Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Ted Bundy was a prolific serial killer active during the 1970s. He is believed to have killed upwards of 36 women and girls during his reign as the most feared man in America, traveling from Seattle, Washington, all the way to Tallahassee, Florida, leaving a slew of victims in his wake. When Netflix aired their film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, I watched it and felt sick. Now, I pride myself in my strong stomach; a long-time lover of horror movies, I’d considered myself immune to all fear-based nausea. This was still true because I didn’t feel sick in relation to fear, not in the slightest—I felt sick because Zac Efron was cast as Ted Bundy.
All my childhood, I’d been taught that Zac Efron was the pinnacle of attractiveness. The Tiger Beat magazines that lined the register of my local grocery store promoted subtitles such as A Dream Date with Zac, Be Zac’s Girl, Is Zac Single, Are You Zac’s Type, and so much more. When High School Musical came out, Zac Efron’s character, Troy, was marketed as the perfect boy. A jock, but a charming one, one who could sing as well as dance; he was kind and vulnerable, and all-around successful in evoking the raging hormones of young girls everywhere.
During the first trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Zac Efron is shown seducing Elizabeth Kendall, Bundy’s serious girlfriend, playing nicely with her child, and tastelessly winking at the camera, all the while an exhilarating guitar track is played in the background. The trailer is more suggestive of an action movie than a true-crime drama, leaving anyone who doesn’t know anything about Ted Bundy’s crimes confused because of its comedic, get-a-load-of-this-guy attitude. It’s quite sickening to see, especially knowing that it’s assumed that there are a majority of Bundy’s victims that have not been discovered yet, and might not ever be.
Next year, Danny Boyle’s biopic series Pistol will air, a show centering the Sex Pistols' creation and rise to fame. Notably, the show will center on the Sex Pistols' most famous member: Simon Richie, publicly known as Sid Vicious. Vicious spent his tumultuous childhood frequently moving around England with his single mother. In 1972, while squatting with his friends in London during his teenage years, his social drug use transformed into a raging addiction. Pairing his troubling habits with the enabling lifestyle of an English punk, Sid Vicious soon became the beholder of a nasty reputation, known for swinging his electric bass at concert patrons, violently killing multiple cats, and finally, sadly, the killing of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
Nancy Spungen, born in 1958, spent her own teenage years traveling around the US as a groupie for bands such as The Ramones, Aerosmith, and Bad Company. In 1977, she moved to London and subsequently met the Sex Pistols, which introduced her to Sid Vicious and quite literally ruined her life. Nancy moved in with Sid very quickly after meeting him, and once the Sex Pistols broke up in 1978, they moved to the Hotel Chelsea in New York. They lived there for a few months, participating in intense drug use, and it is assumed that this is how they lived until October 12, 1978, when Nancy Spungen’s body was found in the bathroom of their hotel room. It is assumed that in a drug-induced rage, Sid stabbed her once in the bathroom before calling down to the hotel’s front desk asking for help. He was arrested then and did confess, but later recanted it and claimed that he was asleep for the whole thing. Sid Vicious died of a heroin overdose before the trial could commence.
There are a multitude of theories surrounding the death of Nancy Spungen, robbery, a planned murder-suicide, an act of dramatics, and so on. The sad fact is that the most reasonable theory revolves around Sid killing her himself. Known for being abusive, Sid had been arrested previously for beating her in a hotel room, and Nancy’s mother claims that in her last phone calls with her daughter, Nancy had confessed that this abuse was frequent.
In Danny Boyle’s biopic, Louis Partridge, Tewkesbury in the Netflix original Enola Holmes, and an up-and-coming heartthrob, has been cast as Sid Vicious. By searching his name on Twitter, it is obvious that his rising popularity among teenage girls, one tweet reading “louis partridge in sex pistols plz smash my head in with ur f*cking guitar thank u”. It’s scary to realize that, similar to Zac Efron playing Ted Bundy, young and impressionable people who both weren't around during the controversy of Sid Vicious and aren’t informed realistically of the person he was, are going to watch this biopic solely to see Louis Partridge in his spiked up hair and leather jacket—and, it’s reasonable to assume, that they are choosing to leave out the Nazi memorabilia that Sid Vicious so frequently wore.
On a much more superficial level, I feel this same conflict with one of my own favorite movies. David Fincher’s film The Social Network is a fictional account of Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook and the controversy that followed. In this film, Jesse Eisenberg, star of Zombieland, played Mark Zuckerberg, while Spiderman himself, Andrew Garfield, played his best friend and business partner, Eduardo Saverin. Following them was a star-filled cast of beautiful people like Rashida Jones, Dakota Johnson, Justin Timberlake, Brenda Song, and Armie Hammer. In a story where the unattractiveness of the main characters is so important, the casting of the original White Boys of the Month waters down the whole idea. Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin were chronic incels who couldn’t get dates, and when they could, belittled the lives of these women. Before his facebook development, Zuckerberg programmed a website that allowed Harvard Sophomores to rank the women in their grade based on appearance, a website so popular that it shut down Harvard’s internet servers for a night. He developed Facebook with Saverin’s financial support in order to create an elitist Myspace that allowed him to use his newfound popularity to date girls out of his league.
Our society has a macabre obsession with the attractiveness of truly awful people. There are Richard Ramirez fan accounts on TikTok, blogs on Tumblr dedicated to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and Twitter threads that edit cat ears on photos of Richard Chase (American serial killer and cannibal) and “wish [they] could’ve been there for richard when he needed it”. This has bled into fictional television as well; the Evil is Sexy trope is now visible in almost every form of our media. The casting of conventionally attractive actors as bad people desensitizes viewers to the message coming across. Louis Partridge’s fans have glossed over the fact that he is playing someone who is assumed to have killed his girlfriend, Efron’s fans think he looks hot in the trailers so they're going to see the movie regardless of its subject, commenting on his looks all the while, and Jesse Eisenberg fans will watch The Social Network and try to forget the fact that Mark Zuckerberg arguable ruined the way we interact with social media for the rest of our lives. As long as they’re hot, they can’t be that bad, right?