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Friday, June 12, 2009

BUNDY: A LEGACY OF EVIL -- DVD review by porfle

Back in 1990, Corin Nemec starred in a "Ferris Bueller"-inspired TV series called "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." Later, he went against type to play the repellent Harold Lauder in the ABC miniseries "The Stand", based on Stephen King's book. Now, with BUNDY: A LEGACY OF EVIL (2008), Nemec seems intent on exorcising all traces of his nice-guy image by portraying one of the most cold-blooded serial killers of all time, Ted Bundy.

It's hard to say how successful he is at this because at times I couldn't tell if I was supposed to think his Ted Bundy was scary or funny. This is especially true of the scene in which Ted, after murdering a young woman in some isolated location, gets down on all fours and starts howling like a coyote. Sometimes he seems to be still playing perennial loser Harold Lauder, striking out romantically while trying to pass himself off as a normal, dynamic guy. Nemec's theatrical portrayal is occasionally interesting, but rarely convincing.

Some effort is made by writer-director Michael Feifer to show some of the possible reasons for Bundy's warped personality. He had a troubled childhood during which he thought his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his sister (his father's identity being the subject of some dubious speculation). He grew up reading violent horror comics. And he was devastated when his college sweetheart dumped him after she realized that the socially-stunted young man would never grow up. Immediately after this, however, we're shown a montage of brutal abduction-murders with the now totally bonkers Ted having suddenly morphed into a savage, bloodthirsty animal. None of it really comes together to show the evolution of Bundy from troubled youth to psycho.

I read Wikipedia's page on Ted Bundy and found that much of the film's story is fairly accurate, although we still don't get an idea of the sheer number of victims he managed to do away with. The murder sequences themselves are disturbing mainly because the actresses are so convincing--their screams and pleas for mercy are heartrending. Nemec does his best to convey the unhinged monstrousness required, yet his emoting seems overly calculated. He's at his best in the quieter scenes, such as the ones between Bundy and the warden (Kane Hodder) who's about to lead him to the electric chair in the film's bookending segments, or the gripping courtroom sequence in which Bundy serves as his own defense lawyer and makes a mockery of the proceedings.

Michael Feifer, who directed Hodder that same year in B.T.K. and has made a number of other fact-based serial killer films, gives this one the look of an above-average made-for-TV movie. Interestingly, he shoots the early 70s stuff in a way that makes it seem to actually have come from that era, right down to the film stock and cheesy soundtrack songs. This segment of the movie looks as though it could've come right out of a Joe Sarno flick. Artistically, that's the most noteworthy thing about BUNDY: A LEGACY OF EVIL--otherwise, it's capably done but relatively unremarkable.

Other details of Bundy's story are sketched in, including an impromptu jailbreak, a brush with political activism, a stint manning a suicide hotline (where the real Bundy would meet future true-crime author Ann Rule), and a reunion with his college flame Stephanie (the very cute Jen Nikolaisen) which, though fictionalized, results in one of the film's most effective moments. Bundy's infamous rampage through a girls' dormitory is documented in predictably bloody fashion. The final act, of course, consists of Bundy's execution in the electric chair. Feifer, I suspect, was trying for some of the impact of the last minutes of IN COLD BLOOD here. The results are much less effective, yet the sequence does come off pretty well.

How much of Bundy's behavior was simply a deliberate choice to do evil as opposed to the actions of someone incapable of controlling his warped impulses? In the film, a Ted Bundy still hoping for a reprieve puts much of the blame on pornography and other outside influences. Hodder's warden doesn't buy it: "You're not mental. You're not deranged. You're the most normal, intelligent man I've ever had on death row." I think Corin Nemec's performance would have been more effective if he'd played Bundy more like that instead of always trying to make it obvious to us that the guy's a total loon, because we already know that.

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