In his third directorial outing here, Matthew Bright has turned to the real-life story of serial killer Ted Bundy. Although only eventually convicted for four murders, Ted Bundy is known to have definitely killed 36 women across Washington, Utah, Colorado and Florida states between 1974 and 1978. (The figure is believed to have possibly been as high as 100). Bundy was sentenced to the electric chair and executed in Florida in 1989. Of all the recent films based on the stories of true life serial killers see the likes of The Boston Strangler (1968), The Honeymoon Killers (1970), Ed Gein (2000), Dahmer (2002), Nightstalker (2002), Gacy (2003), Monster (2003), Evilenko (2004), The Hillside Strangler (2004), Starkweather (2004), The Zodiac (2005), Karla (2006), Lonely Hearts (2006), Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (2007), Zodiac (2007), The Alphabet Killer (2008), B.T.K. (2008) and Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas (2009) Ted Bundy would have, at least up until Zodiac, to be the single most faithful to the actual details of the case.
Matthew Bright is extraordinarily accurate in the minutiae of detail from depicting Bundys favourite gimmick of using the cast on his arm to ask women for help, to the story where he tried to impersonate a police officer to abduct Carol DaRonch, even the infamous yellow VW Bug. (The girlfriend played by Boti Ann Bliss actually existed she even later wrote a book about her relationship with Bundy, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy (1981), under the pseudonym Elizabeth Kendall). Every murder that is seen throughout the film restages killings that Ted Bundy conducted, which Matthew Bright replicates even down to mentioning minor details such as Bundy biting his victims and beating them with a log during the attack on the Chi Omega sorority house in Tallahassee. About the only changes that Bright has made is to alter the names of the victims.
Matthew Brights films are often shocking and in your face and Ted Bundy is no different in this regard. Bright stages disturbing scenes none the more so than the recreation of the dual murders of Janice Ott/Denise Naslund at Samnmamish Park where Bundy has one woman handcuffed up in a shed, brings another back and rapes her and then bashes her head in with a rock in full view of the imprisoned woman. Sitting down to watch Ted Bundy with the expectation of the usual suspense tactics of various psycho-thrillers and slasher films in the back of ones mind, the rapidity and casualness with which Matthew Bright stages his killings is jolting Michael Reilly Burkes Bundy just banging people over the head, or where he wrestles a dead body into his car in full view of people walking down the street.
Unlike some of the other recent true-life serial killer films Ed Gein, Dahmer Matthew Bright is not afraid to plunge into the disturbed mindspace that his subject dwells in and Ted Bundy is all the more upsetting for his doing so. The relationship between Bundy and girlfriend Lee where we see him petulantly slapping her around in bed or the playful cruelty with which he pushes her off the edge of a pier is disconcertingly charted. There is the ever-so whacked-out moment where he asks her Have you ever heard of submission? and in the next shot we see her lying on her back with her feet tied to the bedhead while he fucks her, yelling Fuck you, you bitch at her until he is red in the face. Michael Reilly Burke gives an excellent performance in the title role one that balances between smooth charm and a rapacious savagery.
One of the intriguing facets of almost all of Matthew Brights films is the recurrent fascination with prison escapees. Prison escapees feature as central characters in all three of his directorial outings the two Freeway films and now Ted Bundy, as well as his (non-genre) scripts for Wildfire (1988) and Gun Crazy (1992). Matthew Brights favourite heroes (usually heroines) are juvenile delinquents who have strayed onto the wrong side of the tracks. Bright clearly has a good deal of sympathy for the incarcerated and the way they are cruelly and indifferently treated by the system. He even manages to turn Ted Bundys final despatch to the electric chair here into an extended scene where we end up being shocked at how he is treated, despite all we have seen him do as he is forcibly held down and his head shaved and a brutal scene where huge amounts of cotton wool are shoved up his ass, while outside the prison Bright cuts to real-life tv footage of crowds cheering the execution on and waving taunting placards.
(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Michael Reilly Burke) at this sites Best of 2002 Awards).