Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman, 2021.
Directed by Daniel Farrands.
Starring Chad Michael Murray, Holland Roden, Jake Hays, Greer Grammer, Dash Connery, Gabrielle Haugh, Olivia DeLaurentis, Sky Patterson, Marietta Melrose, Diane Franklin and Lin Shaye.
In the 1970s, a pair of dedicated investigators find themselves on the trail of one of America’s most notorious serial killers; Ted Bundy.
A cunning psychopath, infamous for his supposed charm and good looks, as well the unspeakable viciousness of his crimes, Ted Bundy stands as one of the most notorious serial killers in history. This infamy has seen Bundy become a regular stape of true-crime books, documentaries and dramatic works of varying quality. However, the subject of this review, Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman, might be one of the most ill-considered and abysmal takes on Bundy or any true crime story that I’ve ever seen.
This has been a tough review to write, dear readers, and it’s likely to be an even tougher read. In all honesty, I don’t know where to begin with a film like American Boogeyman?
We’ll begin with writer/director Daniel Farrands who has quite the filmography. While he has had success with his documentary, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Farrands recent output has seen him delve into what I call “revisionist true-crime horror”. Producing films such as The Haunting of Sharon Tate, that depicted the actress suffering premonitions of her own brutal death. And the even more bizarre The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, a film that took the crime that led to the infamous trial of OJ Simpson and has it being committed by serial killer Glen Edward Rogers.
So with that in mind, you can imagine my trepidation into how Farrands might tackle a monster like Bundy. The film can best be summarised as one of two sides. One side follows Bundy as he murders, the other following detectives as they attempt to catch him. Both sides have potential, but both sides don’t so much as drop the ball but rather, they set it on fire and boot it through a maniacs window.
The first side following Bundy is essentially a slasher film as he attacks and/or murders women, with nothing here that adds any new insight into his character. There is a cursory discussion of his psychology, but it sounds more like the filmmakers adapted Bundy’s Wikipedia entry rather than attempt anything original. The other side follows the hunt for Bundy led by Kathleen McChesney (Holland Roden), a Seattle detective, and Robert Ressler (Jake Hays), the FBI profiler often credited with coining the term “serial killer”. Or, as this film suggests, in one of many wholly fictitious scenes, that it was McChesney who invented the concept after being inspired by cliffhangers in old film serials, happily giving the coinage credit to Ressler as a way of explaining away this inaccuracy.
Presentation-wise, American Boogeyman has the look and feel of the kind of corny TV movies that litter the afternoon schedules on Channel 5 (or probably Lifetime for you non-UK readers). And, the music with its synth-heavy tinges only serves to make it feel like the filmmakers wanted to make a slasher and decided to slap the Bundy name in an attempt to lure in the true-crime crowd.
Running throughout the script is what I think is an attempt to have a feminist message. Whether it is Detective McChesney regularly dealing with dismissal and mockery from her male colleagues, its depiction of nearly every male character (except for Agent Ressler) as a chauvinist, patronising creep, or its often embarrassingly ham-fisted dialogue (the opening line is literally ‘men are such pigs’) the film’s attempt to critique the sexism of its 1970s setting is downright laughable. And far from being a “noble” depiction of a female detective hunting the ultimate misogynist, it feels more like Farrands is trying to cover his ass from possible accusations of exploitation. And, I don’t think those accusations would be wholly unfounded, as, despite its seemingly pro-feminist message, the film reeks of hypocrisy given its portrayal of Bundy’s crimes. The most egregious example being its depiction of his attack on the FSU Chi Omega Sorority.
While most dramatic depictions might shy away from showing such a brutal ordeal, given the real-life horror of the event, American Boogeyman foolishly decides to re-enact it. The massacre plays out as if it’s a scene from an 80s slasher, as Bundy moves room to room, killing and maiming innocent women, often with blood splashing in a tasteless and almost gleeful display of violence. And, as if trying to make up for this reprehensible re-enactment, historical accuracy is tossed down a mineshaft as Detective McChesney arrives on the scene as if she’s Donald Pleasance at the end of Halloween. Charging into the sorority, gun drawn and managing to stop Bundy mid-assault, shooting at him in the process. And, if this scene wasn’t any more ridiculous, as he’s shot, Bundy seems to teleport away as if he’s a fucking ghost. The film was already bad. But this ending, with its disrespectful re-enactment of real-life murder, its abuse of dramatic license to depict outright falsehoods, and its depiction of a real psychopath as if he’s a supernatural entity, turns the film into some kind of fucked up fan-fiction that the real Bundy probably would have loved.
One area in which I’ll temper my anger is with the acting because, while not great, the cast really do try their best with the awful material they have to work with. Chad Michael Murray, who (to me at least) looks more like Taylor Kitsch than Ted Bundy, attempts to replicate the sinister charm that Bundy possessed but, instead, he comes off as a generic creep from a bad horror film. I’ll give him credit on his voice which, while occasionally sounding like a Joe Goldberg knock-off, does at least possess a small degree of menace. The supporting cast does what they can, particularly Holland Rodel, who acts her socks off as Detective McChesney, playing her essentially as a Clarice Starling clone but not even her dedication to the role can salvage this crap. A rare highlight is the reliable Lin Shaye as Bundy’s mother, the veteran horror actress delivering a solid turn as a woman in denial about her son’s true nature. Although even she can’t save absurd dialogue about how ‘…..Ted was conceived in Hell. I guess my father was the devil’.
While arguably not as baffling or offensive as his previous works, although it does push it, American Boogeyman is another strange instalment in Daniel Farrands misguided true-crime horror series. Terribly scripted, tastelessly directed, bound to infuriate with its blatant disregard for accuracy that makes a mockery of artistic license, and boasting a depiction of Ted Bundy that arguably glorifies him, American Boogeyman is possibly one of the worst true crime films I’ve ever seen. And that’s even without going into the dream scene of dominatrix mannequins beating Bundy. Oh yes, this thing gets fucking weird. Check it out, but only if you’re willing to scrape under the barrel.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★/ Movie: ★