Hearing someone speak over a tape recorder has long skeeved me out. It does not matter if I’m listening to an interview with my friends, research subjects, even on TV. There’s a level of disconnect between the person speaking and what I’m hearing that has always felt very odd to me. This fear may have been instilled in me because of the Saw franchise, but it remains a weird tick of mine since then. Thus you can probably imagine the chill that ran up my spine when I dove into Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, which dropped on Netflix this week. The documentary series comes from director Joe Berlinger, a famed documentarian for his work on the Paradise Lost films and My Brother’s Keeper. With the use of tapes recorded during his time on death row, Berlinger lets Bundy tell his own deranged tale.
The story of Bundy is a frightening story of an American serial killer. Bundy began murdering young college girls in 1974 and continued to do so until 1978. Along the way, he beat, kidnapped, raped, and murdered at least 30 women. Starting in the Pacific Northwest, he moved to Utah, Colorado, and eventually Florida, where he was eventually caught. After standing trial, marrying one of his witnesses, and receiving the death penalty, Bundy began to discuss his life and experiences on tape recordings with journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth. With these tapes, Berlinger crafts a unique journey into the mind of a serial killer.
The series paints a picture of the pristine 1970s, letting archival footage engrain us in the time period. With interviews from friends, family, and those covering the case, the feelings of fear become very real. Even decades after Bundy’s execution, you can feel the impact that meeting a monster like Bundy left on each person. For some, the hatred comes searing through the screen. For others, their curiosity regarding his charm has still not left their minds. However, everyone seems to realize the genius and danger that Bundy made apparent in each interaction.
One of the most interesting focuses of the series comes from discussing the communication, and lack thereof, between government agencies hunting down Bundy. Along the way, we see the issues that made Bundy’s crime spree possible. He took advantage of a time when the concept of serial killers was still a relatively new or unknown concept. Information was often isolated within a specific police precinct. At the time, a Florida Drivers License didn’t even have pictures on them, allowing him to hide in plain sight after escaping jail on several occasions. Even though the murders were only 40 years ago, Bundy’s actions feel as if they occurred in the wild west.
Berlinger handles the material with the significance it deserved. His use of archival footage, images, and interviews paint a full and complete picture of the events. He deep dives into Bundy, telling his story from a young age all the way until his death. The structure and editing are flashy, sometimes focusing on a single image and letting Bundy speak for himself, while other montages flash to happy images while he describes dark and violent actions he undertook. Berlinger keeps the momentum rolling, and with only four episodes, he never has to stretch out the story. It’s an efficiently told tale, and with natural breaking points, Netflix was the perfect landing spot for the series.
Ultimately the documentary series is a massive success that should take its place near the top of the current true crime craze. The insight into the dark and disturbed individual gives audiences a greater understanding of a true monster. Whether you want to learn more about the killer or simply gain insight into one of the most shocking crime stories of the 20th century. Anyone who is true crime fan will enjoy the construction of the series. While the subject matter is grisly, Bundy makes for a fascinating subject that continues to chill you to the bones thirty years after his death.