Color, 1993, 99m.
Directed by David R. Bowen
Starring Carl Crew, Cassidy Phillips, Donna Stewart Bowen, Jeanne Bascom, G. Joe Reed
Intervision (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Most people know the gist of this case already, but for the uninitiated, Dahmer was a registered sex offender in Wisconsin whose sporadic homicides led to a one-year spree beginning in 1990 when he lived alone in a now-demolished apartment building. The film depicts this descent into madness via numerous voiceovers from Dahmer, who begins as a lonely and confused young man desperate for companionship but soon transforms into a malicious, manipulative psychopath. The string of murders was marked by some outrageous twists of fate, including a 14-year-old victim who escaped only to find police protection not as easy as one might hope.
Though obviously grim and filled with grotesque flourishes, this film thankfully dodges some of the extreme depravity of Dahmer's crimes with many of the details left to the viewer's imagination. In tone it's not unlike the '70s favorite Deranged, which was based on another infamous Wisconsin murderer, Ed Gein; the matter-of-fact representation manages somewhat to overcome the obviously low budget, and Crew's dedicated performance is solid enough to compensate from his less experienced supporting cast. No one will ever call this one a neglected masterpiece given the obvious sensationalism behind its creation, but all things considered, it's amazing the film turned out this well.
The original VHS release of The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer (simply titled The Secret Life onscreen) was promoted heavily in the media as a cash-in on the still-fresh murders, and to make it even more shameless, the cover art shamelessly ripped off the same year's poster art for The Firm with Tom Cruise. The original label, Magnum, eventually passed it on to a reissue nine years later from Dead Alive, but the first DVD edition took another decade to arrive from Intervision. This still looks like a tape master, of course, with that familiar soft, saturated early '90s look found in pretty much every erotic thriller through the late '90s. You probably can't get better than this since it was evidently shot on scruffy-looking 16mm and completed on video, including video-generated titles. Along with the original trailer, the big extra here is a new audio commentary with Crew and director David R. Bowen, who spend a lot of time discussing their motives for the project, their encounters with family members of the victims, a very thorough overview of the real Dahmer chronology, and their thoughts on the actual crimes including some interaction with Dahmer's family and even an offer to speak with him in prison.