Sexualising a Serial Killer

Should horrors that depict real life occurrences earn screen time beyond a documentary? Source: Mark Foley, Wikimedia Commons

By Hannah Newberry

The trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile has hit social media, and has been absolutely slammed by critics for not living up to its title. It may be a chronic understatement to say that the heinous crimes of Ted Bundy have been mildly underpinned by the casting of Zac Efron, a man whom our generation heavily affiliate with High School Musical. One of the first questions we have to ask is how representative of the movie is this one minute trailer? The main aggravating factor in was the lack of focus on Bundy’s general sociopathy, and a heavy dependence on enunciating the viewpoint of his wife, Liz – that naturally transcends this ‘wicked’ movie into a tale of love, gaslighting and Efron’s torso being flashed to the ladies in the front row seats with ambiguous dark lighting and sinister background music.

However, it serves as a plausible argument that ultimately, Bundy is believed to have dismembered, brutally raped and murdered over thirty women before he was caught and executed later in his life. Such events taking hold in real life is such an aberration, that surely audience reviews and box office rankings are inevitably going to break 2019 records even without the (beautiful) addition of Lily Collins and the thoroughly accentuated romantic undercurrent that somewhat humanises a person that society justifiably detests?

I concede partially to the argument that the movie is innovative, and in casting such a beguiling face, we slowly begin to appreciate how Bundy charmed the media with his physical appearance and allowed people to buy into the image of loyal, law-abiding, ambitious American citizen. Is this an important aspect of psychopathy that deserves its screen time or is it a topic with which we must tread lightly and not seek to enforce another ‘innocent white man’ rhetoric? There are many factors that will timelessly unsettle psychology academics about Bundy; how he was revered in prison by many, how he gained a wife while on trial for the murder of a minor, and how groupies rooted for him to be freed even after he was declared guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. In some ways, his allure is what made him all the more mortifying. But are we thinking practically about the impact this has on our viewers?

Is the huge Twitter reaction merely an expected response to a movie that daringly embraces the charisma of a detested individual in coexistence with his sociopathy and not mutually exclusive to it, or is it a reflection of the few fans that watched the trailer with nothing more than sheer adoration and a disregard for what Bundy himself now represents?

My conclusive answer will lie in the actual movie itself, and whether it offers us an interesting psychological platform on which we understand how someone as perilous as Bundy became so notorious. Even so, there is still an ongoing discussion regarding whether we should leave his crimes behind us, to show respect to the victim’s families by rightfully keeping it away from Hollywood’s grasp. While I keep an open mind, there is still something rather disconcerting about the exacerbation of Bundy’s charm, and I hope it works as a sinister undertone rather than becoming so overpowering that he instead becomes a ‘misunderstood’ protagonist.

However, those who regurgitate that ‘posthumous’ fame is exactly what Bundy strived for are exactly right. A real series of brutal murders and psychological torment reigned the streets of the US for years, and is a thirty year anniversary really reason enough for such a spectacle of remembrance? Even if the answer is yes, the way in which the story is developed so far, while extremely clever in gauging Bundy’s manipulative nature, is too keen to disregard the impact this will have on people who are willing to glorify his darker side for entertainment value.

It was only last week that the family of James Bulger spoke out in horror when a movie made without consent about the murder of their son won an Oscar. This is a chilling anecdote that demands we draw a line between popcorn-fuelled events and agonising loss that most of us thankfully have yet to endure. I currently have to scroll through Twitter and watch the same breed of girls who fawned over Tate in American Horror Story now explain how Bundy was a victim of circumstance because an opportunity to educate about the sociopathy that exists in these individuals descended into a confusing lovechild depicting traits of both romance and thriller. We could be better than this, but money talks.

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