A new film about one of history’s most infamous personalities stirs our innate dark curiosities.
Words by Ferdinand Godinez
Despite our repulsion to serial killers, there is often something inside us that draws us to their stories. Some morbid curiosity.
This fascination goes a long way back – from tales about Jack the Ripper to the succession of notorious cases that sowed widespread fear in the US during the 70s, 80s and even today.
Interest in true crimes has surged exponentially in recent years and Netflix has been right there feeding our intrigue with a succession of popular shock-docs. Many of us have sat on our sofas and binge watched ‘The Keepers’, ‘The Staircase’, ‘Evil Genius’ and the global phenomenon that was ‘Making a Murderer’.
Numerous podcasts like ‘Serial’, ‘Crime Junkie,’ ‘Casefile,’ ‘In the Dark’ and ‘Criminal’ have all attracted a huge following across the globe too.
Not even the sacred space of our cinema screens have been spared this trend. Showing across UAE theatres this week is the film ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,’ a biographical crime drama based on the life of one of history’s most monstrous criminals.
The movie follows the story of Ted Bundy (Zac Efron), told from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins), who refused to believe the truth about Ted.
The film – riding on the popularity of the Netflix hit series ‘Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” – is spearheading a succession of biographical crime thrillers in the coming months.
So why are we fascinated by serial killers?
“They represent something larger than life, something truly cartoonishly monstrous, like the horror stories you’re told as a child,” said James Hoare, editor of Real Crime magazine.
“Everybody responds to the idea that there’s something nasty out there.”
A real life boogeyman.
For Bridget Rubenking, media psychology scholar and professor at University of Central Florida, films and books gives us an opportunity to indulge our fascination with the macabre as a distant spectator.
“These are safe ways to explore such a morbid topic,” she suggests, “exploring … negative things – ranging from the fearful or frightful, to quite depressing and melancholy – is common and quite easy to do through media, where the risks are substantially less than exploring these subjects in non-mediated [real] environments.”
The film’s director, Joe Berlinger, scoffed at the idea that the movie is another example of Hollywood romanticising the lives of serial killers.
If anything, the film provides viewers a deeper look at how societal stereotypes can fail us horribly.
“We want to think a serial killer is some dark and twisted social outcast who’s repulsive looking because it gives us comfort that these people are easily identifiable in society, and therefore avoidable,” Joe said.
“I think Bundy teaches us the exact opposite. He was charming and good looking and had lots of friends and people couldn’t imagine that he was capable of doing these things, so he eluded capture for a long time. That’s a very important lesson for people.”
He added: “I felt like it was time to remind people of a fundamental lesson that I had gleaned in my 25 years of true-crime filmmaking, which is some of the people we least expect and sometimes trust the most are often capable of the worst evils.”