Overall Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes is good; some parts feel a bit disjointed, a lot of stories and information are thrown into under 90 minutes, but that’s not a reason not to watch it.
Netflix documentary Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes was released on the streaming service on August 18, 2021.
Netflix has answered our prayers and given us another documentary, with this focus being on the notorious killer, Dennis Nilsen. Nilsen was a Scottish serial killer and necrophiliac who murdered more than 15 young men and boys between 1978 and 1983 in London. His crimes were uncovered when his neighbours called in a specialist to deal with blocked drains. The blockage was caused by human remains. This documentary is roughly an hour and a half and is in the style of Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.
In this documentary we hear recordings from cassette tapes Nilsen made in prison, allowing him to narrate and tell his story. It’s clear he thought himself to be very important and wants to go down as some sort of king in British crime history. What makes this different or makes it stand out is that usually we have a victim and the hunt is to find the killer. Here, we have a killer who claimed he didn’t know the victims, so the police have to find the identity of the victims. Heartbreakingly, a lot of the victims weren’t even recorded missing; therefore no one was looking for them. That’s probably one thing that stood out for me and has stayed with me. He targeted “rent-boys” and gay men knowing that they would fall into the ether of London.
We hear stories and accounts from police, journalists, survivors, and bereaved families in the documentary, recalling what happened during the investigation. Everyone interviewed is interviewed in dark, dingy rooms, probably to resemble Nilsen’s dark and dank apartment. It isn’t distracting to the average viewer, but I found it a little over the top and unnecessary. However, the way in which this is directed, I would say this is not really about Nilsen’s memories, but memories about Nilsen. Whilst this is about Nilsen, we are also given a detailed insight into London in that era.
Delving into Nilsen’s past, the documentary discusses his childhood and we try to unravel, as we always do, what makes someone a serial killer. Nilsen was a police officer and he’d been in the army. Apparently, in the army, he would cover himself with powder and imagine himself as a dead body. Stories like this are so fascinating, but how true are they? In parts of the documentary, we have a police officer talking about Nilsen as a person and then we have Nilsen “typing” on the typewriter, a complete contradiction. This implies that Nilsen had a very distorted view of himself. It becomes clear that Nilsen wanted a trial, he wanted fame and drama. He was a calculated, cruel creep of a man who knew exactly what he was doing.
Content-wise, it is explicit, so there are grueling images and very descriptive language. If you recognized the director, Michael Harte, you might expect this. He’s previously known for Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer, another great documentary.
Overall this documentary is good; some parts feel a bit disjointed, a lot of stories and information are thrown into under 90 minutes, but that’s not a reason not to watch it. If you’ve seen the recent ITV three-part true-crime drama, Des, starring David Tennent, then none of this will surprise or be new for you, however, it could still be an interesting watch. If not, I highly recommend both. If you’re needing more on Nilsen and want to delve deeper, I would also recommend the book Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder written by Brian Masters.
What did you think of the Netflix documentary Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes? Comment below.