The trailer for the Zac Efron-led Ted Bundy film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil & Vile, landed last week to mixed reviews.
This was to be expected. Bundy is America‘s most famous serial killer, a complete monster who raped and murdered over 30 women in the mid-70s. Zac Efron was long typecast as the cute high school jock, thanks to his breakout role in High School Musical.
But I was surprised to see that a lot of the backlash had nothing to do with Efron’s acting ability (he’s actually getting praised by critics for his nuanced and controlled portrayal of Bundy). Instead, the comments sections of both our website and scores of others globally seem to take issue with the trailer’s tone – it’s not a grim trailer at all. It’s snappy, sexy, and filled with Efron winking and flashing a stellar smile as he gallivants through life, charming everyone around him, including a court room full of people. The music is what you’d expect to hear in a trailer for an action film led by a charismatic but rule-breaking bad boy. That, or a James Bond flick.
This seemingly light-hearted tone for a film trailer about a particularly sadistic serial killer isn’t going down well with some people, who feel it disrespects Bundy’s victims and paints a monstrously evil man as a… babe. A super hot, attractive babe with all the charisma and charm in the world. Some critics at Sundance have denounced the film for this exact reason.
EXTREMELY WICKED: A movie that never commits to a POV, and seems to fall for Ted as much as the cameras did during the trial. Watch the doc instead.
— Brian Tallerico (@Brian_Tallerico) January 27, 2019
Then there’s the new Netflix doco series about Bundy, which dropped last week. The response about Bundy’s handsomeness has been so widespread that Netflix has even tweeted today urging viewers to covet other attractive stars on the streaming service.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers
— Netflix (@netflix) January 28, 2019
The problem with this take, that finding Bundy attractive, or the film portraying him as this charming guy somehow glorifies the man and his evil deeds, is that it ignores the facts. Bundy WAS the kind of guy you’d want to hook up with at a bar. He was also the kind of guy you’d want to seriously date. That is, at least, before his heinous crimes were revealed to be connected to him, he was. To acknowledge this is firstly just accepting the truth about the notorious killer. But it also highlights WHY he was so terrifying.
Ted Bundy was arguably the most charming serial killer the world had ever seen – he’s undeniably physically attractive, he had charisma in spades. He used his looks and charm as a weapon – a way to earn the trust of many intelligent and switched-on people – from his victims through to lawyers, “friends” and police.
One of the most famous instances of this is his long-running friendship with Ann Rule, a colleague he met while volunteering at a suicide crisis hotline centre in Seattle.
Rule went on to write about their friendship and her eventual realisation that it was Bundy who was responsible for the spate of grisly murders across the country in her now iconic book, The Stranger Beside Me. Rule was completely taken in by Bundy’s charm and trustworthy persona. In fact, while working for the Seattle Police Department, Rule frequently was presented with information pertaining to murders occurring through the Washington area that hinted at Bundy being responsible – yet consistently explained away connections to Bundy as unfounded, predominantly because she couldn’t imagine him as a murderer.
Rule also mentions her shock at receiving mail from women who were distraught when Bundy died. All of the women believed they were “his only one“, which Rule attributed to Bundy being “…The master conman. They are grieving for a shadow man that never existed.”
Then there’s his girlfriend Liz Kloepfer. Their relationship is a focus on the Efron-led film. Liz repeatedly noticed suspicious behaviour from Bundy, and yet excused a lot of it away because she found him “warm and loving”. The man literally convinced the woman who lived with him that he wasn’t a violent killer, even after she reported him to police as a potential suspect.
It’s clear Bundy had a terrifying talent for convincing people he was a stand-up guy – as well as using his looks and charm to manipulate women into believing whatever he would tell them. Even in the face of evidence and suspicion, Bundy managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the people closest to him – and his cookie-cutter handsomeness and dazzling charm were the reason he was able to.
So, writing Bundy off as a sadistic monster killer with no attractive qualities whatsoever is ignorant at best. He was absolutely a monster, yes. He was an evil man who reportedly showed no remorse for his crimes – a true psychopath. But that’s the point – psychopaths are experts at feigning innocence, charming their way into people’s trust so they can do unspeakable things like rape and murder. If Bundy wasn’t the babe that he was, he likely would not have been as successful in killing so many. And if we don’t acknowledge that, we’re essentially implying that evil people are never attractive – when they often are.
If we pretend that monsters can’t be charming and beautiful, we perpetuate the idea that charm and beauty can be trusted. It’s the exact idea that Bundy utilised to lure his victims in. See, Bundy would routinely feign injury via a sling or a cast, then position himself somewhere that his victim would be. He’d ask for help with something – say, lifting an item into his car, and then attack when his victim was most vulnerable. If he wasn’t handsome and charming, would these women have let their guard down? Would they have placed any trust in the man? I don’t think so. You know another example of this? Charles Manson. Although less physically attractive than Bundy, at least stereotypically, Manson had all the charm and charisma of Bundy – charm and charisma he used to slowly brainwash his followers, leading them to a point where he had such control over them, he could convince them to brutally murder people on his behalf.
We should be cautious and wary when anyone asks us to do something that could put us in a vulnerable situation – not just when that person looks “creepy” or seems untrustworthy. We know this. So why are we up in arms over the portrayal of Bundy as exactly what he was – a charming man with a dark soul? If anything, this is what we need in 2019 – a realistic portrayal of a serial killer so we never forget that even the most innocent-seeming human beings can harbour terrible intentions. To not let our guard down. To trust our gut instinct. To always err on the side of caution when it comes to strangers, especially those who could overpower us physically if they wanted to.
Bundy was a babe. And that’s exactly why he is the most terrifying serial killer America ever saw.