If you haven’t already heard, Zac Efron is starring in a new and highly-anticipated Ted Bundy biopic called Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
For us true crime fanatics and OG High School Musical fans, this sounds unmissable, right? Well, that’s up for debate.
The movie is directed by Joe Berlinger, whose documentary series Conversations With A Killer: The Bundy Tapes recently fascinated and disturbed Netflix viewers. Having premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this month, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile received mixed reviews, and those on Twitter are finding it much more difficult to agree about how Thursday’s trailer makes them feel.
With the film arriving in theatres later this year, here’s everything you need to know.
Ted Bundy who?
Ted Bundy is one of the country’s most infamous criminals—a serial killer who murdered, raped and assaulted numerous young women and girls as young as 12 in the 1970s. He was a necrophile, a kidnapper and confessed to 30 homicides after more than a decade of denials. His crimes took place on a huge scale and went unsolved for a long time, supposedly because Bundy was charismatic, educated and a genuinely liked member of society. He was executed for his crimes in 1989 after receiving three death sentences.
What’s the movie about?
In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy as told from the perspective of his long-term girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer. Played in the movie by British actress Lily Collins, Kloepfer used the pseudonym Liz Kendall to publish her memoirs, and this is the name used in the film. The movie follows Kloepfer’s seven-year relationship with the killer, instead of detailing the horrific acts of violence he committed.
Other casting choices include The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, who portrays prosecutor Larry Simpson, and John Malkovich, who appears as judge Edward Cowart. Cowart famously called Bundy a “bright young man” and was known for being sympathetic towards the killer in court.
Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment and James Hetfield also appear in the movie.
What’s being said?
Dramatizing real life events invites discussion about ethics, and in this case, some of Bundy’s victims and relatives are still living, making the conversation more significant.
While critics have commended Efron’s performance, many have been left unsettled by the movie’s general “glorification” and humanization of the serial killer and rapist.
A key issue here is the casting of Efron in the first place, with the argument being that it seems disturbing to associate a murderer of young women with a teenage heartthrob whose fans are mostly made up of young women themselves. On the other hand, in all references to Bundy at the time of his crimes, he is described as “charming”, “normal”, “attractive” or similar, and these traits undoubtedly played a part in making him an infamous monster.
In their review, The Playlist noted how the movie “can’t resist making Bundy look like a little bit of a rock star at times even though the movie purports to condemn him.”
This opinion has circulated in more ways than one, with many finding it hard to miss the upbeat “rock music” that appears in the trailer for the movie.
Fifth Harmony singer Lauren Jauregui shared the clip on Twitter, adding: “The romanticization of a serial killer is exactly why these sick f**** continue to do things like this to women. Notoriety. This is appalling.”
Many who caught the premiere of the movie at the Sundance Film Festival—for example, this writer from Cosmo—have promised that the trailer was not representative of the entire screening. “Never is there any doubt Bundy did what he was accused of.”
Amid the debate, is the voice of Kathy Kleiner Rubin, who survived an attack from Bundy in her sorority house at Florida State University in 1978.
Speaking with TMZ, she said: “I don’t have a problem with people looking at it, and as long as they understand that what they’re watching wasn’t a normal person.
“I believe that in order to show him exactly the way he was, it’s not really glorifying him, but it’s showing him, and when they do say positive and wonderful things about him… that’s what they saw, that’s what Bundy wanted you to see.
“I think everyone should see it,” she concluded.
Serial killer’s are not hot
Perhaps proving that there is cause to worry is the vast number of people “swooning” over Bundy on social media.
Following Berlinger’s, Conversations With A Killer: The Bundy Tapes, viewers have been describing the murderer as “hot”, “attractive” and “a waste of a baby daddy”.
Netflix has had to step in to address the issue, tweeting: “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.”
The comment comes after former Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley spoke out on a similar issue surrounding his new fictional Netflix show You, in which a serial killer uses social media to stalk and manipulate a young woman.
Badgley has replied to various tweets that express admiration and attraction for the character.