The casting of High School Musical heartthrob Zac Efron as real-life killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile has raised eyebrows in Hollywood and beyond. Efron has certainly taken a change in direction with this role, progressing from frat boy pin-up to serial killer.
The new movie follows the recent Netflix original, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. It confirms that true crime is hot right now, following the success of Making a Murder,and the trend looks set to continue. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, currently showing at the Sundance Film Festival, is another contribution to the genre, but has sparked some interesting debates around the glamorisation of murder. A key theme is whether Efron is too good-looking to be an evil character. In the movies, surely villains should be unattractive?
Evil is as evil does
We have all grown up with films, series and toys which followed the convention that traditionally attractive people are good, while baddies tend to be older, uglier, carry more weight, or (in most cases) more wrinkles. (They are often also English, but that’s another matter). From Shakespeare (think Richard III – “Since I cannot prove a lover I am determined to prove a villain”) to classic Disney cartoons to James Bond (think Jaws), we are used to seeing evil characters whose appearance embodies their inherent badness.
Real life, of course, is not as simple as that. And it seems that Hollywood is now keen to correct the balance. As the new movie’s director, Joe Berlinger, explained, “Bundy challenges all of our beliefs of what a serial killer should look like because he used his good looks and intelligence to hide his double life for far too long, and that is the focus of the film.”
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile captures why so many women were lured into such dangerous situations; Bundy was charming, handsome and charismatic. While he was on trial, women used to dress as his victims, labelling themselves as ‘groupies’ and slipping him love notes. The media romanticised him, which is one of the reasons why the coverage for his case was so extensive.
Let’s talk about You..
Comparisons have been made to Netflix’s recent cult hit ‘You’, which is currently lining up for a second season (and may well have been based on Bundy). Joe, the lead character and narrator, played by Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley, is a man obsessed with a woman he bumps into at work. He starts to stalks her, and ends up on a murderous spree. However, people were still fantasising about him.. because he’s good looking, or as one article put it, “ a creepy dreamboat.” The same can be said for 50 Shades’ Christian Grey; a man who emotionally abuses women for what appears to be the whole of his adult life, but many people still think he’s the perfect man.
The appetite for true-crime content, whether documentaries or fictionalised movies, continues to grow, with Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming movie about Charles Manson another keenly anticipated addition to the genre. We find ourselves drawn inevitably to the protagonists, especially, it seems, if they are good-looking and charismatic. That can make for great, challenging viewing, but the notion of portraying ‘loveable’ or ‘hot’ murderers is also, perhaps, rather troubling.