‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ director Joe Berlinger on the importance of the Ted Bundy story from Elizabeth Kloepfer's viewpoint

MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) spoke to director Joe Berlinger about the inspiration behind his new film ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ and why this unique perspective is as necessary as it is controversial


                            ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ director Joe Berlinger on the importance of the Ted Bundy story from Elizabeth Kloepfer's viewpoint

Most people know two things about Ted Bundy;  he was a serial killer and he was devilishly handsome.  An odd combination, no?  Bundy was executed via the electric chair in Florida in 1989 for murdering at least 30 women during the 1970s.

While there have been many re-tellings of the story of Ted Bundy, Netflix’s ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ takes a different approach than the others. Starring Zac Efron and Lily Collins and directed by documentarian Joe Berlinger, ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ tells the story through the lens of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (played by Collins). 

Berlinger also directed Netflix’s docu-series about Bundy, ‘Conversations with a Killer:  The Ted Bundy Tapes’, which chronologically traces Bundy’s life, crimes, arrests, escapes and death through archival footage and interviews. 

Berlinger clearly has a unique fascination for Bundy, as does most of America, but what is it about Bundy that makes him different than any other serial killer? MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) sat down with Berlinger to discuss the film, but we first delved into why it was that people are so obsessed with Bundy and his story.

“I have always been fascinated by Bundy because I think he defies all stereotypes of what we want to think a serial killer is.  We want to think a serial killer is some dark dude who doesn’t get along with anybody, who is a social outcast, who has no friends.  If you think that a serial killer is just some unpopular social outcast, then it means he is easily identifiable, and therefore we can avoid him, but Bundy was the opposite. The other fascinating thing about this case is how the media turned him into a hero. To me, the Bundy trial is like the big bang of the true crime phenomena. This was the first time that cameras were allowed in the courtroom and it was the first time that there was technology allowed in at all,” Berlinger said.



 

While most other Ted Bundy narratives deal with the murders themselves, Berlinger took a different approach and based ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ on Bundy’s longtime girlfriend Kloepfer’s book, “The Phantom Prince:  My Life with Ted Bundy”. 

Berlinger and Collins actually went to meet with Kloepfer herself, who opened up her home and personal memories to them.  It was a very visceral experience for both Berlinger and Collins, who got a real look into why it was that Bundy was so easy to trust and believe.

“Over the course of a couple of days Liz was more and more trusting and I think it was very emotional and helpful for all of us.  At one point she even pulled out these photo albums from the seventies. They were like these classic 1970s photos with the date at the bottom and so we were all going through the photos and it was this happy, family unit…riding ponies,  birthday parties, sailing, camping, skying. They were this happy family of three, but the dude in the photos was Ted Bundy.  For me that made me realize that we really were going down the right path with the viewpoint of this film. It’s a cautionary tale because the people who most often do evil in this world are the people you least expect and most often trust,” he said.

Because we see the story from the perspective of Kloepfer, the audience doesn’t actually see a lot of visual violence in the film, which makes sense because Kloepfer herself never did.  Some critics may argue that because of this, Berlinger glorified Bundy and portrayed him in the charming light he hoped to be perceived in. That said, Berlinger had good reason as to why he chose to tell the story this way, which he expanded on.



 

“Some people said that I was glamorizing Bundy by not showing the catalog of killings. First of all, I think it’s more disrespectful to the victims to show the catalog of killings. I think a catalog of killings numbs you by the end of the film so that the ending would just be another killing and wouldn’t have the emotional impact. I am trying to give the audience the same experience that Liz had,” Berlinger explained.

One of the most fascinating things about the film and the story is that while Kloepfer certainly fit the mold of Bundy’s victims, she was spared time and time again. Bundy claimed to have loved Kloepfer, but can a sociopathic murderer every truly love anyone but themselves? Berlinger himself believes yes, Bundy may have actually loved Kloepfer in his own way, and perhaps this is why she still lives today. 

Zac Efron, Lily Collins with Director Joe Berlinger attend the European premiere of the SKY CINEMA original "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" at The Curzon Mayfair on April 24, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images for Sky)

“Sometimes people bristle when I say it might have been love because a sociopath by definition can’t love…but it’s how you define love. If you define love as the selfless acceptance of somebody else, then no he didn’t love her…but love can mean many things.  Love can also be very needy and it can also be a need for normalcy. He cared about her, for whatever his own selfish reasons were. It’s the essence of why this movie spoke to me, he had this need for normalcy and for the appearance of normalcy. That’s what is so scary, because people who do these terrible things…they don’t do these things 24/7, they are also leading (to varying degrees) normal lives and that is what is so frightening,” he added.

‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile’ will be available to stream on Netflix and in select theaters May 2.