A true crime writer reviews Zac Efron as Ted Bundy on Netflix


PHOTO: Netflix

Best selling true crime author Amanda Howard, co-host of the MONSTERS WHO MURDER podcast, is known as ‘The Serial Killer Whisperer’ because of her relationship with serial killers. Now she brings her unique perspective to review ZAC EFRON’S new Netflix film on TED BUNDY.

The highly-anticipated premiere of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile on Netflix finally arrived last night. As a true crime author, I have been waiting for this film for many years, like the still unfilmed Leonardo DiCaprio Devil in White City project about HH Holmes that rears its head a few times a year with still no progress. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile appeared to sit in limbo for a while before it was announced it would be released on the streaming service (and some screens across the globe). 

Listen to Amanda talk about Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in the player below:

 So what was the expectation and the reality?  

The complexities of one of the most heinous to people to walk the earth is reduced to almost a side note to his six year relationship with Elizabeth Kloepfer. Kloepfer wrote the subject material, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy under the pseudonym Liz Kendall, the name that is used in the film. Though the relationship between Bundy and Kendall is front and centre, the second part of the film does delve further into Bundy’s crimes via his murder trial in Florida but again the glamourizing of the killer remains the higher priority rather than his heinous crimes. 

The real Ted Bundy in court

Admittedly Efron does well with the material provided, but the depth of Bundy’s depravity and the gritty realness of the killer and his crimes were pretty much left unexplored. Efron just smiles and appears charming but it’s not a superficial act, is the entirety of the Bundy role in the film. There is no sense of dread, there is no ability for the audience to be in on his secrets, we catch no glimpse of the horrifying reality of his true nature.  His ability to manipulate, deceive and ultimately kill is never explored in the character study, which was disappointing in a film called Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.  

The use of flashbacks of original news articles to briefly describe the crimes was the only way one would know the story was about one of America’s worst killers. The film does a disservice to the victims, leaving them almost as footnotes in a study of how charming a killer is. I see the film as a love letter to Bundy, it leaves out the abuse that his girlfriend Liz actually endured, it does nothing to show who Bundy really was behind the shallow façade of decorum. 

The best insight we can get from Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is how these killers, such as Bundy, BTK Denis Rader and others, can fool those they love. Though Liz in the film does report Ted as the possible suspect, she still stayed with him for years after she made that phone call to police following the disappearances of the two women at Lake Sammamish. 

The closing credits show footage of the real Bundy at trial, almost in a way to show how well Efron performed with those snippets that are well known to those who are fans of the true crime genre. The juxtaposition of fictional betrayals against reality is something done frequently these days, I recall watching archival footage of serial killer Ed Kemper being interviewed being compared with scenes of Cameron Britton’s nuanced portrayal of the killer in Netflix’s Mindhunter, many will have also seen images of Queen’s Freddie Mercury performance at Live Aid being compared to Rami Malek’s performance in Bohemian Rhapsody. The accuracy of the portrayals is something that features heavily in “based on fact” films these days. In comparison, films of the past like 1986’s The Deliberate Stranger featuring Mark Harmon in the role of Bundy preferred to stick to a story telling format that made a good movie or teleseries of the week but often played around with the facts, changing names and details to keep the narrative easy to follow.

In reviewing Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, I re-watched The Deliberate Stranger and found the films have many similarities in their analysis of Bundy’s character, but neither scratch much beyond the surface, though Harmon’s Bundy has a simmering sense of dread that Efron’s Bundy lacks. 

Overall, I enjoyed Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile for what is was, and that is a study of the relationship between a serial killer and his girlfriend, but as a true crime film about a heinous serial killer and his crimes, I was left wanting more.