Has there ever been such an overuse of product placement as in Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story? From the moment he took his first sip of Bud, the serial killer appeared to develop a penchant for killing boys and young men – 17 in all.
‘Fancy a beer?’ he’d ask most of his victims, who were unaware that he was also drugging them. Need to saw off a guy’s leg? Obviously, need a Bud – it’s thirsty work. Want to hide a head in the refrigerator? You’ll be lucky, there’s too much Bud in there. Better drink some more then, to make room.
Who needs the 2023 Budweiser Superbowl halftime commercial now? We’re already hooked.
Dahmer’s problem with alcohol, which began at a young age, dominates the gory ten-parter that is Netflix’s new smash hit. It’s one of many things that appears to be blamed for the softly spoken kid who turned into the monster of a man.
The problem is that, as the series progresses, his actions become almost normalized – literally, with overkill – to the point he comes across as more Cookie Monster, a normal hometown boy ruined by forces beyond his control.
Yes, despite mass killing, necrophilia, eating the organs of his victims, storing body parts, this poor young man was just the victim of circumstances.
If only his mother hadn’t taken drugs during her pregnancy. If only she hadn’t left the family, and the 17 year old Dahmer to fend for himself while his father shacked up with another woman (selfish bitch! Typical woman, eh? It’s always a woman’s fault).
If only his dad hadn’t fueled the young boy’s interest in dead animals, chopping up roadkill in the family garage.
If only he hadn’t been sent to live with his church-going grandmother and her holier than thou, judgmental attitudes – ‘I didn’t know you had black friends, Jeff’. (There’s another one of those pesky women for you!)
If only the cops hadn’t been so racist and homophobic, choosing to ignore all the warning signs. Thrown out of school, the army and several jobs, and arrested for peeing in public and sexual assault – how much more evidence did anyone need that they were dealing with a nut job?
To paraphrase Shakespeare: Some are born monsters, some achieve monstrosity, and some have monstrosity thrust upon them.
Did Dahmer achieve monstrosity, despite trying to keep his impulses under control (drinking Bud by the gallon was never going to help with that)? Did he have monstrosity thrust upon him by his difficult family life?
No. He was born a monster.
Nonetheless, despite the over-sympathetic portrait and the stomach-churningly graphic detail of the show (or because of it), this is http://netflix.com ‘s highest rating series ever after a first week of streaming – half a billion viewers so far, surpassing its high-flying predecessors Squid Game and Bridgerton, and currently the fifth most watched English language series in the channel’s 15-year streaming history.
But why? At a period in history when we are witnessing bloodshed on a massive scale in Ukraine and still reeling from the death toll of Covid, you would imagine that the last thing anyone would be saying is, ‘Let’s have a quiet night in and watch that psycho cut out men’s hearts and broil them for supper.’
Creator Ryan Murphy is no stranger to horror. The writer of American Horror Story, who also has many brilliant, non-violent series to his credit, too, such as Glee and Feud, almost seems to relish in the underbelly of human existence. He is TV’s Prince of Darkness, who has an uncanny knack of tapping into the audience’s fascination with the macabre and downright nasty.
In 2018, it was reported that Netflix lured Murphy away from 20th Century Fox with a $300m deal. He’s the genius behind American Horror Story and also American Crime Story that featured the multi-Emmy award-winning The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Containing scenes not dissimilar in the gore factor to those in Dahmer, it too gave extraordinary insight into the mind and actions of someone we can barely begin to understand Versace’s assassin, Andrew Cunanan.
So, what’s the reasoning behind the enormous success of this often truly horrific production? Any viewer not heaving during the scene when Dahmer was drinking the blood he stole from a medical center must be pretty weird themselves. Likewise, if you did not cringe at the sound of any of Dahmer’s bone-crushing activities in an attempt to cover up his crimes.
Of course, we’ve always been fascinated by horror. We cannot help but be drawn in by the psychology – why he was what he was and why he did what he did.
But are we also drawn into the disturbing allure of the photography, that almost glamourizes the strange beauty of dead flesh? In an interview with the cops after Dahmer was finally arrested in 1991, he says, ‘I liked how the organs looked, when I held them…shiny.’
In pure dramatic terms, has there been a more effective edge of the seat factor? Time after time, people mentioned the smell coming from Dahmer’s apartment, his grandmother’s basement, even him. ‘Check the closet/the case/the fridge!’ we cry in exasperation as we gasp at the incompetency of everyone on screen. ‘Open the box!’
In terms of popularity, the warning signs that now accompany the start of every program are red rags to a bull. ‘Substances, language, violence, nudity, gore, sexual violence, smoking.’
Notice how ‘gore’ is hidden away there – a four-letter word that should really have read ‘dismemberment of murdered corpses tucked away in the lettuce section of the refrigerator.’ Trust me – smoking’s the least of your worries with this series.
As for ‘language’, any swearing on screen will be drowned out by your own cries of ‘WHAAAAAAAAT!’ in your own living room.
It is doubtful any other TV creator would have had the guts or the brilliance to pull off Dahmer. Yes, every new generation of TV executives and creators has to push the envelope, but Murphy is the walking Freightliner behind the entire USPS system.
He has the ability to put the ‘extra’ into ‘ordinary’.
How does someone like Dahmer who is, on the surface, seemingly banal, come to reveal such horrific depths?
Casting is also key to watchability and Evan Peters delivers an incredible performance as Dahmer. After multiple roles in American Horror Story, he starred as Detective Colin Zabel in the http://hbo.com crime drama Mare of Easttown, which won him a Primetime Emmy Award in 2021.
Netflix’s shares recently took a massive nosedive in the aftermath of Covid. It looks as if with Dahmer, the fortune they gave Murphy has paid off, and its enormous success shows that the streaming service has turned a massive corner.
Eat your hearts out, doubters. On second thoughts, don’t.
Or, if you do, make sure you have that can of Bud to hand.