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“I’m not an animal and I’m not crazy… I’m just a normal individual”
In the past number of years, Netflix have produced some of the most talked about real-life crime documentaries. The latest binge-worthy release is one with an obvious twist, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. The difference of course is unlike Making A Murder or The Staircase, there is no doubt to the guilt of Ted Bundy. It is well publicized what he did, how he did it but not so much how many times – between 36-100 victims – and of course the all-important question in understanding why he was compelled to do it.
He was sentenced in February 1980 and finally put to death thirty-years ago this year. Perhaps it is that anniversary that has led Emmy Award-winning documentary maker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper) to put together this view into the mind of Bundy. With the use of actual taped-conversations from death row with journalist Stephen G. Michaud, some of which have never been heard before, it paints a terrifying picture of the famous murderer as it tries to answer that question; what makes a serial killer?
Although it is called ‘conversations’ the dialogue is a lot more one sided. Bundy spews his self-absorption out over four one-hour episodes. He wanted to tell his story, he took pride in it. This was seen by Bundy as his own celebrity-bio, his legacy. That is the way he approached these interviews and recordings.
The very clever way in which Berlinger has put the documentary together makes it riveting at times. It is four hours of narrative taken from one-hundred hours of recordings and the exhaustive process of cutting it down does reap rewards. There is also the inclusion of up to date interviews and examinations with the people who knew him; journalists from the day, police and the people who worked with him and knew him as a friend.
The one-sided nature of the documentary however displays Bundy’s desire to be in control, his desire to be in charge – in-part a reason for his crimes. There was never going to be a confession or admission of guilt here, he left that until the hours before his execution as a last gasp bargaining chip. That said, there are moments when Bundy does let his guard down, perhaps losing his train of thought in this self-detracting world of his well-spoken ego.
He chillingly never expresses remorse of any kind even though he is facing the death penalty. While Michaud conducted the interviews, a second journalist at the time Hugh Aynesworth re-investigated the murders. The latter was trying to find evidence to connect Bundy to them by conducting interviews with the relatives of victims at the time, some of which are included here.
From the outset Bundy projects his devious nature, building a picture of his perfect upbringing and idyllic childhood. All of this however was proven to be anything but. This reveals his sociopathic traits of lying, manipulating the truth; methods by which he managed to elude the authorities for so long. What does connect this to the aforementioned other Netflix documentaries is again a failure on the part of the authorities to apprehend him. The finger was pointed very early on in Bundy’s direction by a survivor and even his girlfriend of the day.
What’s particularly fascinating is Bundy frustratingly refused to talk about the murders, Therefore, the interviewer Michaud decided on a tactic where instead of trying to get Bundy to talk about the murders in the third person he asks: “Tell me what sort of person would have done this?” From here the documentary takes shape and pace with the stark reminder of the murdering beast coming to the surface. Bundy’s voice changes dramatically and now we start to become introduced slowly to Bundy the rapist and murderer.
Further Reading: Why Do We All Love True Crime Podcasts?
The viewer is reminded constantly that this is the embodiment of evil, one of the real-life monsters of the twentieth-century. Bundy was the all-American male; blue-eyed, intelligent charming – the pin-up serial killer – offering some explanation of how he could reel women to their death. Inter-cut at times as Bundy talks, is the graphic images of the murder scenes, reminding viewers of what this man is capable of as to not get completely drawn in by him.
There is plenty to like here for the lovers of the true-crime sagas which Netflix have a knack of producing brilliantly. Our need to be terrified yet entertained by the macabre is fed fully, similar to the women who showed up at Bundy’s trial, both terrified but intrigued by him. One in fact, Carole Ann Boone, moved to Florida to be near him and subsequently married him. It is a telling tale of how it may not be the introverted outcast in society we need to be wary of. A monster can come wrapped in charm and charisma, with a smile that can lure us to out of safety.
This is not Joe Berlinger’s only Ted Bundy themed work which will be released this year. He is bringing a movie to the Sundance Film Festival with Zac Efron as Bundy titled Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. At first, this casting might seem like an odd choice. However, getting the person you’d least expect to be killer to portray this man may work. After all, it did for Bundy. Whether it is to be as successfully delivered is yet to be seen. Though for the minute we have this short but absorbing series to enjoy.