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Raising Jeffrey Dahmer (2006)
22nd May 09
Based on the story of the mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, his relationship with his family and the events leading up to his capture.
Given that Jeffrey Dahmer was a guy who would routinely drill holes into the skulls of young men before injecting hydrochloric acid into their brains, you could be forgiven for thinking that a movie boasting the title Raising Jeffrey Dahmer would be at least half-compelling. Or at least a lot more interesting than a movie called, say, Raising Anthea Turner or J.R Hartley : The Early Years . Turns out, in this dark time of recession, war and Hannah Montana, you can’t even rely on cheap thrills from a film like this. Anyone got a spare D.I.Y. Euthanasia Kit?
The notorious serial killer gruesomely offed 17 people before his arrest in the early nineties, though for fans of ridiculous names, probably his most notable achievement was molesting / killing a teenager called Somsack Sinthasomphone. Arguably the most ridiculous name in the history of the universe, though, for some reason, that factor was always neglected in contemporary reports of the crime in question. Isn’t “Somsack Sinthasomphone” some kind of genital fungus?
Jeremy Renner did a commendable job of portraying this deranged misfit back in the decent 2002 flick Dahmer , a sincere character study of one of the modern world’s best known severed penis collectors. This new movie casts the marvellously named Rusty Sneary as Dahmer but restricts his screen time to focus on the impact of his crimes on his parents. Monochrome scenes of Dahmer’s trial frame a non-linear narrative alternating between childhood flashbacks and endless scenes of Jeff’s dad emoting with all the conviction of an Australian daytime soap opera thesp. Yep, someone went and made a genuinely dull movie about a cannibalistic necrophile with a sideline in paedophilia. Congratulations, director Rich Ambler! Maybe your next project could be a really boring movie about nymphomaniac bi-sexual machine gun-wielding Catholic school-girls?
The movie depicts events from Dahmer’s birth in 1960 to his 1991 arrest via the perspective of his chemist father (Scott Cordes). He enters the world in soft-focus as a smiling baby but grows up a weird kid whose main boyhood hobbies are poisoning goldfish, hypnotising girls into unbuttoning their blouses and impaling dogs on stakes. Why couldn’t he just be happy with hanging around abortion clinics and sniffing marker pens like the rest of us? A consistent intimacy between Jeff and his Dad is portrayed sincerely but amateur acting and awkward dialogue renders these scenes mostly hilarious (Dad : “The cat’s fine” / Jeff : “She likes to be brushed…”).
Set incongruously to an excruciatingly out of place jazz score that never seems to let up, Raising Jeffrey Dahmer transforms a fascinating real life horror story into a lifeless, theatrical TV-movie style drama. You know you’re in trouble when the movie opens with several unbroken minutes of Dahmer Senior ringing around police departments and relatives as his son is arrested. Watching this guy on the phone for lengthy segments of the movie is a short cinematic step away from making a movie about Myra Hindley and devoting half the running time to scenes of Mr and Mrs Hindley washing her knickers and moaning about the weather.
Cordes, who has to carry the bulk of the acting weight, fails to convince as a father thrust into a media circus and forced to watch his son transformed into a national monster via talk shows and increasingly sensationalistic news updates. Fans of the William Shatner School Of Film Acting will undoubtedly get a kick out of a lot of his reaction shots : this guy displays the same look of minor concern whether finding a nude dummy in Jeff’s room or discovering that his grown son has been enthusiastically fondling the bollocks of a minor. Kudos to him, however, for not cracking a smile while posing the question on everyone’s lips…”Why would a 27 year old man hide a male mannequin in his closet?”.
Even more so than the subdued Dahmer , this flick takes a totally non-exploitative approach, offering only the most fleeting hints of the brutality committed by its subject. More charitable viewers might feel that, by being so relentlessly banal, the movie helps demonstrate how the most heinous and evil of acts can sometimes take place against the blandest of backdrops. More intelligent viewers will be appalled by the way in which the film sentimentalises Dahmer and his family at the expense of any compassion shown towards his victims and their families. And those who don’t give a flying donkey dick about any of the above (that’s us, guys!) will find themselves, after about an hour of talk and stagy acting, yearning for a graphic on-screen eyeball-socket-fucking.
The serial killer movie trend will probably never die - we’re now at the stage where most of the major American nut-jobs have had at least three movies made about them. This misjudged yawner, however, is among the sub-genre’s low-points : at the point where veteran actor Bo Svenson (in a cameo as a detective) quietly blows his brains out, you’ll be yearning to have your own brain tissue splattered all over the back of a dumpster somewhere in Buttfuck, U.S.A.