Reviewed by Alicia Glass
The story of the Milwaukee Monster, notorious serial killer and cannibal, the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer, and the repeated police incompetence that allowed him to continue killing, largely told from the point-of-view of his victims.
The whole entire show can be summed up in a single word – bleak. The colors are washed out of every last scene (with one exception, which Moxie will get to shortly), the scenery itself is practically rotting and wilting, the segments of Jeff’s formative years are full of little but utterly debilitating loneliness, the outlook of the police and general society for the early 90’s gay menfolk of Milwaukee is fearful and usually ignored, and of course just about anyone that isn’t lily-white is automatically assumed to be a troublemaker. Which is a glorious irony, given what the very-white man of the story is known for. Dahmer himself (Evan Peters) looks practically jaundiced every time we see him, like the evil on the inside is leaking to the outside and coloring his very skin every time he killed, a brilliant choice on the part of director Ryan Murphy. Indeed everything, from the neighbors’ impatience with the weird odors and noises emanating from Jeff’s apartment, to the sufferance of his too-trusting grandmother Catherine (Michael Learned) and her killing-grounds of a house, the insistence of Jeff’s father on not giving up his son despite Jeff continually screwing up, and the cynicism of the cops every time they actually bother showing up; it’s all rotting and sending up one hell of a stink, a lot like the trophies Jeff kept – aside from the ones he ate.
The single bright spot in the entire series, Episode 6 ‘Silenced’, is actually made so much worse because we know quite well what will happen, what has already happened, to the lovely soul that was Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford). Despite three large strikes that would have stopped lesser men – being a black man in America is never easy; being a gay man in the early 90’s makes you a target; and being a deaf man makes all of this infinitely harder – Tony insists on moving to the larger city of Madison to try and break into the modeling biz, where his lustrous spirit catches the notice of an actual monster haunting the gay bars.
The soundtrack of Dahmer – Monster, comprised mostly of poppy love ballads and happy dance tracks inspired from the 90’s gay club scenes, provides a strange tilt to the desolate atmosphere, especially when Jeff throws on seductive music for his bizarre love scenes … with corpses.
A good deal of the show is dramatized for, well yes, dramatic effect, emphasizing odd details and expounding on things that never actually happened, but by and large the show is pretty damn accurate. It is noted that Dahmer went into military service and got dishonorably discharged for it, but never why (excessive alcoholism and violence towards fellow soldiers, among other things), how Jeff as a youngling was considered at best odd and at worst a freak-o for wanting to do roadkill-hunting and taxidermy with his dad (dad was a bit of an odd duck too), and how he drank a lot but not how bad it actually was (medical standards would have pegged Dahmer as an debilitating alcoholic in his early teens). These details could have come from close inspections of Dahmer himself, but the one thing director Ryan Murphy insisted on was that the show would never be made from the POV of Jeff Dahmer himself. So, onward we go.
Jeff’s father Lionel, brilliantly played by Richard Jenkins, runs the whole gamut of emotions a parent feels for their wayward child – disgust at his terrible killing actions, resignation at Jeff’s inability to hold down a job or any kind of normal life, hesitancy and avoidance of the subject of his sons burgeoning homosexuality, shame at his own paternal inadequacies (and there are several), culpability in the monster his son became, and somehow still love, all hopelessly tangled together. Lionel’s second wife Shari (Molly Ringwald) does her best to remain a calm center of their disintegrating world after Jeff is arrested, whereas first wife Joyce (Penelope Miller), portrayed here as a mentally-unstable pill-popping ex with abandonment issues (at least as far as Jeff goes, she up and took Lionel’s second child David, Jeff’s brother, when she originally absconded), keeps popping up and furiously denying any culpability in “what Jeff did”.
Lionel in his agony searches high and low for answers, for reasons, insight into the horrific actions of his eldest son, offering up his mother’s popping pills during her pregnancy and Lionel’s own supposed “dark urges” like a penitent sop to his imprisoned son, blissfully unaware of Jeff’s apparent disinterest in such things. Lionel tries writing a book about his experiences, tries going on talk shows to tell the story in his own words with his own pain, but very little of it seems to help. Lionel dutifully visits his son Jeff in prison, even encouraging Jeff to get baptized, and his sorrow at Jeff’s own killing seems genuine, though it is very likely there was an under-the-breath sigh of relief in there somewhere too.
Rather than focusing solely on Dahmer’s victims, and there are many not even counting the men and boys he actually murdered, but also their surviving families and his neighbors and the entire gay community were traumatized by the actions of a single, very white, man, the show pins down Dahmer’s next door neighbor Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash) as the main bothersome factor, at least according to the police. Cleveland calls the cops repeatedly, complaining about the smell coming into her apartment through the pipes connected to Dahmer’s place, the late-night screams and other inexplicable noises, and of course the night one of the youngest of Jeff’s victims, Konerak Sinthasomphone (Kieran Tamondong), was actually released from police custody back to Dahmer, who claimed that the dazed drugged 14-year-old boy was his too-drunk boyfriend. The cops’ reluctance to get involved with anything even partially homosexual-related is evident in every single interaction with them, and how they treat everyone who isn’t paper-white-skinned demonstrates clear bias against the entire BIPOC community that sadly continues in the USA, even today. Glenda Cleveland herself, after talking with Reverend Jesse Jackson (Nigel Gibbs) and being awarded a community service medal while fighting her own demons in the aftermath of Dahmer’s murder spree, gave the impression that while apologies after the fact are fine, it’s no kind of excuse on the parts of the cops, or the bosses that enabled them, or the bureaucratic red tape that has never once cared about the victims, and still doesn’t, to this day.
The insistence by Murphy to entangle Jeff’s killer lore together with the execution of fellow gay killer John Wayne Gacy, and Dahmer’s apparent fascination with the Psycho-inspiring Ed Gein, seems strange, but it is the kind of twist American Horror Story, another of Murphy’s projects, loves to toss at its audiences. The controversy that ensued after the premiere of Dahmer – Monster on Netflix, how none of the real-life victims and their families still living today were consulted for the making of the show despite being portrayed as exactly as Ryan could manage from court tapings and the like, only caused a rise in viewership.
Most everyone now knows who, and what, Jeffrey Dahmer was. The true-crime enthusiasts, the gore-hounds, the seriously deluded, and the downright sick like him, already bothered to read up on what happened to Jeff after the horrific events that transpired that landed him in prison and to a rather ignominious death while still inside prison. Beaten to death by a fellow inmate who was “divinely inspired to be the vengeful hand of God” just a little while after Dahmer’s prison baptism, has a delicious, almost righteous, irony to it. And to those folk decrying the casting of a “pretty-boy” as the notorious Dahmer have obviously not seen Peters’ other acting roles – Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh to name just a few – where he beautifully demonstrates that “pretty boy” face and charm often hides the most monstrous in plain sight. Jut like Jeffrey Dahmer did.
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.