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Seeking meaning behind the monsters in Dahmer

  • 27 October 2022
  Warning: Contains spoilers and graphic content   At the end of the third episode of the Netflix biopic Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, 18-year-old Dahmer (Evan Peters) stands blank-faced on the roof of his family’s deserted house holding a full garbage bag. The serial killer who will go on to murder, dismember, commit acts of necrophilia upon and cannibalise 17 men between 1978 and 1991 has just committed his first murder.

Earlier, Dahmer lured a hitchhiker, Steven Hicks (Cameron Cowperthwaite), to his house with the promise of a ride to a music festival – after they’d done a workout in Dahmer’s home gym and had a few beers. Dahmer, who is gay, made a pass at Hicks, but Hicks shoved him off with a homophobic slur. Angry, Dahmer clubbed Hicks from behind with a dumbbell weight and, to Dahmer’s surprise, Hicks wouldn’t get up when asked.

Distressed Dahmer doesn’t turn himself in. Instead, he hides Hicks under the house, but the dead body haunts him and he decides to put into practice the animal cadaver dissection skills he learnt as a child from his father. Dahmer dismembers Hicks’s body then, drunk, drives away with Hicks’s body parts in plastic bags in the boot, presumably to dump them, before traffic cops see him driving erratically and stop him. They don’t check his boot, give him a drink driving warning, and send him home. Back there, Dahmer flushes some of Hicks’s remains down the toilet and burns others, leaving only singed bones, which he smashes with a mallet. Then it’s the end of the episode and Dahmer stands on the roof at dawn with his garbage bag. He falls to his knees and closes his eyes in a prayer-like pose before tossing Hicks’s ashes from the rooftop.

Obviously previous scenes might turn a viewer away from this series, but this one, with its overtones of prayer and parallels with the normally sacred act of scattering someone’s ashes, had me devastated at Dahmer’s disregard for human life and, as the Netflix ‘Watch Next Episode’ timer ran down, I turned it off and haven’t returned.

Through film and TV, however, people return again and again to stories of humanity’s ‘monsters’, from 1995’s Dead Man Walking to 2021’s Nitram. The latter studied what led Martin Bryant to kill 35 people in Tasmania, but victims’ families were horrified the film was made. When Snowtown was released in 2011, some experts