No American serial killer has captured the public’s imagination the way Ted Bundy has. With his good looks, charm and intelligence, he was the antithesis of others who came before and after him — people like Charles Mansion, Albert DeSalvo and David Berkowitz. He was the ideal killer because he was able to fool everyone including his later girlfriend and wife, Carole Ann Boone, his mother and his rich, White friends in the Washington State Republican party. The only person he didn’t fool was his girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Kloepfer, who recognized him from a police artist’s sketch that was published in the Seattle papers. But even she had her doubts about the man she once hoped to marry, the man who was so kind to her daughter, and she maintained contact with Bundy even during his trial in Colorado for the murder of Caryn Campbell.
Directed by Joe Berlinger, EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE is based on Kloepfer’s memoir, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy that she penned under the pseudonym of Elizabeth Kendall. It’s one half of a two-part exploration (re-exploration?) of Bundy by Berlinger, who is better known for his documentaries such as PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS, about the West Memphis Three. A four-part companion documentary, CONVERSATION WITH A KILLER: THE TED BUNDY TAPES, is available now on Netflix in North America.
The first half of EXTREMELY WICKED provides audiences with a new perspective of Bundy (Zac Efron, THE DISASTER ARTIST, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, BAYWAYCH) as we see him through Kendall’s (Lily Collins, TO THE BONE) eyes. As events move the story away from Seattle though, Kendall all but fades into the background and Berlinger is forced to change the story’s spotlight to Bundy. At this point, EXTREMELY WICKED becomes not so different from all the other productions about the serial killer… and there are at least six others to choose from. To Berlinger’s credit, he does try to bring the focus back to Kendall (we learn about her alcohol abuse and her relationship with co-worker Jerry Thompson (Haley Joel Osment, THE SIXTH SENSE)) but it’s far less interesting or dramatic than Bundy’s story. It’s like going to a Rolling Stones concert and hanging out in the bowels of the stadium with the guy who sells the souvenir T-shirts.
That being said, EXTREMELY WICKED is far superior to THE DELIBERATE STRANGER, the cheesy, made-for-TV movie from 1986 that starred Mark Harmon (TV’s NCIS), but that’s not a high bar to jump over. Efron delivers a solid performance as he continues to shed his teen idol image in favour of meatier, adult roles. Many critics have argued that he and Berlinger made Bundy into too sympathetic a character but isn’t that the point? Bundy was a guy who had a legion of adoring female fans who were proclaiming his innocence even as the evidence against him was piling up.
EXTREMELY WICKED is opening in Hong Kong this week. It won’t be in cinemas long before it’s available on Netflix here too. My advice is to wait it out. Better yet, watch the docu-series as it’s more interesting.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, July 19th, 8:30 am HK time!
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