Films recounting Ted Bundy’s horrific crimes date back decades. The serial killer kidnapped and murdered more than 30 women in the 1970s. He was eventually arrested and executed in Florida in the 1980s.
His good looks and charming personality made the vicious murderer somewhat of a quagmire for the public and especially Hollywood. A number of films were made about Bundy, featuring handsome young actors.
On the heels of Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, Hollywood seems to be at it again. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile dropped at Sundance, starring fresh-faced actor Zac Efron as Bundy. This film is receiving mixed reviews, mainly being criticized for romanticizing Bundy, according to The Washington Post. Although Efron is the latest “Bundy” he joins the ranks of other actors who have taken on the dubious honor.
Harmon appeared in the first Bundy film called The Deliberate Stranger, according to Horror News. The film was made in 1986, three years before Bundy’s execution and was based on a book by reporter Richard Larsen. Because it was a “made for T.V.” movie, the NBC miniseries lacked the gore that would be included in a portrayal today. The audience had to use their imagination as the murders were done off screen.
At the time, Mark Harmon was a hot commodity in Hollywood. Playing Bundy was Harmon’s first stab at real drama too. ” “Bundy’s not a character an actor can hide behind, Harmon told The Sun-Sentinel. “Everything is real. I play him without pretense of guilt or innocence, but the film presents Bundy as if he committed the crimes he was tried for.”
“Playing Bundy is a real change-of-pace role,” Harmon added. “It also is a major career move. It’s an opportunity for me to grow as an actor. I have a lot to gain if it works, and a lot to lose if it doesn’t.”
Michael Riley Bourke
Americans couldn’t stomach another look at Bundy for more than another decade. In 2002, Ted Bundy was released with actor Michael Riley Bourke in the lead role. This film is more based in the horror genre, Horror News reports. It features Bundy in a more grotesque manner rather than with Harmon’s charming portrayal.
According to a review in The New York Times, Bundy seems almost cartoonish and animalistic in this film. “One of the film’s biggest laughs is generated by the sight of Bundy, in the middle of the night, carrying a body half-wrapped in a throw rug out to his car,” reviewer Dave Kehr wrote. “He pitches the corpse right in, unnoticed by a group of college students who are slowly moseying by the crime scene. The gory special effects are by Tom Savini, the cult make-up artist whose career goes back to ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in 1977.”
Audiences couldn’t get enough of Bundy as The Stranger Beside Me was released in 2003. This film is based on Ann Rule’s true crime novel about her relationship with Bundy. The film premiered on the USA Network and producers took liberty with making some changes to the story. Reviewers commented that the film didn’t do the book justice and missed some important elements.
Actor Billy Campbell received a decent review for his role as Bundy. “As Bundy, Campbell gives a nuanced performance; his depiction of Bundy’s compulsions is captivating, and actor oozes charisma and charm,” according to a review in Variety. “He also shows a distinctively sinister side as a man who commits heinous crimes with the intensity and compulsion of a junkie in an almost trancelike state.”
The Bundy march continued as The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River Killer, was released in 2004 on A&E. Instead of Bundy being the focus, murderer Gary Ridgway held the main storyline. Ridgway was referred to as “The Green River Killer” who claimed to kill more women than Bundy.
Cary Elwes shared what it was like to transform into Bundy. “Certainly playing a serial killer is not a healthy head space to be in,” he told The Herald Bulletin. “We had the real detective who caught Ted Bundy on the set, so he was very informative. Also he was showing us slides before breakfast and I don’t recommend anyone seeing that.”
The latest Bundy installment before the new release was Ted Bundy: An American Icon in 2008. This time, Corin Nemec assumed the role as Bundy and the film received rather anemic reviews, Horror News reports. Nemec managed to get Bundy’s aesthetics down, but the script made an effective transformation nearly impossible.
Nemec told The Deseret News what it was like to be Bundy. “You can immerse yourself into the personality of a killer all you want. But you have to stop being that person once the cameras stop rolling,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s a very unhealthy thing to do to yourself. Playing someone with a murderous side can be very damaging to your psyche.”