‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ showcases a new narrative on a notorious killer

Claire Oliver

Ted Bundy is a name synonymous with “serial killer” in the United States. His fame came from the first-ever televised murder trial in Florida in 1978 with Bundy’s charismatic personality shining through on television screens around the nation.

Since the trial and Bundy’s execution by electric chair in 1989, audiences have been fascinated by the young law student turned serial murderer, and many have wondered if he had more victims then he admitted to having killed during his last 30 days on death row. One side of the story that is rarely told is that of his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kleopfer. Her story is the focus of the new film, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” starring Zac Efron and Lily Collins, released this past Friday on Netflix.

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Directed by Joe Berlinger, “Extremely Wicked” was based on the book “The Phantom Prince” which was written by Kleopfer in 1981 under the pen name Elizabeth Kendall. The book had a limited release in 1981 and has a current market value of over $2,000 on Amazon.  In the book, Kleopfer discusses her relationship with Bundy and how the Bundy she knew was very different from the violent serial killer he is now known to be today.

The film stands out as a unique telling of the Bundy story. The focus isn’t on the murders but on the trial process and the relationship between the two main characters, Bundy and Kleopfer. The film was originally accused of celebrating Bundy and downplaying his violent crimes, but while watching the film viewers should realize that the story is not about Bundy, it’s about Kleopfer. Since she loved him, her perspective on Bundy is slightly skewed when confronted with the brutal reality of his actions.

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The film was accurate and did not glorify Bundy in any light. If anything, he became the villain in the life of another woman during the years he was an active serial killer (1974-1978). The film takes viewers through Kleopfer’s tumultuous relationship with Bundy, and audiences will be sure to feel her confusion and pain upon learning that he was guilty of the murder of over 30 women across the United States.

This story was refreshing as well. Almost every other film that focuses on Bundy’s life and crimes centers around the murders that took place across Washington, Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Florida. This film deviated from the traditional serial killer docu-drama formula. It focused on a new narrative and yet still managed to make Bundy out to be a terrifying mass murderer while allowing viewers to be slightly convinced of his innocence, only showing a scene of one of the murders while Bundy was starting to confess to them. By focusing on his outside persona,  viewers can feel the confusion that was felt by those who knew Bundy during his life and who questioned his guilt. Since audiences are removed from what happened, it can be confusing to believe why his family was so adamant about his innocence, and Berlinger clarifies that to a degree.

Rating: A-

Overall, the film is well done. The accuracy in the telling of the story was wonderful, and Berlinger takes great pains to make the film less exaggerated and more accurate. The casting of Zac Efron furthers the point of making Bundy out to be someone who audiences could never see killing 30 women. The film could be seen as slightly confusing to those who are not well versed in the Bundy trial and the story of Bundy’s life. There are moments that are purely recognizable to those who have read up on Bundy and who know about the murders in some detail. Those subtleties make “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” something any true crime fan will devour with pleasure.

Claire Oliver can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @clariety21.