Ted Bundy: Who was the serial killer Zac Efron plays in new film?

Ted Bundy and Zac EfronImage copyright Getty Images

Warning: This article contains details about a serial killer’s actions, which you may find upsetting.

Zac Efron’s known for playing handsome, charming, leading men – and his latest film role is no exception.

But his character in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a long way from the beaches of Baywatch.

He’s playing one of the most infamous serial killers in US history – Ted Bundy – in an adaptation of a book written by Elizabeth Kloepfer, Bundy’s girlfriend during his time killing.

And the film is on Netflix now.

What did Ted Bundy do?

Between February 1974 and February 1978 Ted Bundy murdered 30 women and has been linked to many more.

He would often approach women in public places, gain their trust with his charm or a fake injury, and then lure them to secluded areas and kill them.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bundy’s crimes were recently the subject of a Netflix documentary, Conversations With A Killer

He kept trophies from his victims – including severed heads found in his apartment – and had sex with their bodies after the murders.

Bundy was first arrested in 1975 for kidnapping a woman, Carol DaRonch, and sentenced to up to 15 years in jail.

But in 1977 he escaped by jumping out of a prison library window.

He was recaptured for eight days and then escaped again – when he continued to kill until finally being caught in 1978.

Bundy remained behind bars until he was executed in 1989, aged 42.

What made Ted Bundy different?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ted Bundy represented himself in court during his trials for multiple murders

Bundy managed to win the trust of his female victims, often by pretending he had broken bones and needed help with certain tasks.

It wasn’t just a fake cast that helped him gain their trust though – many have commented on his good looks and charm.

It’s since been debated whether his perceived good looks have received too much attention – with the brutal nature of his crimes and the memory of his victims ignored.

When the trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile first premiered, there were accusations that the film was “sexualising” a man who committed violent acts against women.

Kathy Kleiner Rubin, who survived a Bundy attack in 1978, believes the film “glorifies” Bundy “more than it should do” – but says people need to “understand him as what he was”.

“When they do say positive and wonderful things about him, that’s what they saw. That’s what Bundy wanted to be seen,” she told TMZ.

What’s the film about?

The film is about Ted Bundy’s crimes, home life and trial for the murder of 30 women in the 1970s.

That’s the number he confessed to – but it’s believed he killed many more.

Bundy’s story has been told many times before in films, documentaries and books, but this is the first time it’s been told on-screen from Elizabeth Kloepfer’s view.

She stuck by Bundy during the seventies, and he was a father figure to her daughter Molly.

Image copyright Netflix
Image caption The film focuses more on Ted Bundy’s personal life than his crimes

Elizabeth, who’s played by Lily Collins, met Ted Bundy in 1969 but it took her five years before she became suspicious of his behaviour.

That’s when things like a bowl of women’s underwear, bandages, and the knife he kept in his car tipped her off that something wasn’t right, and she reported him to the police.

But she says there wasn’t enough evidence at that point for officers to investigate.

Her suspicions also didn’t slow their relationship – nor did the time Bundy tried to kill her with fumes from an open fire while she slept. Elizabeth didn’t fully cut ties with him until 1980.

What do the stars of the movie say?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Zac Efron is the star of the movie, but it’s told from the view of Lily Collins’ character

Zac Efron says he had “reservations” about taking on the role.

“I didn’t want to do it initially,” he said in an interview with the BBC’s Simon Mayo. “I didn’t want to glamourise a killer.”

Lily Collins has questioned whether another actor would have faced the same level of scrutiny as Zac has.

And she insists the movie focuses on Elizabeth more than Bundy’s crimes and evil nature, despite its title.

“You don’t see any imagery, you just hear about it and that’s what Liz would have been seeing,” Lily says.

“It’s only when Liz makes a discovery that the audience does as well.”

What do the critics say?

Early reviews of the movie have been mixed.

Empire magazine describes it as having a “goofy tone” and says neither Ted Bundy nor Elizabeth Kloepfer are explored fully.

But its review praises Zac Efron, saying “it’s the best work he’s ever done”.

Image copyright Netflix
Image caption Zac Efron’s performance in the film has been praised by critics

A review in the Metro criticises the lack of horror in the movie, saying that without it the film “risks becoming a prison escape caper”.

It adds that the only way to stop sensationalising Bundy’s crimes is to stop making movies about him.

And the Observer says it feels “dishonest” to tell Bundy’s story from Elizabeth’s point of view, because Bundy himself admitted he was unable to form relationships.

“Everyone is in on the con but Liz,” it says.

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