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With: Michael Reilly Burke, Boti Ann Bliss
Written by: Matthew Bright, Stephen Johnston
Directed by: Matthew Bright
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence involving a sexual predator/serial killer, sexuality/nudity and language
Running Time: 99
Date: 07/26/2002

Ted Bundy (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cold Serial

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In this time of heightened violence in which people shoot each other asfast as you can say, "have a nice day," there's something refreshinglyold-fashioned about watching a serial killer clubbing his victim todeath with a tire iron.

In fact, Ted Bundy was probably America's first celebrity serial killer; it was he who inspired the phrase "serial killer." According to the film, while he was in prison Bundy received around 200 letters a day from women declaring their love for him.

And thus the first feature film about this notorious killer -- who struck in 1974-78 and was executed in 1989 -- arrives, opening today at the Roxie for a week's run.

Thankfully, it's written and directed by the slightly unwell Matthew Bright, the man behind the 1996 "B" movie masterpiece Freeway. Bright manages a proper balance of horror and humor, fact and fiction and makes up for the tentative and misguided Dahmer released earlier this year.

Bright has even gone so far as to enlist the legendary makeup artist Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th) to craft Ted Bundy's gore effects.

Actor Michael Reilly Burke goes a long way toward the film's success in the title role. When we first see him, he's gazing at himself in a three-way mirror, practicing a "Hi there. I'm Ted. How ya doing?" before launching into a series of facial noises that would make Hannibal Lecter reel.

Bundy is on his way to psych class, in which he wears a crimped suit and a little bow tie. He smiles at his fellow students while the teacher explains homicidal tendencies in theoretical terms.

At first, Bundy comes across as a harmless creep. He tries to pick up girls in a bar, follows one home and masturbates while peeping into her bedroom window. An upstairs neighbor shouts, "you again?" before spraying him with water. He also steals TV sets and potted plants, shoves them in his little yellow VW Beetle and drives off.

Soon his urges reveal themselves in more violent terms. Sometimes he leaves the victim bleeding in the gutter, but more often than not he kills and rapes them (in that order).

He then cleans himself off, and presents himself to his cute and naïve girlfriend Lee (Boti Ann Bliss) and her daughter, who adores Ted. With them, he behaves like one of the Brady Bunch.

But even Lee suspects that Ted may not be family material. When he presents her with a lovely watch, her first response is, "did you steal this?"

Bright seems alternately amused and disgusted with this material, and he can't help throwing a few of his own touches. When Bundy follows a sorority girl to her campus home, Bright's camera lingers on two co-eds bouncing on their beds wearing only their little white undies. Like Bunuel or Hitchcock, this is a filmmaker in touch with his own fetishes and does not hesitate to marry them with whatever material he has at hand.

But Bright's vacillating helps us, too. Just when we think we can't stand another minute of this sicko, Bright throws in a funny scene, or at least one so odd that he regains our attention. Leaving one victim's house, Bundy carries a body wrapped up in bedsheets to his car and a group of dog-walking teenagers barely notice him.

Burke adds a nice touch toward the movie's end. During Bundy's final days, after he's been captured and America knows who he is, he goes on a killing spree with the attitude of one who's doing the laundry. He's just out to kill as many people as he can before he gets caught again. He's reckless and frantic, and Bright steps up the mood of the film to match him.

Ted Bundy shows its character as someone who's operating with a broken part somewhere inside his head. The movie doesn't feel sorry for Bundy, nor does it idolize him, nor does it try to understand him. It succeeds because its makers have realized that it's a sick world out there. They've simply decided, like the best "B" movie fiends, that the best defense is ghoulish amusement.

Best Buy Co, Inc.