Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile movie examines the life and crimes of American serial killer Ted Bundy, but how much does it change the true story? Framed as a biographical crime thiller, Extremely Wicked manipulates certain facts while avoiding true crime details for more efficient storytelling. So, how much does Joe Berlinger’s Ted Bundy movie change or cut?
In January 2019, Berlinger released the Netflix docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Not only did documentary ignite pop culture discussions about the infamous subject, but it also marked the latest addition to the documentarian’s acclaimed resume. In the past, Berlinger directed the harrowing Paradise Lost, but it's worth noting that he directed the poorly-received 2000 feature Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. The evidence suggests that Berlinger is better at making true crime documentaries than feature films about true crime stories.
Ted Bundy forever changed how the American media covers true crime cases, and that's why he's been a focus of pop culture for so many years as well as a focal point for Berlinger. Here’s what was changed (and cut) about Ted Bundy's true story for Netflix's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
Extremely Wicked Is An Ex-Girlfriend’s Account
Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is based on the 1981 book The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall. The storyline details her romantic relationship with Bundy during the early 1970s, which commenced after she met the future serial killer in 1969. From 1974 to 1978, Bundy killed 30 women, all while maintaining contact with Kendall.
In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Lily Collins stars as Kendall and Zac Efron portrays Bundy. For dramatic purposes, Extremely Wicked begins with their first and last meetings, thus contrasting the typical beginning-to-end narrative of a true crime book or documentary. In February 1980, Bundy was convicted and sentenced to death. Seventeen months later, Kendall released her book and later changed her name multiple times. Berlinger moved forward with Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile after receiving Kendall’s approval. Bundy's ex-girlfriend now prefers to remain out of the spotlight.
Extremely Wicked Favors Character Romance Over True Crime Exposition
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile emphasizes the romantic bond between Kendall and Bundy. Early on, both characters' personalities shine through, allowing the audience to identify with their humanity, as well as their wants and needs. Meanwhile, a news report montage chronicles the murder of women in the Seattle, WA, area. In Extremely Wicked, suspense emerges from the reactions of both Collins’ Kendall and Efron’s Bundy. The unknown represents the central conflict, rather than the cold, hard facts. As a result, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile doesn’t prioritize the mass hysteria that Bundy inflicted upon residents of Washington, Utah, and Colorado.
At the time of Bundy’s murders, he used his law education and legal connections to his advantage. This allowed him to kill in multiple states while knowing that authorities would have trouble connecting the dots. For Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the story doesn't lie in the geographical exposition, but rather in how one phone call led to Bundy’s downfall. And therein lies the character drama, as Collins' Kendall must overcome her past, whether it’s romantic moments with Bundy or her willingness to contact authorities with a tip. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is less about the evolution of a killer and more about the life-long bond between two people.
Extremely Wicked Holds Back On Gruesome True Crime Details
The Bundy trial was the first of its kind to be nationally televised in the United States. Incidentally, the reality TV aspect appealed to viewers back then, along with the subject’s regular guy image and personality. Forty years later, some Netflix subscribers experienced a similar effect when The Bundy Tapes released, and subsequently used social media to comment on Bundy's appearance. And when the Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile trailer released, Bundy once again became a pop culture conversation topic, as the clip appeared to normalize one of America’s most infamous serial killers.
Because Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is told from Kendall’s perspective, the film does indeed humanize, and normalize, Bundy. Rather than glamorizing his life, however, Berlinger shows how a girlfriend would’ve viewed him. Kendall struggles with her love for Bundy and doesn’t know what he’s truly done. She’s provided with crime scene photos but refuses to look at them. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile doesn’t normalize the inherent horror, seemingly to make a final act revelation feel more impactful.
The Director Stylizes Bundy’s Second Escape
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile depicts Bundy’s 1977 escape from an Aspen, Colorado courthouse. He’d been acting as his own attorney, and was surprisingly left alone during a break. Bundy took advantage of the moment and jumped from a second story window. In the movie, there’s a cinematic effect, as the escape doesn’t seem plausible - though it did indeed happen during a more innocent time in America. However, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile provides minimal context for Bundy’s second escape not long after.
After Bundy’s first escape, he managed to survive in the surrounding Aspen Mountain region for six days. Four months later, Bundy had lost 35 pounds - an important fact that’s glossed over in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. In Berlinger’s version, Efron’s Bundy looks mostly the same during both escapes: smily, stoic, and fit. But news footage from the time shows just much weight Bundy had lost by December 1977, which ultimately allowed him to squeeze through a ceiling crawl space. In real life, Bundy was gaunt while making his second escape. In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Efron is toned, and the second escape is stylized.
Extremely Wicked Skips A Full Decade
After Bundy’s second escape, he killed multiple women in Florida two weeks later. As a whole, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is faithful to real-life events, most notably how Florida authorities made a spectacle of the Bundy case, for better or for worse. In addition, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile details Bundy’s courtroom theatrics, and how he took advantage of the spotlight to manipulate his public persona. The film’s title comes from the judge’s final passive-aggressive statement to Bundy, in which he acknowledges the man’s humanity and lost potential, but also describes him as “extremely wicked, shockingly evil, and vile.” From there, the Netflix movie skips an entire decade and transitions to Bundy's final days and last conversation with the protagonist Kendall.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile leaves out Bundy’s Death Row relationship with the FBI, most notably with the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Over the years, Bundy helped authorities better understand serial killer psychology and forever changed how potential suspects are profiled, as seen in the Netflix series Mindhunter. For dramatic purposes, however, this portion of Bundy’s life isn’t necessarily relevant to the central storyline in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
Netflix’s Ted Bundy Has No Origin Story
Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile isn’t a traditional biopic, but rather an account of how Bundy transformed from a family man into a serial killer. So, it’s understandable that Berlinger would leave out sequences that depict Bundy’s formative years, even if such scenes would inform the audience about the killer’s psychology and motives.
Since Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile doesn’t acknowledge Bundy’s origin story, the audience may have trouble relating to Kendall’s multi-year struggle with her feelings for the man. But perhaps this lack of information works to the film’s advantage, as Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile's primary focus isn’t why Kendall had such powerful feelings for Bundy, but rather the fact that she simply did, and that those feelings were visceral and natural before the true crime horror emerged.