Zac Efron as diabolical serial killer Ted Bundy?

For “High School Musical” fans, the idea of Efron stepping into “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” (streaming on Netflix and in select theaters Friday) seems far-fetched.

But director Joe Berlinger, who also created the Netflix documentary series “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” says Efron was his first and only choice to play Bundy, who is believed to killed more than 30 young women before he was sentenced to death and electrocuted in 1989.

“Extremely Wicked,” based on the book “The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy,” written by Bundy’s former girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer, is “authentic” to the true story, the director says.

Zac Efron was director Joe Berlinger's first and only choice to play Ted Bundy in "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile." (Photo: BRIAN DOUGLAS/NETFLIX)

“That was important to me,” Berlinger says. “This is not a documentary, obviously. But the historical beats of Ted Bundy are very accurate in the movie.”

Here’s how “Extremely Evil” checks out:

Critics are split: Does Zac Efron’s new movie sexualize serial killer Ted Bundy?

‘I had a lot of reservations’: Zac Efron was ‘very hesitant’ to play Ted Bundy

The real Ted Bundy, shown in this July 1986 file photo taken in Tallahassee, Fla., smiles and turns his eyes to the camera. (Photo: DONN DUGHI/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Was Ted Bundy as attractive and charming as Zac Efron?

Berlinger has taken criticism for making Bundy a sex symbol by casting Efron, who not only resembles Bundy, but captures the killer’s powerful and dangerous charm. There were flocks of women who waited for gallery seats inside Bundy’s 1979 Florida murder trial, and in the movie, one of them calls him “really dreamy.” 

“Bundy had this appeal,” says Berlinger. “What I’m portraying is the psychological power that he had over others. And Ted lured women to their deaths because he gave off this vibe of being trusted.”

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in "Extremely Evil." (Photo: Brian Douglas/NETFLIX)

Seeing beyond physical appearance is a message even more powerful in today’s carefully curated Instagram society. 

“We want to think a serial killer is some misfit – someone who cannot fit into society,” says Berlinger. “But in my observation, and I’m not alone in this, the people who do evil on the planet aren’t the people you can spot a mile away.”

Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) contemplates making a leap in "Extremely Evil." (Photo: Brian Douglas/NETFLIX)

Did Bundy really jump from a courthouse window to escape?

“Extremely Wicked” shows Bundy nervously contemplating, then jumping out a second-story window before his court appearance in Pitkin County, Colorado, for the 1975 murder of Caryn Campbell. That’s true: It’s one of two times when Bundy escaped while in custody.

The one-time law student was assisting his own defense and had been granted use of the second-floor courthouse law library. Importantly, he was not in shackles. On June 7, 1977, Bundy simply leapt from the window and took off for the mountains. Six days later, he was re-captured by police.

Showing Bundy fretting was key, Berlinger says..

“I want each audience member to have that conflicted feeling, like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m rooting for this guy,’ ” he says. “And then to have the experience by the film’s end of being conflicted and disgusted by the idea that they actually liked the guy. It’s the experience of everyone who is gas-lit by Ted Bundy.”

Was the trial that much of a media circus?

Bundy’s month-long Dade County Circuit Court trial before Judge Edward D. Cowart (played by John Malkovich) was televised and often as bizarre as depicted onscreen. The nattily dressed Bundy represented himself in court and much of the dialogue was condensed from actual court transcripts, including Cowart’s line to a lecturing Bundy, “Don’t shake your finger at me, young man.”

Malkovich did ad lib some lines, such as when he orders the court spectators to quiet down, saying, “You’re not here for the ‘Flipper and Friends’ show at SeaWorld.”

John Malkovich stars as Judge Edward D. Cowart, who presides over Ted Bundy's televised murder trial. (Photo: BRIAN DOUGLAS/NETFLIX)

But Cowart’s delivery of the death sentence, in which he calls Bundy “extremely wicked, shockingly evil and vile,” is accurate – as were Cowart’s words of sympathetic dismay at Bundy’s twisted life path (“You’d have made a good lawyer and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner”).

“Bundy was given tremendous latitude in that trial. Far more than one could imagine today,” says Berlinger. “The movie is about how Bundy got away with so much as a white-privileged male.”

Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) spars with prosecutor Larry Simpson (Jim Parsons). (Photo: BRIAN DOUGLAS/NETFLIX)

Did Ted Bundy really propose in court?

Bundy did propose to girlfriend Carole Ann Boone while questioning her on the witness stand, but it didn’t happen in Cowart’s courtroom as depicted. The proposal occurred during his 1980 Florida trial for the murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach.

“Telling a whole other trial was not in the cards for this movie,” says Berlinger. “We took some dramatic license.”

Prosecutors called Bundy’s proposal, which took place during the trial sentencing phase, a farce to build sympathy with jurors. 

Was the final confrontation with Elizabeth Kloepfer accurate?

Kloepfer (Lily Collins) confronts Bundy before his execution, where he dramatically gives a major sign that he was indeed a killer. This scene is “one of the few liberties we take in the film,” says Berlinger.

Kloepfer’s memoir describes their final conversation as a phone call that was more “ambiguous.”

“She felt he was telling her the truth, she took it as a total admission, but it was a phone call,” says Berlinger. “I didn’t find that very dramatic.” Bundy’s secret signal from behind the window didn’t happen.

“Especially in this era of #MeToo accountability we wanted our female character to end the movie in a strong moment of forcing him to admit what he did,” Berlinger says. “The movie is all about accountability.”

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