Directed by: Matthew Bright
With the success of the recent Netflix series Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, I thought it would be timely to check out this largely-forgotten 2002 biopic of America’s most notorious serial killer.
It’s an odd one, to say the least.
Director Matthew Bright got his start with Danny Elfman’s legendary musical nutcases Oingo Boingo, starring in and co-writing their outrageous musical Forbidden Zone. He went on to direct the campy and sleazy Freeway movies, and it’s this cut-price John Waters spirit that is evident throughout Ted Bundy.
We open with Bundy looking in the mirror and introducing himself, before spasming violently and making monkey noises.
A serious, in-depth character study this ain’t, folks.
Actor Michael Reilly Burke does a pretty good job of looking and sounding like Bundy, yet plays him with none of the charm and intelligence that made the real man so creepy and fascinating.
The good news? We do get to see him disco dance.
Things get off to a poor start. There’s a preposterous theft-montage, showing Ted stealing pasta sauce, a television and even a fucking six-foot tall potted plant, all to a soundtrack of jaunty 1970s sitcom jazz. Then he watches some women from his car and squeezes his dick in frustration.
Like I said, not a deep character study.
You see, it turns out that Bundy killed his first woman because a man poured a vase of water on his head while he was standing in a garden watching a woman undress through the window and masturbating.
This scene also features one of my favourite movie clichés — the woman who undresses by taking her shoes off last.
Does anyone actually do this? Surely the shoes come off first, before you’ve lifted the dress over your head? Especially after a night boogieing with Ted Bundy at the local discotheque.
Those heels do not look comfortable.
Am I wrong?
Sorry, I think I’m getting sidetracked, but this film is liable to do that to you. Even the kills — usually the reason d’être of these films — are dispensed with almost as an afterthought. The bodycount is astronomical, but with one or two exceptions they are over and done with in seconds. Perhaps this is to show the banality of evil, and how little the victims mattered to Bundy?
Yeah, maybe schmaybe.
Director Bright has little interest in delving into Bundy’s psyché, so what is he interested in?
It’s hard to say. The film is tonally all over the map, but seems to come down most often on the side of arch campiness. I mentioned John Waters earlier, and this film often resembles his work, though without the humour and satire and intelligence and fun.
So can this film perhaps be enjoyed on the level of campy late-night trash?
There’s a delightfully bad taste montage, scored to some sort of Motown rip-off, which shows Bundy murdering numerous nude women, intercut with him lying under a blanket with two corpses like they’ve enjoyed a lovely picnic or something.
Then there are the young female students who do exactly what all young female students do every night — have pillow fights in their underwear.
It’s absurd, but it has to be knowingly absurd, right? Right? Surely no one can be taking this nonsense seriously? My favourite laugh-out-loud moment is when Ted is hovering over a victim and he gives us the stupidest monologue I’ve ever heard. Brace yourselves, gang, here’s some pretty heavy psychology for you.
“Maybe I’m not that important out there. But here…I’m in control, because this is the Court of Ted, and what I say goes!”
The movie briefly jerks to life for one scene about halfway through, a chase through the woods that is reminiscent of Italian giallo flicks like Torso and Bay of Blood, although Bright sabotages his own scene with those pointless sped-up shots that were regrettably all the rage in the early noughties.
Later on, Tom Savini pops up for a cameo, and there’s plenty of vintage footage that will be recognisable to anyone who sat through The Ted Bundy Tapes, but little else of note. I’ll end on a positive, and point out how Bright relishes in the humiliation and murder of Bundy far more than he did with the young female victims, which is pretty unusual for the genre. He truly does come across as the pitiful, wretched monster he was, as the police shave his head and fit him with a nappy.
So do I recommend Ted Bundy? I’m afraid not. It’s relentlessly talky, it offers no insight or fresh takes, and often feels and looks like a glorified home movie.
On the flip side of the coin, it’s neither sleazy nor gruesome enough to be enjoyed as some kind of trashterpiece.
How is it possible to take one of the most extraordinary stories in the history of American crime and render it so flat and lifeless?
If you’re in the mood for some Bundy-inspired chills, then go watch Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs again.
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. A lifelong devotee of horror, his first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
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