Despite being a reviled serial killer who was executed in 1989, 2019 has been a pretty big year for Ted Bundy. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes was a huge hit for Netflix and proved so popular with viewers that the streaming giant actually had to issue a statement explaining that it’s not alright to start openly professing how much you fancy Ted Bundy.
Sure, he was a violent predatory necrophile who was found guilty of some disturbing and horrific crimes, but he’s still kinda dreamy. All that’s why a lot of people were feeling a bit nervous about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Arriving on Netflix this past weekend, it stars former teen heartthrob, now adult heartthrob, Zac Efron as the killer and though it stays mostly faithful to Bundy’s story, it does make some significant changes.
For one, what it doesn’t tell us is that his girlfriend Elizabeth had actually found several clues relating to his crimes around the house. In fact, it was these very clues that led to her calling the police back in 1974. As Esquire explains:
Those clues inspired her to make her first call to the police in 1974. While she was on the phone, she lost her nerve and hung up. One month later, when the abductions began happening in Utah as soon as Bundy moved to Salt Lake City, Kendall called the cops again. The police said they’d already cleared Bundy—but Kendall continued to think back on clues which pointed to Bundy’s involvement, from the crowbar he took from her house, to a hatchet under the passenger seat of his car, to plaster of Paris she once found in Bundy’s desk drawer which would explain the suspect’s arm cast.
MORE FROM THE WEB
Commenting on why he left this stuff out, director Joe Berlinger said:
“In the book there were a few clues along the way that made her scratch her head, as it would anybody. I want the audience to invest in the relationship between Zac and Lily, and to believe that relationship so that by the end of the film, when she finally holds him accountable, I wanted the audience to also feel the same level of disgust that she’s feeling because, for the first half of the movie, you were almost lulled into a sense of, well, maybe he’s not such a bad guy. I want people to feel revolted at the end and I think that would have been impossible to do if, in the first 10 or 15 minutes, she finds a knife in the glove compartment.”
To make up for not showing us the clues, Berlinger instead added that scene of the dog barking at Bundy, which didn’t actually happen in real life. As far as we know.
Something that did happen in real life, however, was Elizabeth moving on to date someone from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. In the movie, though, it’s one of her colleagues at work who she becomes romantically involved with. It’s not a huge change, sure, but it’s interesting that the filmmakers made it nonetheless.
What’s also interesting is the final scene, where Bundy admits to Elizabeth that he used a hacksaw to cut off one of his victim’s heads. In real life, he never confessed to Liz. Instead, he just hinted that he was guilty, saying:
“There is something the matter with me … I just couldn’t contain it. I found it for a long, long time … it was just too strong.”
Explaining the change, Berlinger said:
“We’re in an era of accountability, I wanted Liz’s character to really hold him accountable at the end and make him say those words to her face. That was a bit of a departure from the book.”
And while we’re on the topic of that conversation between Ted and Liz, in real life she also asked him if he ever tried to kill her at any point, to which he admitted he did, saying that “he once closed the damper at her house while she was sleeping so the smoke couldn’t go up the chimney, then he left after putting a towel under a door so the smoke wouldn’t escape.”
Finally, the last of the major changes Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile makes to Ted Bundy’s story is in his relationship with Carol. For one, their random encounter at that dog adoption center didn’t actually happen. Instead, it’s thought that Ted and Carol had stayed in touch – to some extent – over the years. And as far as her revealing to him that she’s pregnant right before his sentencing, that also didn’t happen, given that their daughter Rose was born in October 1981.
Of course, there are likely a lot of other minor details that the film changed about Bundy’s life, but on the whole, it was a mostly faithful adaptation and though its decision to shy away from showing the truly evil side of Ted is questionable, it’s still a gripping look into the life of one of America’s most horrific serial killers.