Film

Zac Efron Is Really Hot, But Let’s Not Forget Ted Bundy Is A Necrophiliac, Rapist And Murderer

"Please remember the victims".

Ted Bundy -- Zac Efron

On the thirtieth anniversary of his execution, we’re being inundated with pop culture about the serial killer Ted Bundy — from docos to Zac Efron movies. But the question is, are we losing sight of the human cost?

CW: Murder, sexual assault, necrophilia

On January 24, 1989, Theodore Robert Bundy was executed at Florida State Prison. Most of America rejoiced at this news: the reign of one of America’s worst serial killers was now permanently over. In the thirty years that have passed since his death, Bundy has remained one of the most prominent figures among true crime obsessives. Even if you’re not a Murderino, you probably know the name Ted Bundy.

So, it’s not exactly surprising that in 2019 we’re being inundated with Bundy content. There’s the Netflix documentary series from Joe Berlinger — Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes — which dropped a few weeks ago and includes extracts of recorded interviews with Bundy from the journalists who spoke with him, along with archive news footage, court recordings and sit downs with the detectives, lawyers, and one of the few Bundy survivors, Carol DaRonch.

Then came the trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a feature length movie that premiered at Sundance over the weekend and is also directed by Berlinger.

It’s been getting a lot of buzz for having former Disney star Zac Efron play Bundy himself.

Starring as a homicidal manic is a rite of passage for performers on the rise trying to prove their worth and it’s usually met with critical acclaim. Charlize Theron won on Oscar for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ Monster, and so too did Sir Anthony Hopkins as the fictional Doctor Hannibal Lecter in Silence Of The Lambs.

Heck, Christian Bale has done it (American Psycho), Michael Rooker has done it (Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer), Jamie Dornan has done it (The Fall), James Franco has done it (True Story), Jake Gyllenhaal has done it (Nightcrawler) — it’s not unusual.

What is a little unusual, however, is the vibe from the first look we’ve had at Extremely Wicked.

Ted Bundy: Murder Bae

It opens in a Seattle bar in 1969, a guitar riff from a Philippe Briand and Gabriel Saban song playing over the action as a romance sparks between Liz Kendall (played by Lily Collins) and Ted Bundy (Efron, as mentioned).

What follows looks like standard romantic fare as they dance, kiss, croon and get intimate, while Liz whispers that “when I feel his love, I feel like I’m on top of the world”.

There’s a hard cut to Bundy being arrested in his famous golden VW Beetle — a stark juxtaposition to the lovey-dovey scenes — and the music pumps up a notch as we’re taken through the things we know. The film is meant to be told from the perspective of Liz, Bundy’s longtime girlfriend and whose child he helped co-parent. It was Liz’s initial concerns about things she had found in his possession and comments he had made that originally put Bundy on the radar of Seattle police after she tipped them off following the disappearance of six local women.

Yet we see only a few glimpses of the female lens this man is supposed to be viewed through in the trailer.

Instead, it’s a winking Bundy, a shirtless Bundy, a bow-tie Bundy, and snippets of adoring interviews with ‘fans’ as upbeat music plays louder and louder.

There’s Bundy in court, defending himself like the underdog he wanted people to believe he was even though in reality he was a shitty law student who never became a proper attorney.

“Let me get back to plotting my escape here,” he jokes at one point, with sharp cuts to Bundy jumping from a window and then running for freedom in a peak seventies knit sweater. It plays more like a scene from Catch Me If You Can than a movie about a man who killed more than 30 women. Some estimates have his real tally in the triple digits.

 Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile And Upsettingly Hot

Firstly, it’s important to note that a movie is not its trailer.

For all intents and purposes, it’s likely Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile could be an incredibly nuanced, complex portrayal of a psychopath. That’s definitely what the early word out of Sundance is saying, and Berlinger needs to be given the benefit of the doubt given his groundbreaking work as a true crime storyteller over the last 30 years (he was the man behind Paradise Lost, the doco series which initially got the ball rolling on the miscarriage of justice surrounding the West Memphis Three).

The issue is that the studio, distributor, whoever, thought the only way to sell this movie and to get butts in seats was to portray Bundy like a rock star. Over the past several days, the internet has been flooded with articles about Bundy’s hotness, Efron’s hotness as Bundy, not to mention countless tweets about how — based on what we’ve seen in the trailer — he can murder any variety of things (including vaginas).

Among the noise there have been a lot of vocal defenders online saying that any criticism about the trailer is unfounded, because Bundy was charming and cool and handsome in real life.

There are countless sources documenting this fact, those traits being a huge part of why he was able to lure so many women to their deaths and slip by unnoticed for as long as he was. He was the unassuming everyman, which Ann Rule talks about extensively in her true crime classic The Stranger Beside Me.

You know what else Ted Bundy was in real life? A necrophiliac. He was also a rapist, a pervert, and a serial murderer who thrived on the sadistic pleasure he got from torturing women. His youngest confirmed victim was just 12 years old, Kimberly Leach — who was abducted from her school.

He went to the electric chair without disclosing the burial sites or names of several women, meaning the pain of entire families has been dragged out needlessly as they wonder where their daughters could be buried and if there’s any chance the remains of their physical bodies will be found.

Please Remember The Victims

True crime has fascinated human beings for as long as we’ve existed, going as early back as Caesar getting shanked by his mates, to as recently as the ongoing case of Lynette Dawson as spoken about on the Teacher’s Pet podcast.

True crime is especially cathartic for women, who seek it out knowing full well that statistically they’re more likely to be murdered than their male counterparts. It’s important to discuss these things and dissect them, with an interest in the killers and those who were killed not in and of itself ‘sick’ or ‘twisted’ or ‘gross’ like naysayers would, well, say.

Yet it’s vitally important to remember the human cost of figures like Bundy, especially when he’s being packaged up and sold for mass-market entertainment.

In the words of Billy Jensen, “please remember the victims”. The investigative journalist worked closely with the late/great Michelle McNamara on her book about the Golden State Killer — I’ll Be Gone In The Dark — and tweeted a thread about all of Bundy’s known victims over the weekend.

And that’s the key point: you can watch movies about him and docos galore, but just remember his victims would only have been in their forties and fifties right now. They had siblings and parents and partners who have had to grow up without them, watching as Bundy became a cult figure and romantic ‘murder bae’ in the minds of some.

“These women all had hopes and dreams,” Jensen wrote. “They should all have movies made about them. I always try to remember what these monsters took away.”

Maria Lewis is a journalist, screenwriter and author of It Came From The Deep and the Who’s Afraid? novel series, available worldwide.