Film Review: ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’: Biopic on Serial Killer Bundy Doesn’t Shock

By Mark Jackson, Epoch Times
May 7, 2019 Updated: May 21, 2019

R | | Biography, Crime, Drama | 3 May 2019 (USA)

Here’s a bland movie about an extremely bad boy named Bundy that bagged a bunch of showbiz buzz, but didn’t open big, because, although it stars “Baywatch” beefcake Zac Efron, it’s almost blasphemously blah.

One of the main reasons is miscasting: Lead actor Zac Efron excels at hunky heartthrobs. He’s got comedic chops, and after bulking up for the movie version of “Baywatch” (so he wouldn’t disappear standing next to Dwayne Johnson), Efron pretty much put the bodybuilding world on notice that he could have a second career if he wanted to.

(L–R) Zac Efron, Lily Collins, and Haley Joel Osment at an event for “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images/Netflix)

What Efron doesn’t have is the underlying menace needed to play a foul creature like Ted Bundy, serial killer of upward of 30 women. Look-wise and intensity-wise, this would have been the perfect Jason Patric role were he a little younger.

So, in light of the fact that this was a meh movie, that doesn’t mean there aren’t fascinating things to talk about. There are wildly interesting theories about Bundy’s background that don’t come up in the movie. Like satanism.

First Things First

It’s based on Elizabeth Kloepfer’s memoir (her pen name is Elizabeth Kendall), “The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy.” And the movie title, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” is a line said by drama-queen-y Judge Edward Cowart (John Malkovich) while sentencing Ted Bundy to death by the electric chair in 1979.

judge and plaintiff
Judge Edward Cowart (John Malkovich) and Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images/Netflix)

Bundy was a slick, turtleneck-wearing law student, who picked up a single mom named Liz Kendall (Lily Collins, currently also starring in “Tolkien“) in a Seattle bar.

They go to her house. She wakes up. He’s not there. Neither is her kid. Panic! Oh—there he is in the kitchen wearing her apron, making breakfast. The kid is happily prattling, and he’s waving a butcher knife around. That can’t be good, right? It’s almost out of Monty Python; “Howwww do you knowwww he is a serial killer?!!”

serial killer photo in a newspaper
Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images/Netflix)

Ted and Liz find love, but the television keeps running stories about the kidnapping, rape, and mutilation of comely young women in numerous states. “Silver Dagger,” a song made famous by Joan Baez in the 1960s, could have been describing Theodore Robert Bundy:

My daddy is a handsome devil
He’s got a chain five miles long
And on every link a heart does dangle
Of another maid he’s loved and wronged.

Wronged? Wronged?? Try head-smashing with crowbars and head-removal with hacksaws. It needed to be said.

2 men in court
Zac Efron (L) and Brian Geraghty and  in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images/Netflix)

Why It Should Have Been So Much Better

What’s surprising is that director Joe Berlinger has long been an acclaimed documentary producer-director. He produced and directed “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” which is a documentary series that started streaming on Netflix in January 2019. A four-part series, it’s apparently comprehensive. This movie would appear to be a condensed version of the series. But does he get the facts right? I’ll come back to this.

man running down alley
Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy, running from the law, in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images/Netflix)

Psychopathic serial killers are smart. They’re chameleons, they walk among us, they have ice water in their veins, and they can tread the razor’s edge of almost getting caught and yet hiding in plain sight. Which is why they’re terrifying; it’s a fascinating, if morbid topic.

But even with this A-list cast, the film stagnates. Like a flaccid, third-rate documentary, it perfunctorily checks a bunch of boxes, but “riveting” is not one of them. The reason is that the movie focuses primarily on Ted’s charm, and only at the end do we get a glimpse of the ghastliness of what he was really up to. The problem that director Berlinger must have had here is that mostly the facts and a little bit of drama is not enough to be interesting.

But, on the other hand, to have the movie play as a real-life version of a “Saw” movie would have been grotesquely, career-ruiningly exploitative. So, it’s kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The Deal With Satanism

There’s stuff swirling around the internet that claims that Bundy was most likely a member of the infamous Bundy family, which happens to be on the list of illuminati families. Scoff if you wanna—it’s pretty interesting. There are parallels drawn regarding Bundy’s methods of killing, which are similar to those of other known serial killers, who all turn out to have been satanists. Charles Manson, anyone?

And then there’s the fact that … You know what? Go research for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a tip: Here’s an article by Katie Dowd that says the portrayal of Bundy’s story here is just absolutely way off, meaning this movie is basically just sensationalism and whitewashing.

cast of "Extremely Wicked"
(L–R) James Hetfield, Haley Joel Osment, Morgan Pyle, Angela Sarafyab, Joe Berlinger, Lily Collins, and Zac Efron at an event for “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images/Netflix)

Ultimately, the best thing about the movie is the 10 seconds’ worth of rock band Metallica’s frontman, James Hetfield, playing a suspicious state trooper. Now that’s good casting.

2 actors, a director, a cameraman
(L–R) Cameraman, James Hetfield, director Joe Berlinger, and Zac Efron, setting up a shot in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images/Netflix)

‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile’
Director: Joe Berlinger
Starring: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Angela Sarafyan, James Hetfield, Dylan Baker, Kaya Scodelario, Haley Joel Osment, Terry Kinney, John Malkovich
Rated: R
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Release Date: May 3
Rated 2 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch