is condemned and later torn down. It has never been built. If the series had really been a focus on the victims, it might have have a better narrative but the first half seems to be the typical true-story format.
Since Ryan Murphy is associated with it, we get the same gruesome gore content which probably could be held back a little. It was bad what they found when they went into Dahmer’s apartments. But his victims had families and friends. Seeing Dahmer hold a decapitated head seems unncessary. Also, seeing a young Dahmer masturbate to images of animal guts being pulled out a corpses is typical Murphy overkill.
As I said, Peters is good in the role and I wouldn’t be surprise if he gets nominated for awards. Nash should also get an nomination. But the most annoying character is Lionel and Jenkins plays him with a constant “Get off my lawn!” mentality. Miller screams a lot as Joyce. Ringwald shares the uneasy look of someone who’s constantly in the middle of an argument between two people and doesn’t know whether to leave the room or step in and stop it.
There could have been a better series and angle here on Dahmer’s crimes, but at the point where Lionel and Joyce are arguing over what happens to Dahmer’s brain, you realize it’s not necessary to include as much as you can.
What do you think? Please comment.