By Charlotte Schofield
Theodore Bundy, who went by Ted to the world, was a charismatic and handsome man who would go on to commit a number of horrific murders, rapes, kidnappings and multiple burglaries between 1974 and 1978, and while he eventually admitted to some of these crimes the true number of homicides has been estimated around 30 or more. The case Bundy appeared to dominate the news cycle becoming a household name, when he was caught, this prolific serial killer was the exact opposite of what society had expected of a serial killer. Bundy was charming, easily adapted to his environment, and was able to convince most people who listened to him that he was a “normal guy.” People remain fascinated with him, even today. With the recent release of a Netflix original documentary series and a Sundance Film about Bundy, many critics and followers of true-crime stories are engaging in the conversation about the glamorization of serial killers, and how they continue to affect us, long after they are gone.
Directed by Joe Berlinger, the documentary series “Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” has quickly become a recent popular original on Netflix and was met with morbid curiosity and mixed reviews from online commentators. The series initially begins to explain that while the full scale of his terror is unknown, Ted Bundy’s murder spree likely started in Washington state in the mid-’70s, spread to Utah and Colorado and finished in Florida, where he was apprehended for the third time and sentenced to death in two murder trials. Critic and journalist Rob Harvilla at theringer.com noted in his review on the series that Director Joe Berlinger had, in bad taste, used techno-soundtracks, flashing images of pornography, crime scene photos and pictures of young Ted Bundy together in order to dramatize the not-so-revealing tapes. “Berlinger can put on a queasy but effective show, even if neither voice on the tapes can.” A majority of viewers agreed that the interviews revealed little of Bundy’s twisted mind and intelligence but rather portrayed him as a dull middle-aged man who would never actually admit to his horrific actions even up to the execution chamber. This Netflix series was only one side to the story that director Joe Berlinger wanted to portray of this prolific serial killer, but with this came a significant wave of concern over the glamorization of this Ted Bundy.
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” at the Sundance Film Festival January 24, 2019, in Park City, Utah (coincidentally the location where Bundy had, 41 years ago, murdered an unknown number of young women). The film follows Bundy’s life from the perspective of his girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Kloepfer. Early viewers who attended the Sundance Film Festival noted that while the film features no vivid depictions of the crimes committed, the same director, Joe Berlinger, decided to focus not on Bundy’s heinous acts of violence, but on his personal life with Kloepfer. Many online commentators who have not been able to view the movie yet are skeptical and upset at the depiction of this man’s character in the official movie trailer.
Professor of Communications, Kyle Moody, studies the patterns in social media and the effects of consumers on journalism at Fitchburg State University. When asked about the glamorization of Bundy today he said, “This is why there is a constant gravitation towards him as we must balance both the exterior charm he exuded with the monstrous horrors he committed. The social media response to this is really part of the bigger marketing behind these projects on Bundy.”
While the trailer for “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” triggered a major response from those who found it disrespectful to the victims and their living relatives. Moody explained that this is the reason why, we as a society, are so fascinated by these dangerous individuals and their crimes, a truth that directors in Hollywood consider when creating films about these topics. “[…] they do prey upon our fascination with serial killers like Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. Bundy was already glamorized because of his manipulation of the news media during the Seventies,” said Moody.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26th, 2019, but has yet to receive a U.S. release date. The film is expected to be shown in cinemas over the next coming months.