Interview: Dahmer in Scarborough's Terror Tower
23 March 2016
Jeffrey Dahmer was a monster by anyone's standards. He killed 17 boys and men between 1978 and 1991 – and even ate parts of their flesh. Amie Petriccia-Lear's play tells his story. So we took her and director Thomas Newall to the scariest place in Scarborough to find out more: horror experience Terror Tower.
Outside, Amie Petriccia-Lear confesses she's terrified to go in, and we start to feel a tad guilty. But we have a duty to delve into the darker side of NSDF life: here's the terrifying transcript.
Noises Off: So first up, if you're scared of horror experiences, why are you making a play about a serial killer?
Amie Pettriccia-Lear: As terrifying as it is, it's almost more interesting for someone like me who's so scared of it. I'm drawn to the story, and it's a kind of morbid curiosity...
[We hear a ghostly whisper, and troop up the stairs into a room that's decked out with coffins, appropriately enough]
NO: So how did you both first get interested in Dahmer?
Thomas Newall: I watched a film about him and it was kind of like a [piercing scream] really good story, although it was a documentary. It drew me in.
[We feel our way down a dark corridor, as strange and frightening sounds fill our ears. “At last, you're finally here”, hisses a booming voice as we enter a densely decorated crypt.]
NO: Since we seem to be in some kind of gothic chapel, it seems like a good time to ask what your relationship with the gothic is. Are you drawn to the dark side?
TN: We've both studied gothic literature, and gothic architecture, and it's something we're interested in. It's the idea of playing with old stories and infusing that with contemporary setting.
NO: Jeffrey Dahmer almost has the flamboyance and charisma you associate with gothic bogeymen like the vampire, but transported to a modern setting.
TN: Definitely. If you see him in court he'll say he's so sorry about it, but his physicality doesn't say sorry. He'd swing round dramatically on his chair, he was very confident.
A P-L: He was actually quite charming.
NO: Did he enjoy it?
Both: Definitely! He's having a great time!
[As if by magic, maniacal laughter echoes round the chapel. Is the ghost of Dahmer with us?]
TN: He killed people because he wanted them to become completely submissive zombies – it was all a massive power trip. Weirdly, he was obsessed with Darth Vader, with his evil power. He loved him and he'd frequently masturbate to him.
[We laugh, awkwardly, and shuffle down yet another corridor. “I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome to my house,” says a voice)
NO: It sounds really messed up. Was there a point where you thought “this is just too nasty”, and wanted to walk away from it all?
A P-L: There have been times where we've been very shocked, but it's just made us want to discover even more. There's a point which we're really interested in, and have done a lot of research around, which is whether or not he was actually sane?
NO: They've really gone to town with tasteless gore in Terror Tower – there are severed heads and coffins everywhere. How have you approached your play's aesthetic?
TN: It's actually very stripped back. We use the stage as a lecture theatre, almost to educate the audience about the story, and then we use multimedia screens to explore the action and the visual side. We've reached a point in our culture where we're very desensitivised to actually seeing violence. So something about this research angle is very powerful.
NO: We're certainly pretty thoroughly desensitivised to Terror Tower – we haven't had a single scream so far.
[We spoke too soon. Warning sirens fill the air as we move into a nuclear facility, full of mutant creatures and lurid colours. Amie is noticeably silent as projected spiders and puffs of air pop out at us through the dark, and mutters “OK. Uh oh. I really don't like this” as we fight our way through bloodied body bags. Screams were heard, but it would breach our journalistic integrity to confess whose.]
NO: Is this the exit? I think we've survived. Do you feel psychologically intact?
A P-L: Maybe. I won't know for sure for a while.
NO: That last scene made me wonder how Dahmer met his end. Did he get the electric chair?
TN: They sentenced him to 957 years in prison, but he actually got killed within a month by another inmate. He boasted about eating human flesh. He'd sit there in the canteen shaping and cutting his food as if it was human body parts, and another inmate got so angry he bashed his head in.
A P-L: Ironically enough it was with a dumbbell, which is what he used to kill his first victim. So he came full circle!
NO: Which bits of Terror Tower terrified you the most? And how do you scare people in Dahmer?
A P-L: The worst bit is when nothing is actually jumping out at you – it's the empty corridors, when you know something is about to happen. It's about that ominous feeling, about just dragging it out that little bit longer.
TN: You know it's coming, your heart's racing, you're just like "Do it!" The scariest thing about Dahmer is Gary's slow, silent stare, when nothing's happening. It bores into your soul. He's embodied the character so completely, that with a look he can terrify you.
Photo credit: Aenna Pallasca