Over the past two years, since crime fans were made aware that a new Ted Bundy movie was forthcoming, we have been waiting for it with bated breath. There was debate over whether Zac Efron had the acting chops to truly possess the mindset and mannerisms of Bundy or if his good looks would detract from the seriousness of the film. Readers of Liz Kloepfer’s book, “The Phantom Prince,” were ready to see just how close to the book the script came and whether the facts of the cases were portrayed correctly. Personally, I had certain expectations for the film, hoping to see a new side to the Bundy myth and for a light to be shone on his deeds once and for all.
Sadly, I was mostly disappointed. Most of the scenarios in the movie, though based on reality, were distorted to make the story more watchable and exciting. Characterizations of detectives and police officers were exaggerated to make Ted seem more sympathetic that he actually was. The majority of the murders and violence were glossed over and viewed only in hindsight. That isn’t to say that the movie got everything wrong. I also understand that some of the actions by individuals were supposed to have been seen from Bundy and Liz’s points of view. However, that wasn’t made truly obvious. I wasn’t completely disappointed by the movie, just underwhelmed.
I appreciated that they actually used the real names of his victims, survivors, and detectives on the storyline. Often, names are changed to protect the identity of certain players in a crime drama. Since all of the names in the movie were of people listed in public record, there was really no need to change them. I liked that some of the actual footage of news stories was used. It lent to more of a feel of the era in which these crimes occurred. Actual pictures of the victims helped lend a feeling of truth to the story-telling as well.
What I didn’t like was the portrayal of Ken Katsaris, sheriff of Leon County, Florida, as a cowboy of sorts. Though responsible for noting and preserving the bite marks on Lisa Levy’s buttocks, he didn’t waltz into Ted’s cell with random people to take pictures of his teeth. Casts of his Ted’s teeth were taken against his will (under a warrant), the photographs and casts were taken by a qualified dentist in a dental chair. There are pictures of Ted having the procedure done. Despite his anger in his eyes, he wasn’t in any physical pain during the process. I was also disappointed that the final scene between Ted and Liz never happened. She didn’t visit him in Florida, though he called her various times from prison there. There is no evidence that he wrote “Hacksaw” on the visiting room window to anyone visiting him. This was merely a part of the script meant to ratchet up the drama. Finally, the timing of Carole Boone’s pregnancy was wrong. She didn’t give birth to their daughter Rose until October 1981, several months after Bundy was found guilty a second time. The movie shows only his first Florida trial and Carole was definitely not pregnant during that time.
In conclusion, though an exciting film, it is still mostly fiction, despite being drawn from Liz Kloepfer’s book. Director Joe Berlinger had the chance to dispel a great deal of Bundy myths in the making of his film, but he chose to romanticize him instead. Unfortunately, that makes it harder for writers and others in the media to present a true picture of a killer who was less charm than violence, less pretty boy than monster. Ironically, Berlinger directed the Netflix documentary about Bundy, “Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.” This film is actually very well done and factual and I would recommend it over “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” any day.