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What's Streaming: 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile': A killer obsession

In the ’70s, Ted Bundy stalked the streets from Florida to Washington and Oregon. He eventually confessed to killing 30 young women and at least one child. He was a truly evil man, but what made him evil was also what gave him national celebrity status.

As a law student, he was familiar with the law and was determined to be a part of his own defense. He made not one, but two successful jail escapes. He was the quintessential charming devil, and there were those who had their doubts for years about his guilt.

Many books, documentaries and films have been made about Bundy. Netflix now makes its own attempt to write one down in the history books with “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Zac Efron stars as Bundy and captures the charming man and only hints at the person accused and convicted of a string of horrifically brutal murders.

“Extremely Wicked” is a well-acted, well-directed film that relies on your knowledge that the main character is inherently evil, and it is that aspect that is well hidden from view. Without seeing the accompanying documentary, one could even look at Bundy as an anti-hero. He is anything but.

The film is directed by Joe Berlinger and is the second project he has worked on for Netflix revolving around Bundy. His previous work is a four-part series called “Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer,” and it is recommended to watch this series to better balance “Extremely Wicked.” While Efron is convincing as Bundy, the movie fails to capture the brutality sufficiently enough, making the film more romantic in nature.

But it is the romantic aspect of the film that makes the deeds and denials more chilling. “Extremely Wicked” does take small liberties with the truth, earning it a “based on” moniker rather than “a true story.”

Those changes to the truth were made by Berlinger to better sell the story — the unique angle of the film is from the perspective of Bundy’s long-time love “Liz Kendall” (played by Lily Collins) and the lack of actual evidence to tie him to the murders. “Liz” is fictitious character based on Bundy’s real-life love interest.

“Extremely Wicked” highlights the lack of evidence in a time void of technology. There were no cellphones, street cameras, computer databases, etc. in the ’70s. As Bundy moved from Washington and Oregon to Utah and finally to Florida, he left a trial of mutilated bodies, many of them left in deep forest areas. Bundy’s case was the first for multi-state police and federal coordination and involvement.

This lack of evidence was what made the subsequent trials so compelling, and the escapes Bundy made only furthered his guilt in the eyes of the law. But the public saw him, at that time, as a sympathetic figure. His case was the first to be nationally televised, and as a result, scores of young women attended his many trials thanks to his charming demeanor.

But where “Extremely Wicked” succeeds with story direction, it also fails to deliver on the eccentric ability of Bundy to physically transform. After every arrest Bundy, could make his appearance drastically different than his previous look. The decision to ignore this was probably made because this detail was too distracting to the thesis of the film: Did Bundy commit these acts?

The end of the film finally gives the viewer closure, and to Bundy’s love, “Liz,” as well. But in the subtle way that continues the denials because the admission was never uttered. “Extremely Wicked” is a good film, but it should not be watched as a standalone movie. “Ted Bundy: Conversations with a Killer” fills in the gaps left by “Extremely Wicked.”

So, if you’re in the mood for a true crime story with a theatric flair, both films make for a binge-worthy afternoon. It’s a real killer obsession.

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.