Mill Creek Entertainment continues to celebrate the spirit of summer camp by adding a spectacularly remastered Blu-ray release of the 2003 made-for-TV movie "The Stranger Beside Me: The Ted Bundy Story" to a plethora of cheesetastic recent home-video releases. The "I Heart the '90s" offshoot of the equally good "Retro VHS" series from MCE is a prime example of this.
The only fault in "Stranger" is not in stars Billy Campbell and Barbara Hershey ("Beaches") or the good production. The not-so-fatal flaw is with the source material in the form of the 1980 true-crime bestseller of the same name by Ann Rule. The fact that the full name of "Strangers" begins with "Ann Rule Presents" further illustrates this annoying (and arguably unprofessional) approach to the subject. Bundy (Campbell), not Rule (Hershey), is the real star, This is especially so considering that Rule is slow on the uptake regarding the hobby of her pal.
Like many other successful biopics, "Stranger" acknowledges that most viewers already know the story and are interested in supplementing our knowledge. Thus, rather than starting at the beginning, "Stranger" commences with Bundy being pulled over in a 1978 traffic stop in Florida that both he and the majority of the viewers know will not end well for him,
Bundy then uses his one telephone call to phone a friend by reaching out and touching Rule, who is in Seattle. The action then shifts back to 1971 and Bundy and Rule working together on a suicide-prevention hotline. The good part of that scene relates to it illustrating the charm of Bundy that is an asset regarding his hobby; the bad part is that this also is used to provide exposition regarding former cop Rule being an insightful and talented true-crime reporter.
Worlds soon collide as a series of girls going missing and/or being found dead prompts Rule to take a hard-line with her teen daughter. We also see Rule offhandedly note that the evidence could point to Ted as the perpetrator.
The rest of this part of the story is that Bundy is involved in a serious romantic relationship and is preparing to move to Utah to attend law school. The lesson here is the common one that we and our significant others do not show our crazy until a ring is put on it.
This narrative continues with Bundy putting his intellect and his aforementioned charm to good use in luring his victims via a variation on the perverse tactic of child molesters getting their victims to look for a non-existent lost puppy. Another difference is that big girls are the ones in peril in this case.
We ultimately catch up with the present as law-enforcement co-operation leads to connecting Bundy with several murders in multiple states. Highlight in this portion of "Stranger" include Bundy aptly using the cunning of a zoo animal in an effort to no longer be a guest of the State.
Watching Bundy present his own defense at his murder trial provides reason to doubt the validity of the Twain expression that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client. The related admiration of the judge for the courtroom skill of Bundy is another good twist.
This portion of the film further focuses on the cult-style celebrity status that Bundy achieves. It seems that the popularity of this guy is not so far from the level of fandom that the Beatles achieve in their prime.
"Stranger" further is due credit for pulling one more rabbit out of the hat near the end. We learn that there was cause for early intervention that might have produced a more favorable outcome for all than how things worked out,
The bigger picture is that "Stranger" provides especially good hot-weather fun by reminding us that stories that show that truth is stranger than fiction provide excellent fodder for broadcast and basic-cable networks.