There has been a revival of interest in the life and times of serial killer Ted Bundy as of late, and the next entry in this phenomenon is director Joe Berlinger’s upcoming biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, starring Zac Efron as the infamous killer. Shortly before the film’s debut at Sundance Film Festival last month, its first teaser trailer dropped. The response was both swift and controversial, with many critics saying it glamorized Bundy while the reality — Bundy violently assaulted and murdered at least 28 women, and was also found guilty of kidnapping, burglary, and other crimes — was significantly more horrifying.
But Berlinger, who helmed both Extremely Wicked and the hit Netflix docuseries Confessions Of A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, says he’s not at all glorifying the man behind one of the most violent killing sprees in modern history.
“I think the idea of this particular story, making a movie about Bundy, equals glorification of him is a very naive and knee-jerk reaction," Berlinger told Bustle. “I think telling filmmakers any subject matter is off limits is a very slippery slope that leads us to Trump declaring that the media is ‘fake news.’”
Extremely Wicked centers on the relationship between Bundy and his former long-term girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, played by Lily Collins. Berlinger says the film is an exploration of Bundy’s supposed everyman charm, and how people can find themselves to be so easily seduced by a psychopath. The Ted Bundy Tapes, Berlinger’s documentary project on Bundy, also examines how law enforcement, the media, the courts, and other institutions of power interpreted the killer’s persona — not to mention how he wielded whatever power and privilege that illusion afforded him over his victims, colleagues, and others in drawn into his personal circle.
Perhaps the trailer for Extremely Wicked — a fast-paced 90 seconds of police chases, quippy dialogue, and a smirking Efron played over rollicking guitar riffs — does fail to effectively capture the nuances Berlinger says the film is teasing out. But either way, Berlinger told Bustle he believes that this is an important story to tell, even if it makes some people uncomfortable.
“I think there should be no censoring of subject matter, if it’s done responsibly,” he said. “And even if it’s done irresponsibly, people have the right to tell any story they want to tell.”
Audiences can judge this story for themselves when the film hits theaters — Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, And Vile opens later this year.