“Dahmer”: Casting Stars as Serial Killers

Cale Strickland

“Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is one of Netflix’s most-streamed series of all-time just one month after its release.

The show has come under fire for its decision to cast Evan Peters as the titular serial killer. 

In an article for “Collider,” Bryanna Ehli, contributing writer,  highlighted the potential dangers of viewers’ infatuation with Peters.

“In any case, it’s important for viewers of ‘Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” to separate the actor and his strikingly attractive physical attributes from the killer that he is portraying,” Ehli said. “If not, then some may find themselves dangerously drawn to Dahmer as a figurehead, with Peters’ portrayal of a lonely outsider with shy curiosity and sexual naivety in mind.”

Peters became a household name through his numerous appearances on FX’s hit TV show “American Horror Story” and is considered a sex icon by many members of Generation Z.

“In ‘American Horror Story,’ Peters embodies his characters’ distress, chivalry, mischievousness, and pain, and manages to make his bad guy characters likable, sometimes even lovable,” Ehli said. “It’s an interesting and dangerous reputation to take with him into his most recent role. Peters’ distinctive wide smile, intense, searching gaze and magnetic personality are very opposite from Dahmer, who Peters noted in a Netflix interview does not have a charismatic smile, and seems aloof and dissociated from what’s going on around him.”


The actor’s casting is not the first time Netflix has chosen an attractive actor for the role of a serial killer. In 2019, the streaming service released “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a Netflix original film starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy.

Many worry Peters and Efron’s charm and good looks skew audiences’ perceptions of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and other serial killers, as Gen-Z viewers were not alive to witness their horrific sprees.

Samuel Hutto, sophomore economics major, believes the series’s massive reach could influence Generation Z’s perception of Dahmer.

“People, when they’re watching this fictionalized show of Dahmer, they’re going to think that’s what happened,” Hutto said. “Typically, a normal person isn’t going to go fact-check what happened, so they’re just going to take that as what was true, and false things are going to start getting moved around. It happens with all the big serial killer movies. I do wish they’d be more accurate because they’re not documentaries.”

Ryan Lillard, sophomore psychology major, agrees. However, he believes the danger lies in the show’s surrounding social media content, not the series itself.

“In our world today, with TikTok and all of the social media, I think that there’s a lot of content being created about the show. I think that it could skew Generation Z’s perception of Dahmer,” Lillard said. 

Matheson Sanchez, criminal justice professor, is unsure if casting attractive, big-name actors as serial killers is problematic. He believes putting familiar faces in the roles of Dahmer and Bundy forces viewers to confront that serial killers are human.


“By casting well-known faces that we’ve seen play much different roles in the past, we are reminded that the Dahmers, Bundys, Gacys, et cetera are first and foremost human beings — though perhaps especially disturbing examples of what it means to be human,” Sanchez said. “Indeed, people are capable of heinous acts that shock us, but they never cease to have distinctly human reasons for doing them. It is this humanity — this notion that they could be any of us — that we find most fascinating about them.”

Further, Sanchez believes casting appealing actors as historical serial killers highlight how the killers often seduced their victims. 

“Additionally, and perhaps more pointedly, the casting of ‘sex icons’ in the examples of Dahmer and Bundy helps demonstrate the way that these men used their sexuality as a means of luring their victims in,” Sanchez said. “We shouldn’t ignore the utility that such forces played in the perpetration of their crimes.”

For Hutto, the critical distinction between permissible and problematic lies in the actors’ execution.

“I think it’s a role, just like any other thing,” Hutto said. “If they do the job well enough, you won’t see them for the face they are in public. You’ll see them for the role they’re playing.”