'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile' & More Creepy Killer Tales on Netflix
Director Joe Berlinger never intended to spend so much time with Ted Bundy.
In 2017, the Emmy- and Oscar-nominated filmmaker was deep in production on his Netflix docuseries Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (just released in January) when his agent tipped him off to another project about the serial murderer: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, a screenplay chronicling Bundy's 1970s reign of terror from the viewpoint of then-girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer.
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"I loved it because it had a unique point of view," Berlinger says.
Rather than focus on the charismatic killer's many crimes, the story, inspired by Kloepfer's 1981 book, The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy, looks at the psychological pain Bundy (played here by Zac Efron, mixing his hunky appeal with a stone-cold creepiness) inflicted upon Kloepfer (Lily Collins) during their six-year relationship and even several years after.
"Lily is brilliant," praises Berlinger, noting how the role required the actress — who can also be seen as Fantine in PBS's Masterpiece: Les Misérables — to emote quiet devastation. "Liz became paralyzed, a victim of Ted's seduction," he continues. "She was emotionally immobilized. It took years for her to confront him and move on, and Lily did a great job of inhabiting that."
Kicking off with the young lovers' first meeting in 1969, the film follows their romance, which goes south after Bundy's 1975 arrest in Utah for assault and kidnapping. From there, as her boyfriend becomes linked to more unsolved crimes and succeeds in pulling off two daring escapes from cops in Colorado, Kloepfer spirals into drinking, denial, and shame over what the man may be hiding.
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As that story unfolds, a parade of familiar faces fill out key roles, including Burn Notice's Jeffrey Donovan as a Utah defense attorney, Haley Joel Osment as Liz's supportive coworker, Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons as Florida prosecutor Larry Simpson, and John Malkovich as Edward Cowart, the folksy Dade County judge who presided over Bundy's 1979 murder trial in Florida — the first ever to be televised.
It was there the cocky Bundy represented himself, playing to a courtroom of female admirers before ultimately being sent to death row. (He was executed a decade later.)
Originally intended as a theatrical release, Extremely Wicked took the long way to our screens. Michael Werwie's script had been a hot property on what is known in Hollywood as the Black List.
"It's like a directory of scripts that [actors] and producers like but for some reason haven't been made," explains Berlinger, known for top-notch documentaries like Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. At one point, Berlinger says, two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster was attached to direct.
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Thanks to the sort of kismet that gets films green-lighted, it turned out Berlinger's agency also repped Efron, who was looking for edgier roles. Before Berlinger knew it, he had a deal, a star in Efron (who also executive produced) and The Ted Bundy Tapes to finish. In fact, it was the eventual success of Tapes that led Netflix to snap up the film.
"I didn't have a master plan to have two major Bundy projects coming out [around] the same time," stresses Berlinger. "It was all coincidental."
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Still, he feels that both serve as cautionary tales, with Wicked offering insight into why anyone would fall for a maniac. "It's a portrayal of seduction and betrayal and how one becomes [taken in] by this charming psychopath, because the lessons of Bundy can't be overstated," he warns. "These people exist."
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, Friday, Netflix
More Creepy Killer Tales on Netflix
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Ryan Murphy's Emmy-winning 2018 FX series tells the story of Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), a serial killer whose 1997 spree culminated in the slaying of designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez). Penelope Cruz (above, with Ramirez) costars as his sister, Donatella. All nine episodes available
This 2017 Netflix original dramatizes how FBI agents (Jonathan Groff, above, plays one) put criminal profiling into practice in the 1970s. They interviewed prisoners, then used that knowledge to help with open cases. Season 1 available
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By day, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a quiet blood-spatter analyst for the Miami PD. By night, he's a vigilante who butchers bad guys to satisfy his serial-killer urges. The acclaimed series aired on Showtime from 2006 to 2013. Seasons 1–8 available
Before he became a full-on psycho, Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) was an awkward teen living with his overbearing mom (Vera Farmiga, above, with Highmore). The 2013–17 A&E series dives into their twisted relationship. Seasons 1–5 available