How DAHMER—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story Overcame the Odds

Netflix Creates Terrifying Show Centered Around Infamous Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer


Back in 1991, the entire world was in complete shock when the horrendous crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer—also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal—came to light. His gruesome murders of sixteen men and boys were beyond disturbing and his appalling story has been retold countless times in books, documentaries, and more. Recently, Netflix also took on the challenge of creating a depiction of Dahmer’s life, which proved to be challenging. Unlike a series about H.H. Holmes or Jack the Ripper, this show emotionally impacts the people who lived through the killings; it could be seen as disrespectful to the victims’ families by resurfacing their buried trauma. Suffice to say, many viewers expressed concern about how the show would handle Dahmer’s crimes. His victims were real people with hopes and dreams of their own and overdoing the gore in the series would be immensely insensitive. Despite the problematic nature of a show centered around one of America’s most notorious serial killers, DAHMER—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story surpassed all expectations, staying number one on Netflix for four weeks and even becoming the second most-viewed English Netflix series of all time. Its massive market success was no accident, and several factors contributed to the show’s burst of fame.

   Constantly present in the series is a looming fear of what Dahmer is capable of. It does a marvelous job of revealing just enough carnage to make the watcher feel uneasy at all times, but it simultaneously leaves much of it to the imagination. In a way, the ambiguity of the crimes makes Dahmer an even more terrifying character. Much of the first handful of episodes are told through Dahmer’s perspective, starting from his childhood all the way until his time as a murderer. Watching Dahmer’s behavior feels like driving past a car accident: there is a mixture of overwhelming anxiety and curiosity. At times, the series will depict an event that makes the audience feel an understanding for Dahmer, especially in his childhood. However, it is impossible for the watcher to emphasize with Dahmer on any level after seeing him commit certain unspeakable actions.

   Although the narrative already makes Dahmer terrifying, his actor Evan Peters takes it to another level. As a Marvel fan for many years, I was shocked that it took me an entire episode to realize that the actor who plays Jeffrey Dahmer also starred as Quicksilver in many X-Men movies. It isn’t just the hair and glasses; the entire demeanor of Evan Peters on screen fits the role perfectly. He creates an indescribable emptiness in his eyes and an emotional detachment in the way he speaks. The show would not have been nearly as emotionally powerful if it weren’t for Evan Peters’s incredible acting ability. Notably, Richard Jenkins and Niecy Nash also made fantastic performances in the roles of Lionel Dahmer and Glenda Cleveland respectively.

   In the sixth episode titled “Silenced,” the series elevates to beyond a standard true crime show. The episode switches to take place from the point of view of Tony Hughes, one of Dahmer’s many victims. Because Hughes is deaf, the episode even muffled noises to immerse the watcher in his shoes. After the audience spends so much time with Hughes and connects to him on a personal level, his murder becomes even more tragic. At this point in the series, Dahmer is treated less as a human and more as a monster. Throughout the second half of the show,  the hurt of Dahmer’s crimes is analyzed from a variety of perspectives, including the devastated families of the victims and even the sickened reactions of Dahmer’s parents. This allows the watcher to truly feel the comprehensive impact of his disturbing life.

   Although a show about a man like Jeffrey Dahmer is undeniably difficult to make, DAHMER—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story gracefully handled his story by treating him like a case study instead of a human who deserves sympathy. The story of Jeffrey Dahmer doesn’t just explore his wicked nature; the series dives deep into real themes like the effects of police negligence, bad parenting, and racial tensions. While some families of the victims have spoken out against Netflix, the show did an overall good job at dealing with such charged topics.