Are New Biopics and Documentaries Romanticizing Ted Bundy?

30 years ago, Ted Bundy was executed via an electric chair at Florida State Prison. Today, he is again making headlines. With the Netflix release of Joe Berlinger’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and the release of the first trailer for Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Ted Bundy and his portrayal in these projects have become all anyone can talk about.

 

When Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes first came out, many people instantly slammed the series for focusing too heavily on Bundy’s alleged attractiveness. With the first part of four being entitled “Handsome Devil,” it is clear that this documentary does not gloss over the way Bundy was viewed by society at the time. Throughout the four-part miniseries, there are multiple clips from actual news coverage showing many women saying that they couldn’t believe Bundy was the killer, because he just didn’t look like he was capable of such violence. Many people believe focusing on Bundy’s looks is a way of romanticizing him, but the fact of the matter is that Bundy’s “all-American good looks” are what helped him to deceive his victims and the authorities for so long. No one expected the well-mannered law student to be capable of such horrific acts.

 

 

The controversy only grew when days later, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, starring none other than former teen heartthrob himself, Zac Efron. While Efron has long moved on from his days as East High’s most popular Wildcat, Troy Bolton, it was shocking for many to see him in such a role. People were highly disturbed to see such an attractive actor cast for the role of Ted Bundy. When the Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile trailer was released soon after, many viewers were outraged at the music choice for the video. Rather than something somber or scary, the song choice was upbeat with a bit of a rock vibe, casting the movie as more of a rom-com than a real-life horror story.

 

While I can see how people might worry about this trailer at face value, it is important to remember how the movie is framed. The film is said to tell the Ted Bundy story from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, who struggles with wanting to believe Bundy, despite all the evidence. Efron himself told Variety, “I feel a responsibility to make sure that this movie is not a celebration of Ted Bundy.”

 

 

No one wants to see a serial killer being romanticized or celebrated, but in this case, it is important to acknowledge that Bundy’s looks did play a huge role in his crimes. People during the time of Bundy’s crimes, and even still, had the idea that a murderer or anyone capable of extreme violence would look and act a certain way. He wouldn’t be charming or handsome. He would be someone you could spot from a mile away. To ignore the fact that his looks played a role in his crimes would leave out a major aspect of the story. Both Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile will act as a warning that not everyone is who they appear to be. Rather than romanticizing a killer, both projects work to show how easily people can be drawn in by seemingly good manners and good looks. 

 

Netflix has recently acquired Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, and you can watch the full film in the fall. Until then, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is now streaming, also on Netflix.

 

Article by Garnette Ransone

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