Make A Date With “Ted Bundy”

Posted: January 9, 2013 in movies
Tags: , , , , ,

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Calm down, people — I’m speaking figuratively with the probably-a-whole-lot-less-clever-than-I-thought-it-was title to this post, and you couldn’t date notorious serial killer Ted Bundy even if you wanted to, because he’s long since dead. Not that he’s the kind of guy you’d want to spend an evening (or more) with even if he were still alive, because he was an A-1 nutcase — which, apparently, wasn’t enough to stop something along the order of 200 women from corresponding with him regularly and professing their love for him. But I digress —

Anyway, it’s not Ted Bundy the man we’re here to discuss (well, okay, it sort of is —) but director/co-writer (along with Stephen Johnston) Matthew Bright’s 2002 straight-to-video feature film Ted Bundy, also known by the simpler (and, in my opinion, more effective) title of Bundy, which it was released under in the UK and continental European markets. Billed by its distributor, First Look Studios, as a “biographical horror film,” it’s certainly that, as well  as being a tour-de-force for star Michael Reilly Burke  and, surprisingly, the most effective anti-death-penalty political statement committed to celluloid since Dead Man Walking. Sound interesting? I assure you, it is.

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Odds are you probably know Ted’s story by now — he killed who knows exactly how many women in who knows how many states over a period of who knows how many years, managed to escape from custody twice, and was eventually executed in Florida’s notorious “Ol’Sparky” electric chair in 1985. He’s officially been “credited” with 19 murders, although he himself said the number was somewhere between 30 and 35, and the makers of this film have been even more — ahem! — generous and state that as many as 150 unfortunate young women and girls may have given up the ghost to the disarmingly charming, meticulously-dressed, avowedly conservative- Republican Mr. Bundy. Pretty much everybody who knew Ted liked and trusted him (with the exception of his on-again/off-again fiancee, portrayed quite sympathetically in this movie by Boti Bliss — okay, yeah, she loved the guy, but she also saw enough of his darker-than-dark side to learn to fear him as well) — hell, he even spent an extended period of time working in Seattle as a phone counselor at a suicide hotline! “Don’t kill yourself, pretty girl, let me come over and do it for you —”

Ted’s pretty much been a TV mainstay in the years since his demise, with countless “True Crime” cable documentaries devoted to his kill-spree, as well as numerous features on his life and crimes appearing on pretty much every “tabloid”-style quasi-“news” show you’d care to mention. Hell, Mark Harmon even played him an ABC movie of the week!  I feel pretty safe, however, in stating that absolutely no one has captured his essence as thoroughly as the star of this flick, one Michael Reilly Burke, who really should have been nominated for an Oscar for his work here, except for that pesky little tradition the Academy has of ignoring DTV films.

The screen caps I’ve included with this review should give you some sense of the extraordinary physical transformations that Burke went through over the course of this film, from dapper ladies’ man to emaciated convict, but it’s the many hauntingly memorable psychological transformations Burke portrays with such assured clarity that really seal the deal here and elevate this performance from being merely “good” to “amazingly good.” This guy gets under Bundy’s skin in a way that none of us reg’lar folks would probably have the guts to do, and I can only imagine what a number working on this film must have done to his psyche for a little while there. I hope his wife or girlfriend at the time was incredibly understanding. Better yet, I hope he was single.

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As far as the narrative of the film itself goes, it’s all pretty straightforward stuff and probably doesn’t diverge too much from what you’d find in those “True Crime” cable specials and Mark Harmon TV movies I mention, albeit with some nudity and well-executed gore effects thrown in (Tom Savini did the special makeup effects in one of his final “behind the camera” jobs (not that he doesn’t get in front of it for a few minutes as well, turning in a cameo as a cop interviewing Bundy after his first arrest on a kidnapping charge), and the KNB effects team are on board for things like corpse construction and the like, as well — try affording them these days on this flick’s $1,200,000 budget! They probably command a higher salary than that in and of themselves for each individual episode of The Walking Dead). That is, until the last 15 minutes or so —

For reasons I can’t quite fathom but undoubtedly work to the film’s advantage, Bright spends a hell of a lot of time focusing on Ted’s final hours, and whether such was his intention or not, the end result, aided by Burke’s almost superhumanly powerful acting, is a deeply harrowing critique of the unconscionably madness that is state-sponsored execution. You won’t feel sorry for Ted Bundy by any stretch of the imagination — Burke’s done too solid a job showing his monstrous side for that — but you will walk away thinking that even a completely amoral asshole like him shouldn’t go out in a way this inhumane and ugly, and that we as a society are really no better than he is by allowing this type of “justice” to be carried out in our name. It’s provides a surprisingly harrowing conclusion to a surprisingly well-done film.

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First Look’s DVD of Ted Bundy is presented with full-frame picture and stereo sound, and while neither will blow you away by any means, both are perfectly adequate. Extras on the release consist of the trailer and a full-length director’s commentary from Bright that lags in places but is generally pretty informative. Still, it’s the strength of the movie itself that’s the selling(or renting) point here. I certainly don’t go into straight-to-video serial killer biopics expecting much — I was damn near blown away, at least in relation to my the size of my expectations, by this one.

Comments
  1. There’s another more recent Ted Bundy film, which shows up on Chiller fairly frequently. I forget who played Bundy but Kane Hodder played the warden who got to taunt him before sending him to the electric chair. (Needless to say, this Bundy film celebrated the death penalty.) I’ve seen bits and pieces of the Bright film but I’ve never seen it all the way through. I’ll have to, at some point, just for the anti-death penalty ending.

    • trashfilmguru says:

      I’m not even so certain that being anti-death-penalty was Bright’s intention, to be honest — he may have been trying to how Bundy’s harrowing and humiliating final hours as a way of saying “here’s what you get, asshole.” The problem in, Burke’s performance is just too damn good for that. He really sells you on the inhumaity of capital punishment, even though he’s playing a completely unreformed, inhuman monster. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

  2. What a great review. I’ll put this on my short list of movies to find.

    • trashfilmguru says:

      Thanks, hope you find the movie to your liking!

      • Well shit in a tin can. Just noticed this movie is directed by Matthew Bright, writer/director of Freeway, Freeway 2 Confessions of a Trick Baby, and an original member of Oingo Boingo.

      • trashfilmguru says:

        Yup. Not sure why his filmmaking career never took off more than it did, because he’s a pretty solid director, and always has a knack of getting way more from what he’s got to work with than you would expect.

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