What is it about the human condition that makes us so fascinated by the appalling and repugnant?
Our popular culture today is awash with an intense interest in past serial killers, documentaries about them, podcasts about them, even movies about them – and ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ is next up on the list.
My initial question would be, is a biopic like this necessary at all? Do we gain any extra knowledge about Bundy, or is there perhaps something else to add to the most well-known and talked about macabre series of murders in American history? After all, we have only just been handed Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes by Netflix, in which Bundy admits to the murder and necrophilia of at least 36 different women. That’s at least, not limited to.
A movie that brings abhorrent events such as these back to the forefront of the public consciousness needs justification, but ‘Extremely Wicked’ appears to make more of a case for morbid curiosity, and a chance to see Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron take a dip into his darker side…
The 90-second teaser trailer has been met with an abundance of criticism, ripping the movie apart for romanticising and glorifying the profound killer. Director Joe Berlinger has attempted to counteract these reactions by saying that his aim is to portray:
“The experience of how one becomes a victim to that kind of psychopathic seduction”.
Hmm. I myself am not so sure. Of course, Bundy had a reputation, particularly portrayed in the media, of being charming, handsome, inviting even; but I am not entirely convinced by the need for what appears to be a kind of Mr Grey complex overtly shining through the trailer like the cuffs around Bundy’s wrists. Seductively ripping off his unknowing girlfriend’s blouse and kissing her? Red flag.
Don’t get me wrong, it would be completely senseless to ignore the overriding image that he was able to manufacture for himself. Whilst on Death Row he received a number of love letters, fan mail, even marriage proposals (I know, I can’t quite get over that one either) from young women who thought he was just amazing and were, above all else, enchanted by him through a combination of both attraction and the thrill of terror.
Even Edward D. Cowart, the judge on trial who made the closing statement that the movie has derived its name from, wished Bundy to:
“Take care of himself” and said that he was a “bright young man” who would have “made a good lawyer”.
This remark alone paints a vivid picture of how Bundy was able to manipulate others to see him as being an attractive character with great intellectual potential and a captivating personality. In this case it seems to make sense, then, to cast a young poster-boy actor with an arsenal of boyish charm like Zac Efron, but in reality, this casting makes Bundy look like a glorified ladies’ man when what really lay underneath was a villainous monster. I wonder how Efron will tackle this with his pretty-boy rep.
The huge risk lies in making one of the most disreputable men ever to walk the Earth look like a clean-shaven, sexy seducer. Bundy was without a doubt able to fool Elizabeth, his poor unsuspecting girlfriend, into believing this façade and it seems as though the movie is going to focus heavily on this, but it is incredibly naïve to think that Bundy was just a charismatic guy able to get away with murder because he was so kind and nice and good looking. He certainly was not charming his way into the lives of the women he assaulted and gruesomely murdered as he feigned injury to lure them into traps, and broke into their homes at night while they slept to bludgeon them.
I think that the victims of the Bundy murders, young and innocent women with so much potential, deserve much more than this. They deserve to be known for who they were; their hopes, dreams, successes, even their failures. Anything other than the defining moment of their lives being their life-altering encounter with Ted Bundy.
I only hope that this movie does justice to them and their families and does not simply allow him his final moment back in the spotlight.
By Neave Meikle