Directed by Joe Berlinger and based on Elizabeth Kendall’s memoir, “Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy,” the film offers a lengthy title, yet is somewhat short on substance. It’s strange to say that, as I’ve enjoyed Joe Berlinger’s work in the past.
A skilled documentary filmmaker, Berlinger’s trilogy on the famous West Memphis Three is pretty epic (although, honestly, I’ve only seen two of them). Not only were they good films telling an important story, but he undoubtedly contributed to freeing the three kids who were imprisoned on flimsy grounds. Not every film impacts the criminal justice system. Similarly, his show “Wrong Man” looked at cases where men may have been wrongly imprisoned.
Now, of course, Berlinger has been addressing the storied serial killer Ted Bundy. Of the two Netflix projects he’s unleashed on the subject, I must say ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” was simply outdone by his documentary, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” How can this be? Doesn’t “Extremely Wicked” have Zac Efron, and doesn’t he rock the house in the role? Well, he’s good, but the entire film seems to be holding back, including him. Let me explain, and explore some other Ted Bundy films.
How Other Bundy Films Work
I’m not saying Berlinger’s film necessarily needed far more shock value, or anything like that. In fact, I’m not even saying it’s bad. It just seemed like the characters and scenes were disconnected from each other, and that more could have been done. We get a few scenes of Efron’s Ted with Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), but there just isn’t that much to say about them. Rather than highlight their actual relationship (what I was expecting), “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” focuses more on the meat-and-potatoes elements of Ted — you know, the stuff many of us already know. I already knew Ted was dating a single mother, and that she had a daughter. I knew about Lake Sammamish State Park, and that Bundy had a Volkswagen Bug. Again, what’s lacking is the story of Ted and Liz, despite it being based on her memoir! Only a few events are explored, and barely.
The strange thing is, this aspect of Ted was actually covered better by trashier films about Bundy. For example, Matthew Bright’s 2002 film “Ted Bundy” holds little back in examining the killer. It looks at his quirks, his obsessions, the rough ways he treated women (apart from his murders), as well as the times Bundy seemed liked the nicest guy on earth. Zac Efron’s Bundy is pretty good, but Bright’s (played by Michael Reilly Burke) is shown as much more of a closeted maniac, who ultimately had trouble controlling his addiction to murder. I swear, Bright’s film also seems to contain more scenes between Ted and Liz! There’s a sense that, buried deep within Bundy, was somebody who desperately wanted to be normal, yet whose murderous desires and sexual frustrations controlled him. In contrast. Berlinger’s film only hints at that, shrugging off more complexity and mystique than most other Bundy films I’ve seen. The film is a little flat as result.
In addition, I would recommend Bill Eagles’ “The Riverman.” It’s not about Liz at all, but is a substantially overlooked Ted Bundy film. In it, Bundy (Cary Elwes) ostensibly assists Robert Keppel (Bruce Greenwood) in capturing the Green River Killer (Dave Brown), but reveals more details about his own twisted crimes in the process. While I liked “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” I would prioritize these other films about Bundy over this one. They have more of everything: More story, more insight into Bundy’s character, more of Ted and Liz, and sometimes — dare I say it? — more shock value, if you’re up for that. They just seem more honest somehow. I would mostly recommend “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” as a companion piece, and Berlinger’s documentaries certainly bring more to the table.
What are your thoughts on “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”? Let us know in the comments!