COLUMN: Zac Efron is too hot to play Ted Bundy in new movie, ethically


Zac Efron is cast to star as an American serial killer, Theodore Robert Bundy, in the new film, "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile."  Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Ted Bundy was a serial killer, kidnapper, rapist and necrophilic monster who terrorized six different states during his rampage. In 1978, he walked into the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University and bludgeoned two sisters to death. 

An attorney on his defense team called him “the very definition of heartless evil.”

Given this long and bloody history of brutality, the question stands: why is esteemed Hollywood hunk Zac Efron playing him?

Efron’s new movie, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival this weekend to controversy. While the film itself has yet to be released, the trailer was uploaded to YouTube. In the trailer, we see Efron play Bundy with all his pretty boy charm, winking at the audience, daring them to think the unthinkable: oh no. He’s hot.

Defenders of the movie are trying to argue that it’s just capturing Bundy’s charming personality, the same personality that allowed him to lure his victims in. But, in reality, it’s nothing more than fodder for the sicker parts of the true crime fan base who love to romanticize the darker parts of history.

Within the demographic of true crime genre fans, a smaller, sicker contingent exists: people who have more than a morbid interest in serial killers and the like. 

For these fans, who frequently use Tumblr as a gathering place, figures like Ted Bundy or Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are worthy of a worship-like love. Blogs dedicated to their killer of choice are eerie echoes of similar frenzies toward boy bands like One Direction. 

The only difference is that the crush of the month has a body count instead of a hit single.

Efron’s portrayal of Bundy is sickening. You don’t get to be a sexy bad boy if the thing that makes you a bad boy is notoriety as a prolific serial killer. Director Joe Berlinger is especially complicit in this wrongdoing, since he also directed the Netflix documentary series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” showing the depths of Bundy’s depravity. 

Anyone who understands what this man did to his victims and the fear he cultivated within the communities he targeted knows Efron’s new movie is wrong. 

Watching the trailer feels taboo, like you’re seeing something you weren’t meant to see, something that never should have been made in the first place. Berlinger knows the ins and outs of Bundy’s history, and the fact that he still made the Efron movie for the sheer spectacle of it all is reprehensible. 

This isn’t to say filmmakers can’t tackle charismatic killers like Bundy. Plenty of true crime-adjacent media does this and does it well because they’re careful to not romanticize the killer, to make the heartthrob playing them seem perversely out of place instead of hotter than ever.

For example, the psychological thriller “You” follows an obsessive stalker-turned-murderer played by “Gossip Girl” alum Penn Badgley in pursuit of a woman he thinks is his true love. Even though Badgley is a handsome guy, the show handles him like the threat he is. Through voice over, the audience can hear his inner monologue and how twisted his world view is. 

There’s a way to handle complicated and interesting subjects when it’s time to make the jump from the bloody reality to the big screen. The public has only seen the trailer for “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” so the film may redeem itself when it actually gets a wide release.

Maybe the movie will be a frank look at the strange subculture that worships Bundy. Maybe Efron’s perfect abs — displayed prominently in the trailer when Bundy is brought to jail — are merely an entry to a meaningful examination of a twisted mind. Maybe it’s all harmless.

But maybe not. 

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