Serial killers are pretty popular right now, especially on Netflix. While it originally premiered back in April, a true crime documentary series about serial killer John Wayne Gacy, the so-called “killer clown” has been climbing the Netflix charts. It might have something to do with the controversial new series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.
Gacy makes a brief appearance in the series, which itself is top of the Netflix charts at the moment. While the two never actually met in real life, that cameo seems to be enough to push Conversations With A Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes back into the limelight. The fact the series has high scores from critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) might have helped as well.
John Wayne Gacy was a serial killer that operated between 1972 and 1978, and was responsible for the sexual assault and murder of 33 men and boys during that time. Gacy also had a history of arrests, including at least one conviction, involving sexual assault of other teenage boys in the years preceding his killing spree.
Gacy was particularly active in his local community, running a construction business, and playing a part in local politics. He also eventually joined a local clown club, which performed at fundraising events, functions and local hospitals, devising two of his own characters as a result. These personas are what led to Gacy gaining the name “killer clown” after his subsequent arrest for murder.
The three-part Netflix docuseries documents the events surrounding Gacy’s arrest, following the disappearance of 15-year-old Robert Piest, and Gacy’s eventual conviction. The series is also notable for featuring previously-unheard tapes from the killer himself, containing his own thoughts on the crimes he managed to commit over the years.
Right now the series has an 83% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab), based on six reviews, and 91% from audiences. Though as Nina Metz, from the Chicago Tribune (opens in new tab) notes, there’s no shortage of content out there about Gacy, this is just one more. Metrz gave the series two stars out of four.
However, CNN’s Brian Lowry (opens in new tab) said the opposite, and that this particular project does stand out on its own. Lowry noted that there’s “historical context of how Gacy exploited the vulnerability of young men and teens, especially those who had left home or been cast out by their families.” perhaps explaining how he was able to operate so freely without arousing suspicion.
Alex Maidy of JoBlo’s Movie Network (opens in new tab) notes that true crime fans may not find much value here, especially if they’ve seen other documentaries. But Maidy concludes that this is “still a well-put-together chronicle of the infamous events with first-hand accounts you cannot find anywhere else.”
Meanwhile, Polly Conway of Common Sense Media (opens in new tab) mentions that this is the kind of series that will appeal to the true crime buffs most of all — and "others may find the whole thing too disturbing to be entertaining."
In short, The John Wayne Gacy Tapes does have something new to offer, though anyone well read on the man may not be quite as enthralled by it all. Likewise, this is not a story for the squeamish members of the audience. No story about a serial killer is, really, especially not one as violent and sadistic as Gacy was revealed to be.
And, if anything, it might be just the thing to justify any irrational fear of clowns you might have.
Read next: Jeffrey Dahmer is the subject of another Netflix hit thanks to a new true crime series, plus Dahmer is now the second-highest viewed English-language show on Netflix, and there's still room to grow