Lexikay Stokes, Campus Carrier Opinions Editor
If you browse the “trending now” section on Netflix, you will most likely find the newly released docuseries “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” The series released along with the Sundance Film Festival debut of “Extremely Wicked. Shockingly Evil and Vile,” starring Zach Efron.
What is it with the public’s interest in such dark matters? Shows and movies recounting the lives of serial killers are nothing new. Alfred Hitchcock capitalized on public interest with “Psycho” as early as 1960. Today, Criminal Minds, one of my personal favorites, is on their fifteenth, and final (RIP), season, making their name in the business of portraying the high-intensity, behind-the-scenes, race to capture fantastical serial killers. Since the dawn of mass-media, public interest in these dark matters has been evident. Podcasts have even found their audience through popular series like “Unsolved Murders” and “Serial Killers.”
It was the trailer of “Extremely Wicked” that sparked controversy. With up-beat rock music and a sly wink from Efron, some viewers were concerned with the movie coming off more as an adventure romance movie, rather than a recounting of Ted Bundy, who confessed to the gruesome murders of 30 women in the 1970s. In addition to the trailer, the publicity of the movie itself has created room for concern. With Efron being the star, many headlines discussing the movie read something like this Huffpost article “Zac Efron Will Use His Washboard Abs to Play Serial Killer Ted Bundy,” which just feels really weird. It sounds like two sentences that got spliced together by accident but then were actually published.
Arguments have been made in favor of Efron’s portrayal, saying that he embodies the eerie charism and humanness of Bundy, attributes which contributed to his psychological persona. A survivor of Bundy’s, Kathy Kleiner Rubin, said in an interview with TMZ that she didn’t have a problem with the portrayal, “as long as they (viewers) understand that what they’re watching wasn’t a normal person.”
“I believe that in order to show him exactly the way he was, it’s not really glorifying him, but it’s showing him, and when they do say positive and wonderful things about him … that’s what they saw, that’s what Bundy wanted you to see,” Kleiner Rubin said.
Critics of the film, however, are voicing concern over the excessive emphasis on Bundy’s charm and good looks. Belva Kent, the mother of Debra Jean Kent, who was murdered by Bundy in 1974, told PEOPLE, “Why keep rubbing our face in it all the time? It’s very hard to deal with and when they keep bringing it up and putting it up.”
The question remains though, is there a respectful way to tell these stories, and if there is, why are we so interested? For fans of the genre, there’s a rush of adrenaline, curiosity and mystery that comes along with hearing the stories of these crimes. There seems to be a detective in all of us, wanting to know the motives and investing in the lives of the victims and the murderer. The key in being the story teller of this genre is tastefulness. Ensuring that the stories of the victims are respected and factual should be of higher priority than attracting audiences through sensationalizing the story.