Netflix has recently acquired the rights to “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a film about the life and crimes of Ted Bundy. The film was acquired by the streaming service for $9 million, following the close-out of the Sundance Film Festival Feb. 3. The role of Bundy in the film is played by Zac Efron, leading many to be skeptical of how his story will be told.
The move by Netflix is no surprise following the wildly successful premiere of its latest docu-series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” which coincidentally is helmed by the same director as “Extremely Wicked…” Joe Berlinger.
Despite the social media frenzy that ensued following the premiere of the docu-series, many fear that recent public interest in the life of Bundy will lead to an overt romanticization of the gruesome crimes he committed. While this is a valid concern, the docu-series and the feature film serve different purposes.
“The Ted Bundy Tapes” lays out all of the facts on Bundy’s life in a very plain, matter-of-fact way. At no point does the series skip over the fact that Bundy’s father was absent in his youth and took an interest in graphic pornography at a very young age.
I’m not anti-pornography, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that there is a large amount of porn that is inherently violent. Images of women bound and gagged have inspired other infamous criminals like the “Bind Torture Kill” murderer, Dennis Rader.
Most of the men who commit crimes similar to Bundy and Rader do so for public recognition. Bundy was a chronic narcissist who enjoyed every minute of the spotlight surrounding his trials, which the “Tapes” series illustrates beautifully.
There is a special layer of irony that Bundy’s story is once again being revived across multiple mediums and reaching an entirely different generation who otherwise might not have known about him. One could make the argument that both the docu-series and the accompanying film are providing an awful man with an awful amount of unnecessary attention.
On top of exploring Bundy’s childhood, the “Tapes” series also reveals how Bundy’s fragile masculinity didn’t provide him with the emotional intelligence to deal with failure and rejection. After being turned away from nearly every law school he applied to, his college girlfriend left him at a time when she could tell that he was slowly descending into madness, leading him to kill nearly 30 college-aged women across the country with whom she shared a striking resemblance.
One thing the series does not explore however, is how Bundy’s whiteness enabled him to commit such crimes and go unnoticed. Bundy is always remembered fondly for his supposed “good looks” and charming personality, I would argue that a black or brown criminal would not be afforded the same compliments.
Although a lack of digital technology also contributed to Bundy’s success in evading authorities, it was also his whiteness that allowed him to slip in and out of public places unnoticed. It allowed for his story to be romanticized in the eyes of the American public and it allowed for him to be perceived as “attractive” by western media outlets.
Despite the ongoing narrative, upon revisiting pictures of Bundy in his youth, it seems clear to me that he wasn’t handsome at all. From an objective standpoint, he had a large unibrow, paper-thin lips and mousy features. He’s doing the absolute bare minimum in terms of appearance (Trust me, I’ve dated my fair share of white boys in the past).
Many in the “Tapes” series discuss the fact that Bundy was different because he was “one of us”, but exactly which “us” were they talking about? For white Americans, his law school background and seemingly good looks were instantly recognizable, and easily relatable.
That being said, “Conversations with a Killer” is worth a watch, it features interviews with detectives, journalists and lawmakers at the time who all provide a unique perspective on Bundy’s story. Although the series is thorough, it fails to address how Bundy’s race allowed for the mass hysteria and subsequent romanticization of his horrifying crimes.