Modern celebrity serial killer culture arguably started with Ted Bundy, a man known for his normcore good looks, charisma, and brutal rape and murder of at least thirty women in the 70s.
In the new four-part Netflix docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, true-crime aficionados get to hear excerpts from never-before-released interviews with Bundy while he was on death row.
Ted Bundy is known as the mild-mannered guy you could easily find yourself enjoying a beer with — before realizing he’s describing the location of his victims’ decapitated bodies. In the upcoming Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile film, the notorious murderer will be played by none other than Zac Effron. That’s not playing against type, either, since Effron easily fits Bundy’s persona as the nice guy with an aw schucks kind of handsomeness.
At its best, The Ted Bundy Tapes forces us to sit with the sheep in wolf’s clothing, and what he represents as the dimpled, smiling face of Good Guy misogyny.
Out of all the famous serial killers, it is perhaps Ted Bundy who is most disconcerting to listen to in conversation simply because of how easy he makes it for you to forget about the heinous sadism he inflicted upon dozens of female victims. It’s undeniably disturbing to listen to the ease and charm of Bundy’s small talk with the interviewer, who uncomfortably admits to finding lots of common ground with the serial killer. At first.
Unlike, say, Richard Ramirez or John Wayne Gacy, Bundy terrifies because he feels like one of us rather than some evil outlier. In todays world, you could imagine the young republican Ted Bundy getting his own Richard Spencer-style profile focusing on his dapper charm and politeness. Only instead of neo-Nazism, Bundy would be known for dressing up his violent hatred of women as a perfectly reasonable counter argument to the rise of 1970s second-wave feminism.
Bundy terrifies because he feels like one of us rather than some evil outlier.
That’s what gives the conversation part of The Ted Bundy Tapes so much weight.
If you ignore the details, he sounds like any other privileged white guy overestimating his own importance and respectability, confident in his belief that doing whatever he wants is his god-given right. His sheepish stumbles through discussions of his crimes carries the same tone of countless men who excuse past bad behavior with a “boys will be boys” shrug.
But aside from a few truly disturbing moments, the newness of the material the series advertises feels all-in-all a bit overstated.
Those who know the case well will likely be disappointed by the amount of time spent on a cursory summary of Bundy’s case, instead of the 100 hours of tapes. Outside of the excerpts, you won’t find many fresh takes, information, or insights into the man behind the monster.
Yet those unfamiliar with Bundy won’t find much of a comprehensive introduction here either, and will miss out on some of the more notorious details about his crimes and execution. The four-part series feels like a content dump to feed our insatiable true-crime appetite, rather than a well thought out portrait of Bundy with a unique perspective.
Despite its flaws, though, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy does capture what’s disturbingly compelling and oddly relevant about Bundy to today’s politics.