Bundy (18)

Review by Jack Foley

NOT content with being exposed to the extreme depravities committed by the likes of Hannibal Lecter on the big screen, audiences now have the chance to find out about the inspiration for such horrific acts in Bundy, the story of the man for whom the term 'serial killer' was first invented.

From early 1974 through to February 1978, Theodore Robert Cowell (or Ted Bundy, as he became known) terrorised western and central America, abducting, raping and killing young girls. By the time of his third capture in 1978, he was known to have been responsible for the murder of 30 women, although the true number could be anything up to 150. He was executed in the electric chair on January 24, 1989, having obtained two stays of execution.

Without question, Bundy is the most famous of America's serial killers and his modus operandii has been the inspiration for countless movies - most notably, The Silence of the Lambs, which used Bundy's ploy of luring women into vehicles by feigning an injury (a wrist cast), to chilling effect with the character of Buffalo Bill.

Director Matthew (Freeway) Bright's movie chronicles the killing spree from its early days, showing us how Bundy graduated from peeping Tom pervert to corpse-obsessed psychopath, without ever really attempting to explain why, or what motivated him.

Cast as the eponymous killer, Michael Reilly Burke cannot be faulted for his absorbing performance, but he is too often let down by the director's use of the material, which flits between American Psycho-style absurdity and out-and-out horror. It is this uneven tone which, ultimately, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

Much of Bundy's predatory success lay in his boy-next-door good looks and capacity for politeness. He was always well-dressed, drove a yellow VW Beetle, was involved in a relationship and often worked as a counsellor. Yet his outwardly normal appearance belied a deranged and perverted mind, which would lead him to commit some of the most sickening crimes - he would regularly beat women to death before entering into necrophilia.

In one instance, he is seen applying make-up to the severed head of one of his victims, as though it were a trophy, while in another scene, viewers are forced to watch as he abducts two women (separately) and forces one to watch while he rapes the other.

Even when captured, Bundy remained a threat, as his polite demeanour regularly lulled the authorities into a false sense of security, allowing him to escape on two occasions in order to continue his murderous endeavours.

Yet while Bright's movie does occasionally make a good job of repelling viewers, and remains disturbing throughout, it also feels a little too camp, or slapstick, to really achieve the desired effect.

Whether the director intended to lend certain scenes a surreal, even giddy, nature so as to allow us a glimpse into the mental state of Bundy is one thing; but he inadvertently makes certain scenes appear voyeuristic and subsequently enters dangerous territory.

I doubt audiences would expect to feel titillated in any way from such subject matter, but by focusing on the attributes of his victims a little too closely, there is a real possibility that Bright could influence the wrong minds.

Better use, also, could have been made of supporting characters, such as Boti Ann Bliss (as Bundy's girlfriend, Lee), who is especially wasted in terms of why she failed to become suspicious when Bundy made her play 'corpse' during a bout of warped sex.

The film isn't without merit, however, and aside from Burke's outstanding performance, there is a certain amazement to be found in watching the story unfold - in particular, how easy it was for Bundy to operate (often in full public view) and how poor the authorities were in keeping hold of him (at least three more murders could have been prevented).

But the uneven tone of the film is, ultimately, its downfall and you are left with the feeling that Bright has misjudged his material to the extent that he has almost made it sensational. Only the equally horrific final moments, which capture Bundy's execution in full, excruciating detail, prevent me from criticising it more.

RELATED LINKS: Click here for a link devoted to the story of Ted Bundy...