On January 24th, 1989, prolific serial killer Ted Bundy was executed by electrocution in Florida.
A handsome, charming man, Bundy appeared to most as calm and collected, someone utterly incapable of murder. After all, he was a seemingly loving partner to Liz Kendall, an aspiring law student and someone most people were drawn to.
But Ted Bundy had dark secrets that couldn’t stay buried forever. Beginning in 1974 and spanning the next five years, he mercilessly lured and murdered at least 30 women from Salt Lake City to Florida.
Bundy evaded capture and escaped from prison multiple times, but he was eventually apprehended in Florida—the same place where he was sentenced to death.
This dramatized Netflix biopic stars Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and tells the serial killer’s shocking and sordid story.
Liz Kendall is duped by Ted Bundy’s attentiveness and affection to her (and her young daughter) for a long time. But she eventually sees Bundy for who he truly is, breaking his emotionally manipulative hold over her. She later marries a gentle, protective man, beginning a new life with him.
Judge Edward D. Cowart, who issues the serial killer’s final sentence, says that he wishes Bundy wouldn’t have wasted his life. The judge also says he harbors no personal ill will against Bundy.
Bundy’s outspoken Christian mother tells the jury she believes that the death penalty is against the will of God.
Bundy and Liz meet in a bar where they flirt, slow dance and kiss. Later that night, she invites him to her house, where they fall asleep together. Bundy and Liz live together for years (but never marry).
A love scene between the two shows shirts coming off (she’s still in a bra), and they embrace in bed. Her pants are also removed. It’s insinuated the two have sex.
Years later, Bundy pays off a prison guard to have sex with a longtime friend named Carole Anne Boone (whom he marries at a courthouse in the midst of legal proceedings against him after his relationship with Liz falls apart). That scene includes rear nudity, as well as explicit sounds and motions. Carole Anne eventually tells Bundy that she’s pregnant with his baby.
Bundy and other men in prison are seen naked from behind while showering. Liz sits naked and hunched over in a bathtub in a scene that carefully avoids nudity. A woman wears a short skirt and a nightgown. Couples kiss, flirt and make out.
As this film is focused on Ted Bundy’s horrific acts against women (and one child), we hear brutal, demented and explicit details about several of these murders.
Courtroom testimony describes how Bundy’s female victims were stabbed, beaten, strangled, decapitated, physically distorted, kidnapped and threatened at gun point. Still investigation photographs indicate that women were covered in blood and had broken jaws, bashed heads, burn marks, teeth marks (which we see on a corpse’s rear) and internally ruptured organs.
Many, if not most, of Bundy’s violent crimes included twisted sexual components as well. We see a few dead, naked women both from the front and back. We hear that women’s dead, nude bodies were found after being brutally raped. We also hear graphic testimony about how one woman’s body was mutilated.
One particularly horrific police picture shows a naked woman, from the waist up, decapitated. Bundy says that he used a chain saw to kill her. We see another woman hit in the head with a golf club and dragged by Bundy.
Liz slaps Bundy in the face. She begs him to confess (and eventually turns him in). Bundy aggressively yells at Carole Anne. He hits a police officer to evade arrest.
A few days before Bundy’s death by electrocution, he confesses to murdering over 30 women, though it’s believed his actual victim count was much higher.
The f-word is uttered three times, and the s-word is used nearly 10 times. Jesus’ name is misused once. “H—” is used a few times.
When Bundy’s case becomes widely publicized, Liz begins to drink alcohol regularly to deal with the pain and hurt. Her best friend sees this as a problem, though Liz denies that her habit is out of control.
Characters smoke cigarettes. They also drink various kinds of alcohol (beer, wine, shots of hard liquor) at sorority parties and in their own homes. Bundy and Liz get drunk together.
Bundy’s victims were all subject to his powerful tools of emotional manipulation. (And this includes Liz and Carole Anne as well, though he didn’t murder them.) We see that Bundy constantly lied, cheated and abused any power and influence he had—especially in the way he used his good looks and charm to prey upon his victims’ naiveté and vulnerability.
At one point, Liz tells her best friend that she feels as if she’s nothing without Bundy’s love. Bundy continues to manipulate her by asking Liz to hold onto hope and love in their relationship. This continued connection forces Liz into a deep depression; she pushes her friends and loved ones away and harbors a deep guilt for having any connection with Ted (as well as for eventually turning him in).
Bundy also manipulates Carole Anne. He tells her he loves her, proposes to her in the courthouse and convinces her to uproot her life and move to Florida so that he can have someone to use as a pawn in front of the press.
Bundy escapes and evades the authorities multiple times.
In his final interview before being executed, Ted Bundy talked with Dr. James Dobson about how pornography played a significant role in the outcome of his life:
“I’ve lived in prison for a long time now and I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me and without exception, every one of them was deeply involved with pornography. Without question, without exception, deeply influenced and consumed by addiction to pornography.”
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile delivers a sobering, graphic dramatization of Ted Bundy’s murderous life. Actor Zac Efron chillingly embodies the infamous serial killer as we see and hear about the heinous crimes he committed. As the story unfolds, the film effectively depicts just how wicked one man’s evil choices can truly be.
But while this Netflix movie is obviously intended as a cautionary tale, it’s nearly impossible to focus on the life of a charming, handsome killer without also glorifying him a bit—even if unintentionally. Casting Efron in the lead role reinforces this tendency in the film. Writing for The Atlantic, David Sims notes:
“By focusing on only Bundy’s public face, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile succumbs to the same easy stereotypes that the press did during his trial, marveling at how a well-spoken, decent-looking man could possibly do such heinous things. The film clearly doesn’t intend to sympathize with Bundy, yet in making him the star, it can’t avoid doing so to an extent.”
Ted Bundy was indeed extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile. Which makes any depiction of this sordid serial killer’s life—even if it’s intended as a cautionary tale—a difficult feat to pull off effectively.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).