Both of Netflix’s Ted Bundy films are directed by Joe Berlinger, so what’s the difference between Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile? And which one is better?
Berlinger’s films chronicle the adult years of Ted Bundy, a serial killer who confessed to 30 murders committed between 1974 and 1978. Bundy’s trial was the first of its kind to be nationally televised in America, thus establishing a new era of reality television. In The Ted Bundy Tapes, Berlinger goes straight to the source. In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Zac Efron offers a stylized Bundy interpretation.
The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile examine the subject’s life and crimes, and how he used charm to manipulate his victims. And while the fundamental stories are the same, there are some differences.
The Premise Of Both Ted Bundy Films
Netflix’s Ted Bundy films are separated by genre. For The Ted Bundy Tapes, Berlinger used over 100 hours of interviews to make a four-part docuseries. In contrast, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a feature film adaptation that’s framed as a biographical crime thriller. While both films cover the same material, the premises are different, thus allowing for different viewing experiences.
The Ted Bundy Tapes is based on author Stephen Michaud’s 1980 conversations with Ted Bundy. By that time, Bundy had recently been convicted, and takes a third-person approach while speaking about his crimes. The Netflix documentary ultimately strays from the “tapes” premise and transforms into a traditional true crime investigation that uses archival footage to deconstruct Bundy's personality and motivations. The film begins on death row, and then travels back in time to connect the narrative dots.
For Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Berlinger based the story on Elizabeth Kendall’s 1981 book The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy. In 1969, Kendall first met Bundy in Washington, and then maintained a relationship with him over the years that overlapped with the first killing spree. Whereas The Ted Bundy Tapes is full of gory details and graphic visuals, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile prioritizes the life-long bond between Kendall and Bundy, using the former’s perspective to establish how the latter managed to continuously manipulate the world around him.
Ted Bundy's Evolution Into A Killer
Netflix’s Ted Bundy films use narrative exposition in significantly different ways. The Ted Bundy Tapes establishes the facts about Bundy’s true crimes, while Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile takes a more restrained approach while depicting the evolution of a killer.
Berlinger’s documentary extensively details Bundy’s killing spree throughout Washington, Utah, and Colorado. The Bundy Tapes explains how Bundy managed to kill under the radar, all the while using graphic images and interview footage to underline the real-life horror. Crucially, the documentary portrays Bundy as the ultimate unreliable narrator; a man who not only understood how to manipulate people, but also understood the inner workings of law enforcement, and how he could stay one step ahead of authorities.
In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Berlinger establishes a sense of empathy. The storyline follows the give and take relationship between Bundy and Kendall, thus allowing for the human element to shine through. It doesn’t ask viewers to empathize with Bundy, but rather to understand why Kendall, and later Carole Ann Boone, were attracted to such a man. In terms of true crime, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile covers the basics about Bundy’s evolution as a killer, but the story values character development over shocking moments. Incidentally, the audience experiences the biggest revelations as Kendall did. The ending remains the same, but the path to enlightenment is reached via a female perspective.
The Context For Ted Bundy’s Two Escapes
Because The Ted Bundy Tapes extensively documents Ted Bundy's initial murders, the sequences that cover his two escapes show just how much the world has changed since then, especially in terms of mass media and institutional security. In June 1977, Bundy was well-known by authorities in Colorado, and he represented himself after being charged with murder. Ultimately, Bundy escaped from an Aspen courthouse by jumping from a second floor window, and The Ted Bundy Tapes spends a lot of time covering the subsequent media coverage until Ted Bundy was caught a week later.
Through archival footage in The Ted Bundy Tapes, Berlinger emphasizes how much weight Bundy lost in 1977, and provides an authentic account of how he interacted with authorities and reporters. This sets up Bundy’s second escape in December 1977, in which Bundy was able to squeeze through a ceiling crawl space thanks to the aforementioned weight loss. The documentary then reveals how Bundy road-tripped to Michigan before traveling to Florida to begin his next killing spree.
With Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the point of emphasis is simply the fact that Bundy escaped twice, and that he used charisma and charm to deflect attention from the truth. Berlinger's movie stylizes Bundy’s first escape, and Efron's character doesn’t appear to have lost any weight by the second escape. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile then cuts directly to Bundy’s arrival in Florida. In The Ted Bundy Tapes, viewers receive the proper context for the two escapes. But in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the escapes are used to set up the final act revelations.
Aftermath of Ted Bundy's Conviction
In 1978, Ted Bundy killed six women in Florida and was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death. Both of Berlinger’s Netflix films highlight Bundy’s courtroom bravado and underline the importance of the case in terms of media coverage. However, The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile are entirely different in how they depict the immediate aftermath.
The story jumps ahead 10 years in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Here, Berlinger emphasizes Bundy’s reluctance to admit to his crimes, at least until he’s confronted by his ex-girlfriend Kendall. Graphic violence is mostly avoided during the majority of the film, but it comes into play during a final act face-to-face meeting between the central characters. As a result, the moment has a profound effect for both. Kendall lets go and receives a sense of resolution, while Bundy acknowledges the truth, and not long before he’s ultimately executed.
In contrast, The Ted Bundy Tapes returns to its premise to present a disturbing portrait of Bundy on death row. It’s revealed that he was able to have sex with Carole Anne Boone (resulting in her pregnancy), and that she transported drugs vaginally, which Bundy then transferred rectally. The documentary also explores Bundy’s working relationship with the FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit, along with Bundy’s later revelations about how pornography may have contributed to his emotional detachment from humans. The Ted Bundy Tapes makes a clear connection between the subject, the evolution of true crime television, and modern pop culture.
Psychoanalysis of Ted Bundy
In terms of psychology, The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile mostly avoid Ted Bundy’s origin story, so to speak . The documentary briefly touches upon Bundy’s early years, specifically the relationship with his parents and first girlfriend. Meanwhile, the film avoids any psychoanalysis, perhaps to focus solely on Kendall’s point of view.
As a whole, both of Netflix’s Ted Bundy films cover the basics through different narrative approaches. The documentary’s title suggests a film comprised of interviews with Bundy, when in fact it’s a super-sized yet traditional true crime documentary. As for the film, Berlinger flips the script and offers a different perspective, one that will undoubtedly inspire more discussions about the Ted Bundy persona, and how people react upon learning about his life and crimes for the first time.
Overall, The Ted Bundy Tapes is clearly the better film, mainly because of the true crime substance. For a Friday night watch, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile gets the job done, but it’s light on context and stylizes important events. The Netflix doc is a full text on Ted Bundy, whereas the movie is a stylized summation.