Any big screen adaptation of a real life serial killer will inevitably be the subject of some controversy, and in the case of Joe Berlinger’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the common accusation is that the film glorifies the life and persona of Ted Bundy.
With former teen heartthrob Zac Efron in the lead role, many have argued that the biopic places too much emphasis on the charm and good looks of a contemptible character. But according to one of Bundy’s own survivors, the portrayal of the man as a charismatic and handsome figure is simply an honest reflection of the killer’s persuasive manner.
In 1978, Kathy Kleiner Rubin was brutalized by Bundy at Florida State University’s Chi Omega house. Speaking to TMZ, the survivor argued that while Extremely Wicked may go too far in glamorizing the character, she still feels that the film should be watched for the message it gets across.
“I believe that in order to show him exactly the way he was– it’s not really glorifying him, but it’s showing him,” Rubin said. “And when they do say positive and wonderful things about him, that’s what they saw. That’s who Bundy wanted you to see. I think the movie does glorify him more than I think he should be. But like I said, I think everyone should see it, and understand him as what he was. Even when he was the perfect son. Hopefully, it’ll make women be more aware of their surroundings, and be more cautious.”
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Berlinger himself recently defended his portrayal of Bundy in an interview with Uproxx, too, arguing that his film demonstrates how evil doesn’t always come in obvious forms.
“[T]he one thing I’ve learned in covering real crime over the years is that people want to think that somebody as evil as Ted Bundy is packaged neatly and easily identifiable in society and therefore you avoid him,” Berlinger said “It’s like Bundy’s final comments at the end of the film. He says it himself, ‘Killers don’t come out from the shadows with long fangs and blood dripping from their chins. They are often people that you lived with, admired, worked with. Those are the people who are often the most capable of evil.’”
The director went on to argue that the movie essentially turns Efron’s pretty boy image on its head. Indeed, as Rubin explains above, Berlinger’s film explores how Bundy’s surface charm caused many people to doubt his guilt in the face of all evidence, not least his girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, played by Lily Collins.
As it stands, critical reception to Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile has been on the positive side of mixed, though most reviewers agree that Efron was well cast in the lead. While no release date has been set for the picture, Berlinger’s 4-part documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is currently available on Netflix.