Throughout the 1970s a predator prowled various parts of America, randomly murdering young women with almost indiscriminate precision. A celebrity among serial killers, a household name, and a brutal, violent, psychopath, Ted Bundy is the star of another movie.
2019’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile cast Zac Efron as the celebrity Ted. Playing with audience expectations, those who went into the film expecting to see two hours of violence against women would have been sorely disappointed. As such, it was a fascinating portrait of the killer and the cult of fame in the USA. Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is far, far, less effective.
Though it’s impossible to know for sure, there is an argument that the likes of Bundy inspired some of the cinema released at the time. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1979) and Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) both featured a relentless killer attacking young people for no apparent reason, and some of the screen language from those films is transplanted into the actions of Bundy here. With a synthetised soundtrack and featuring shots and angles that are at times shamelessly copied from these classics. It’s a strangely unbalanced way of presenting him, the comparison to Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees (or more precisely Jason’s mother – sorry if that’s a spoiler), misrepresents the malice and forethought that Bundy put into his crimes. He wasn’t just blindly slashing in the dark at anyone he came across. He plotted, he targeted, and he attacked. So, we are given screen language that suggests one thing, and actions that suggest another. As such it doesn’t really hold together very well.
Aside from this stylistic faux pas, the production values themselves leave a fair bit to be desired. Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman feels a bit like a TV movie, and the way it takes a linear unimaginative view of events suggests you could probably get a better overview by listening to a podcast. Add this to the on-screen violence shown in detail of what are supposed to be his real victims, and we end up with a piece of exploitative trash that does very little to redeem itself.
Chad Michael Murray’s Bundy is an ok attempt, but honestly if you’ve seen Zac Ephron play the guy, you’ll just be thinking of him the whole time.
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is an argument for why sometimes it’s best to take a different view on these sorts of stories. Give the audience something they don’t know they want, produce something more interesting, less exploitative, and that deserves their time. Perhaps, maybe, if it hadn’t been made two years after a much better film on the same subject, it would have stood a chance.
It’s also worth noting that this film has a companion piece; Aileen Wuornos: American Boogeywoman. The title speaks for itself on that one.
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman is released on December 6th.