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Netflix's "Ted Bundy Tapes" Leaves Viewers Scared and Confused

The docuseries avoids possible pitfalls of covering America's best known serial killer by deconstructing the culture, politics, and female "groupies" that cultivated the Bundy Effect™.

The Daily World

The most surprising takeaway from Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes is how many women still find America's favorite murderer attractive.

Netflix released its latest true crime docuseries on Thursday, January 24: the 30th anniversary of Bundy's execution in Florida. The series' main draw is Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth's previously unreleased interviews with Bundy, which were conducted while he was on death row in 1980. The journalists recall their interactions with the sexually sadistic killer during their 150 hours of interviewing him for their 1989 book. "Ted stands out because he was quite an enigma: clean-cut, articulate, very intelligent, just a handsome, young, mild-mannered law student," Michaud says. "He didn't look like anybody's notion of someone who would tear apart young girls."

The Ted Bundy Tapes is a self-aware docuseries. Joe Berlinger is clearly conscious of the fact that Bundy is probably the most well-known and exhaustively covered subject in the true crime genre. The basics of the Ted Bundy cautionary tale are now almost cliche: the least likely suspects can turn out to be the worst monsters. As Berlinger noted, "He taps into our most primal fear: That you don't know, and can't trust, the person sleeping next to you. People want to think those who do evil are easily identifiable. Bundy tells us that those who do evil are those who often people we know and trust the most." So in addition to being well-produced, the angle of the four episodes is to deconstruct that signature Bundy Effect™ that altered 80s media, the criminal investigation, and the American psyche.

When a 22-year-old named Lynda Ann Healy disappeared in 1974, the term "serial killer" didn't exist in the American vernacular. By the time two college students were murdered in Florida State University's Chi Omega sorority house in 1978, criminal investigators had identified a pattern to the string of brutal murders that had spanned over seven states. The Ted Bundy Tapes combines archival news footage and interviews with investigators to convey the mass fear that disrupted the 1970s' wave of female empowerment and autonomy. At the same time, class mobility and Republican politics created a decade that was "perfect for [Bundy] because he [didn't] have to be real," as Berlinger pointed out.

Park Record

Despite claiming to be innocent on Death Row, Bundy finally confessed to Michaud and Aynesworth in their exclusive audio recordings. After listening to the excerpts, the erratic confession could've been another one of Bundy's manic, illogical plans to misdirect attention (and postpone execution) by focusing on his 30 victims. He begins the interviews with the same egomaniacal enthusiasm that characterized his court appearance and press conferences: "It is a little after nine o'clock in the evening. My name is Ted Bundy. I've never spoken to anybody about this. I am looking for an opportunity to tell the story as best I can. I'm not an animal and I'm not crazy. I don't have a split personality. I mean, I'm just a normal individual."

But there's another bizarre element to the Bundy Effect™ that's been repeated in cases like the recent family murderer, Chris Watts. Some women who were well aware of Bundy's homicidal and necrophilic urges still swooned over the man. The Ted Bundy Tapes also touches on the strange phenomenon of "serial killer groupies," including Bundy's wife, Carol Ann Boone. Footage of the killer proposing to her while she was testifying at his trial demonstrates her disturbing devotion, which she later proved by "somehow" having sex with Bundy during a prison visit and later giving birth to their daughter. Aside from calling him "kind, warm, and patient," Boone also said in archival footage, "Let me put it this way, I don't think that Ted belongs in jail. I don't think they had reason to charge Ted Bundy with murder."

The Telegraph

In fact, while Netflix summed up the public's 30-year-long fascination with Bundy in a tweet describing him as "charming, good-looking, and one of the most dangerous serial killers that ever existed in America," the most disturbing effect of the docuseries may be a resurgence in women who find him appealing. After its release, "Ted Bundy" became a trending topic on Twitter, with users debating the serial killer's attractiveness. One user called him "the most beautiful psychopath in the world," while another said he looked like "the Joker minus the makeup."

With Zac Efron set to inhabit Bundy in the upcoming film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the world might have to confront the weird equation of 70s beauty standards and institutional failures that made Ted Bundy a criminal celebrity.

