Biographical films mostly offer audiences a glimpse into the lives of famous… and sometimes infamous people of the past in an attempt to shed some light on the accomplishments, actions or crimes that they are known for. And that is exactly what happens in this gripping tell-all about one of the most notorious serial killers of all time, Ted Bundy.
In EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE, Emmy-winning and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger and scriptwriter Michael Werwie chronicle the life of Ted Bundy through the eyes of his long-time girlfriend, Liz Kloepfer, who refused to believe the truth about him for years. The film boasts an impressive cast, with heartthrob Zac Efron (The Greatest Showman) in the role of Bundy, Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply) as Liz and acclaimed The Big Bang Theory star, Jim Parsons, as Florida prosecutor Larry Simpson, to name but a few.
The screenplay is based on the novel The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall and follows in the footsteps of a successful four-part Netflix series that examines Bundy through exclusive interviews with the killer himself after being sentenced to death in Florida. “In this version of Bundy’s story, the audience experiences the unfolding of events as Liz perceived them – that Ted is caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare of unfortunate coincidences… an innocent man caught in the system. This allowed me to subvert the serial killer movie genre by providing the viewer with the tension of a wrongful conviction saga while slowly revealing the true meaning of what’s actually unfolding,”Berlinger explains.
Exploring the inverse phenomenon of a woman who believes in her lover’s innocence, provides the movie with a relatable and emotionally impactful way into the story of Ted Bundy. “By approaching the story from Ted’s long-time lover’s perspective, we are able to examine how a guilty man might present himself to the world and to experience the emotional toll on those who thought that they knew him best,” he adds.
Bringing Bundy to life on screen is the talented Zac Efron, who says: “I felt a responsibility to make sure that this movie is not a celebration of Ted Bundy or a glorification of him. But, definitely, a psychological study of who this person was. In that, there’s honesty.”
The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and Efron was praised for his portrayal of the infamous American serial killer who confessed to killing thirty women across several states. The actor underwent a rather large transformation and lifestyle change for this role and had to shed 6kg to mimic Bundy’s lean physique.As part of his research, the star also spent some time talking to people who knew Bundy. “A lot of them were shocked,” he says. “They could not believe that such a strait-laced, pleasant, smart, smiling, calm individual was responsible for such horrendous, horrific crimes. And that makes him all the more fascinating, because really he was loved by nearly everyone around him. Even people in prison enjoyed their time with Ted Bundy.”
EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE does not aim to provide gruesome scenes of ruthless killing, but instead peers into the charismatic side of Ted Bundy, which he masterfully exploited to win the trust of his victims, family and friends. When he is caught and charged with grisly murders, his girlfriend’s picture of domestic bliss is destroyed as the evidence unfolds and she is forced to accept that she never knew the man that she loved so much.
Lily Collins, who stars as Liz, slams rumours that the story tries to romanticize Bundy’s persona by admitting that she had great difficulty getting into character for her role. “I actually had an awful time prepping for it and woke up early every morning with visions of destruction around different rooms,” she shares.
“It was important to me to share with moviegoers that those who do evil are often seemingly ordinary people. As Bundy himself cautions at the end of the film: ‘Murderers don’t come out of the dark, with saliva dripping off their chin. People don’t realise that there are killers among them. People that they love or like could turn out to be the most demonic people imaginable.’ That is the true nature of evil – hard to explain, often very banal and usually very contradictory,” Berlinger concludes.