I don’t know a single person who hasn’t memorized at least three High School Musical songs from our Disney Days. I even had a cousin who kissed her Troy Bolton cardboard cutout every night before bed (rivaling my Edward Cullen one at home). Considering how pre-teen girls everywhere fell madly in love with Zac Efron as a high school basketball player, I began wondering if audience members will react the same way to Efron’s upcoming role as Ted Bundy in Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
It wasn’t just Efron’s good looks that made me ask this question. Media outlets have been reporting on Bundy’s serial killer groupies for months now, especially with the release of Netflix’s Conversations With a Murderer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (which is directed by Berlinger himself) this past January. On Twitter, a number of users proclaimed their inappropriate feelings towards the infamous serial killer. Many of them commented on his good looks, and even admitted to wanting to be choked by Bundy. And as you can imagine, Efron’s Bundy in the trailer for EWSEAV (the movie calls for abbreviation due to its impossibly long title) certainly did not help the Ted Bundy craze. The release of the trailer added more fuel to the fire, sparking a lot of debate on social media. One user even tweeted, “PLEASE PEOPLE STOP LUSTING AFTER ZAC EFRON'S TED BUNDY.”
The other type of serial killer fascination that needs to be addressed is that of the entertainment industry. Both EWSEAV and The Ted Bundy Tapes are directed by Berlinger and are released only months apart. This could be an acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of Bundy’s first encounter with Liz Kloepfer, the woman Bundy dated for six years and who catalyzed a pivotal moment in Bundy’s arrest – she was the first to report him to the police.
Whatever the reason for the sudden wave of Bundy fever, many critics believe the Ted Bundy craze is wildly inappropriate, as it sexualizes, rather than demonizes, the murderer. Where they went wrong, I think, is confusing the previously explained groupies with the majority of us who watch these things in a way that more closely resembles how a passerby would observe a train wreck: you just can’t look away. There’s a surprisingly large amount of us who don’t necessarily like seeing the gore and despair; it’s witnessing the loss of life, something we all value most, that keeps our eyes glued to the screen. Adding to that, while I haven’t seen EWSEAV yet (since it hasn’t publicly premiered at the time of this writing), I did watch The Ted Bundy Tapes. The series is far from a glorification of Bundy. If anything, I’d argue it paints the killer as the true monster he is, and anyone who finishes the series is left haunted by the idea someone so evil could truly exist.
Despite all the talk and disputes, I don’t believe the Ted Bundy “hype” is actually a hype to begin with. A movie and a television series about Bundy premiere close together… so what? While it is weird that the upcoming film and Netflix show are directed by the same guy, Berlinger’s passion for Bundy makes sense because he is a true-crime documentarian. He literally does this for a living. Berlinger has spent 30 years documenting the dark side of humanity, diving deep into various accounts of homicide and unsolved crime. When Revolver got a chance to sit down with Berlinger, he spoke on his fascination with Bundy in particular. He says,
“I've always wondered if they aren't telling me the truth. Bundy is the classic example of that, he denied his crimes, and unlike many serial killers he claimed he was being wrongfully accused until the last few days of his life before his execution because he thought it would buy him more time. For me, it taps into that phenomenon.”
Berlinger’s attraction to his latest Bundy projects revolve around the doubt we all feel towards someone who claims to be telling the truth. Is that why we love watching these projects? Taking it a little deeper, I’d argue that as much as we love scary stories, we might love all the talk surrounding crime even more. It’s out in the open now, we’ve all seen the same story and we’ve all admitted our interest. I think the shared adrenaline of engaging in an almost taboo watch party of a serial killer biopic is what truly creates this Bundy fever.