Zac Efron (Left) and Ted Bundy (Right)People

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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Film Lists

10 Most Anticipated Documentaries of 2019

Dive deep into backstories as diverse as the fraudulent biotech company, Theranos, and as compelling as the Lorena Bobbitt love story: "Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy marries girl. Girl cuts off boy's penis."

No, we're not fully "post-truth" in 2019.

Understandably, it can seem that way, with Trumpian headlines evoking post-apocalyptic fiction and two new Fyre Festival documentaries already shocking the world with the claim that Ja Rule is still relevant. But that means we're more equipped than ever to face many sides of an issue, with the understanding that everyone sees it through his or her own perspective. As the documentaries slated for release in 2019 showcase, perspective is sometimes altruistic, criminal, drug-addled, or from a nude stripper.

Here are 10 upcoming documentaries that will sharpen your understanding of "truth":

1.Who Will Write Our History (in select theaters, January 27)


Within the Warsaw Ghetto, a group of journalists and scholars resisted the Nazi occupation using truth as a weapon. Historian Emanuel Ringelblum, code named Oyneg Shabes, led this clandestine group in their goal "to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda not with guns or fists but with pen and paper." Interviews and archived material are featured, as well as the voices of Adrien Brody and Joan Allen.

2. Rodman (fall, 2019)

Yahoo Canada Style

For the late Penny Marshall's last project, she focused on her friend, the controversial and baffling figure, Dennis Rodman. Marshall's goal was to examine "who Dennis Rodman really was," aside from his eccentric personality and odd friendship with Kim Jong Un. The documentary's comprised of hundreds of hours of interviews with Rodman's friends, as well as Jay Leno, Phil Jackson, and even Donald Trump (conducted before he became president.)

3. Our Planet (Netflix, April 5)

Media Play News

The Planet Earth creators are following up with an eight-part nature docuseries that tackle the issue of climate change. Narrated by David Attenborough and produced in collaboration with The World Wide Fund for Nature, the series will "showcase the planet's most precious species and fragile habitats" throughout 50 countries.

4. The Edge of Democracy (TBA)


Petra Costa examines the impeachments of Brazil's Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula de Silva. Costa interviewed both to query how and why the leaders polarized the country so severely.

5. This One's for the Ladies (spring, 2019)


It's Magic Mike but in documentary format. Alright, it also "explores the sexual and social identity of contemporary black America through intimate, eye opening, and often hilarious accounts from women and men who find love and community in the underground world of exotic dancing." But it's mostly Magic Mike in documentary format.

6. Lorena (Amazon Prime, February 15)

Star Magazine

In 1993, Lorena Bobbitt became infamous for cutting off her husband's penis. Her story was tabloid gold and comedic fodder, but this four-part series exposes the marital abuse leading up to the assault. With Jordan Peele serving as executive producer, Lorena is poised to comment on public attitudes toward sexual assault while also acknowledging the absurdist humor America saw in Bobbitt's story: "Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy marries girl. Girl cuts off boy's penis."

7. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (Sundance, 2019)


Alex Gibney is adding another deep dive into corruption to his already illustrious list of documentaries, including Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Featuring exclusive footage from company insiders, Gibney will explore the fraudulent biotech start up, Theranos, and its CEO and founder, Elizabeth Holmes.

8. Cold Case Hammarskjöld (March, 2019)

Doc Society

Mads Brügger tackles the conspiracy surrounding the death of UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, in the 1960s. The first person, expose-style documentary features Brügger and a private investigator going undercover to find that the diplomat's airplane crash was part of a wider scandal.

9. The Great Hack (Sundance, January 26)


Oscar-nominated for The Square, filmmakers Jehane Noujaim and Kareem Amer examine the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook user data breach. The documentary examines not only what went wrong but the nature of privacy in the digital age and how vulnerable we continue to make ourselves.

10. Hail Satan? (January 25, 2019)


The excitable director Penny Lane combines humor and history in a surprising examination of the new Satanic movement in America. She said, "When my producer Gabriel [Sedgwick] and I started cooking up this wacky (and surprisingly inspirational?!) documentary on the new Satanic movement, we knew the hardest part would be finding the right partners to help us bring it to the public. It's controversial! It's about Satan!"

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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