When you think of a serial killer, it’s easy to imagine someone who is evil from the inside out. You see images of killers in court with a solemn look in their eyes, sinister grins and sometimes showing absolutely no remorse. Then you look at photos of Ted Bundy when he was undergoing trial, and the man standing in front of the cameras does not exude any of these so-called “serial killer characteristics”. On the contrary, Bundy was charming–he smiled, he was well-spoken and he seemed likable. Director and true crime pioneer Joe Berlinger was intrigued by that very fact, how could someone with so much evil inside of them hide in plain sight?
Joe Berlinger talks Ted Bundy, his new film and how evil can hide in plain sight
Berlinger decided to delve into the world of Bundy and directed two pictures, the docuseries “Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” (available on Netflix now) and the feature-length film starring Zac Efron and Lily Collins, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”. Both pictures are about Ted Bundy and his heinous crimes but from very different viewpoints. “Conversations With A Killer” focuses on Bundy and his conversations with two journalists before his execution in 1989, whereas “Extremely Wicked” takes a closer look at Bundy’s relationship with long-time girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall (originally Kloepfer). Berlinger wanted to focus on how Bundy was able to deceive so many people for so long, and why exactly this man was able to get away with murdering innocent victims.
“For me, Bundy defies all stereotypes of what we want to think a serial killer is,” says Berlinger. “We want to think a serial killer is some dark and twisted social outcast who’s repulsive looking because it gives us comfort that these people are easily identifiable in society, and therefore avoidable. I think Bundy teaches us the exact opposite. He was charming and good looking and had lots of friends and people couldn’t imagine that he was capable of doing these things, so he eluded capture for a long time. That’s a very important lesson for people.”
Berlinger was motivated to cast the spotlight on Bundy after finding out that some people had forgotten about the killer who pretended to be someone he wasn’t so convincingly for so long. “I felt like it was time to remind people of a fundamental lesson that I had gleaned in my 25 years of true-crime film making, which is some people we least expect and sometimes trust the most are often capable of the worst evils.”
Focusing on Elizabeth Kendall’s point of view was paramount to make that lesson seen and heard, “the relationship with Kendall is what made the project interesting to me,” says Berlinger. “ I am interested in how a killer deceits, how a killer can get away with a murder for so long, how a killer can lure victims to their death and how friends and acquaintances all around them missed all of the signs and clues. I think by seeing the movie through the perspective of somebody who loved and trusted him we are able to portray that dynamic.”
Bundy’s looks certainly played a part in his ability to pull the wool over almost everyone’s eyes, but his mind is the true puzzle. “I think he is a master manipulator and part of manipulation is convincing yourself. I think there were times that he convinced himself of his innocence, just like I think there are times when people do bad things and convince themselves otherwise. It’s human nature to compartmentalize, It’s hard to say but I think Bundy probably convinced himself of his innocence while also being highly manipulative and aware of his manipulation.”
Another puzzle the film highlights is if a master manipulator and serial killer can even be capable of loving another human being. “I’m not smart enough to tell you if he really loved her, that’s one of the questions the movie explores without answering, whether it was a cover for normalcy to get away with his crimes, or it was a psychological need that he had for normalcy. Love is many things to many people so it’s hard to define love. If by love you mean this selfless embrace of another person and allowing that other person to be their best, which is the classic definition of love, then probably not,” says Berlinger.
Bundy and Kendall’s relationship seems almost normal throughout the film. She never sees the heinous acts he commits and the audience never sees the heinous acts he commits either–it’s almost as though we are getting duped along with her. “You’re going to see some incredible performances to the point of where you will suspend your knowledge through part of the movie that this is a movie about a serial killer. By the end of the film, you too may have a real sense as to what it’s like to be deceived by a serial killer.”
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” will drop on Netflix and premiere in select theaters on May 3.