Kill and Ted – how did curling up with a good murder doc become comforting?

When there's real-life stuff to feel afraid of, why do we seek succour in stories about serial killers? Lucy Sweet finds out with a killer Ted Bundy documentary

Where are we as a society when murder documentaries are our cosy, self-care go-to after a hard day? I briefly thought this as I settled down to watch Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Ted Bundy, in case you don’t know, was one of the 1970s’ most famous serial killers, and there were a LOT of them. At one point, randomly bumping people off was more popular than smoking on the top deck of a bus or leaving your kids outside the pub.

Interest in Ted endures not just because he was a violent, psychopathic kidnapper/rapist/murderer/necrophiliac with well over 30 young female victims, but because he was supposedly good looking, if you like your murderers to have high cheekbones and dead, calculating eyes. Zac Efron is due to play him in a biopic and it’s such eerily perfect casting that I’m already preparing to forgive him for the Baywatch movie.

Anyway, I was soon hooked, as good Netflix murder documentaries are chilling and compelling and slowly unfold into something more horrifying until the ‘Are you still watching?’ box appears on the screen at 2am. This one is well designed and insightful, featuring impressive interviews and incredible footage of his insane trial, where the unhinged Bundy took it upon himself to represent himself, despite being a killer fantasising about being a lawyer.

Pour yourself another glass of rosé and don’t think too hard about what you’re really afraid of

Journalist Stephen Michaud interviewed Bundy on Death Row in 1980, and soon found him to be the ultimate unreliable narrator, battling through 100 hours of lies (one of the tape labels says: ‘Side A: A lot of bullshit’ ). The tapes reveal a self-aggrandising, delusional, dissociative narcissist. It was only when Michaud hit upon the idea that Bundy should talk about his crimes in the third person that he opened up. It’s all fascinating, but there’s nothing resembling new evidence. Which means there’ll probably be more documentaries about it soon.

For some light relief, I watched You   a sociopathic frolic for the Gossip Girl generation. Based on the thriller of the same name, it’s about a crazed bookseller who falls for a terrible aspiring writer with no common sense called Guinevere Beck, kidnaps and kills her boyfriend, clones her phone and proceeds to stalk her. It stars Penn Badgley, who is a geeky version of Zac Efron and shows all signs of playing Ted Bundy in yet another biopic in about five years’ time. You can see how the Netflix content cycle works, can’t you?

Anyway, as self-care and the worst excesses of murderous misogyny seem to go hand in hand these days, just pour yourself another glass of rosé and don’t think too hard about what you’re really afraid of. Serial killers of the past and unrealistic stalker dramas might be a vaguely unsavoury form of entertainment, but at least they’re not Jacob Rees-Mogg looming over you in your final moments, whispering about hard borders. (Don’t have nightmares.)

Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes  is on Netflix now