America owes Ed Gein a debt of gratitude that can never fully be repaid.
Oh, sure, I’m sure the families of the infamous Wisconsin serial killer/cannibal/necrophile feel quite differently, and rightly so. But for the rest of us, well, for a time, before Manson became the brand name and image for murder, madness, and mayhem, Gein was America’s favorite bogeyman, something every society craves, if not flat-out needs. After all, we can’t show off our shiny good-guy badges and claim our superiority unless there’s someone for us to feel superior to, and frankly pretty much everyone can feel superior to ol’ Ed unless they’ve got real problems.
But, societal implications aside, the film-going sector of the public owes Gein a lot, as well, since his story was the “inspiration,” if you will, for movies ranging the respectability spectrum from Hitchcock’s Psycho to Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Any flick about a psychotic killer with a mommy fixation, a taste for human flesh, an irrational hatred of women, a lust for the dead, or any combination thereof can trace its lineage back to the crimes of Gein and their subsequent ultra-sensationalized media manipulation/exploitation. Of all the films in the unofficial “Gein canon,” though, none hews closer to the actual facts of the events themselves than 1974′s Deranged, subtitled The Confessions of a Necrophile.
Written and co-directed by Alan Ormsby, who also penned the screenplay for Bob Clark’s superb Vietnam vet-turned-zombie classic Deathdream (Jeff Gillen is credited as the other co-director), this shot-in-Ontario cheapie took the novel (at the time) approach of being a faux-documentary, complete with a news anchor “host,” that stages “re-enactments” of the life and crimes of our cinematic Ed stand-in, Ezra Cobb.
And honestly, the movie begins and ends with Ez. The story is as basic as it gets — Ezra’s an old guy (he’s supposed to be 37 but looks more like 67) who still lives at home with his mom on their farm. On her deathbed, she tells her doting son not to trust any women apart from a fat friend of hers, and Ezra agrees. He won’t bring no harlots into his momma’s home, no ma’am. After she dies, though, he loses it a little bit (well, okay, a lot) and ends up digging her out of her grave just to have some company. He doesn’t stop there, though — soon he’s digging up other female corpses, since dead women are the only ones he can trust (not to mention the only ones he can get into bed). Sooner or later, though, that’s not enough, and he begins going after real, live, breathing women, to turn add them to his grisly farmhouse harem.
That’s pretty much the plot in a nutshell, and with any story that straightforward, there had better be something extra to draw the viewer in. Fortunately for Deranged, it gets all the extra punch it needs and then some from the performance of Roberts Blossom as Ezra, who establishes himself firmly in the upper echelon of the pantheon of cinematic psychos from the word go. He puts in such a committed, realistic, but — weird as I’m sure this sounds — fun turn in the lead role that you just can’t take your eyes off him, even though he’s one of the most relentlessly ugly looking dudes to ever get top billing in a film.
Oh, sure, there are nice touches in the script, as well — Ed — errrrr — Ezra’s friendly relationship with the neighboring Kootz family is realistically-scripted and adds a touch of humanity to the proceedings, and Ez’s lame pick-up attempt on a local floozy bar-wench is flat0out hysterical, up to the point when he shows her the company he keeps at home and she understands what his real intentions for her are all about.
The trajectory of his downfall is fairly easy to map out — when Ez takes a shine to a teenage friend of the Kootz clan and decides that he’s just gotta have her, you know it’s only a matter of time until his only real friends find out the truth about him and play an instrumental role in his demise. But damn, watching Blossom is such a good time that you’re essentially rooting for him to a) not fuck up and b) not get caught when he does.
That’s right, Blossom’s Cobb is not just pathetic, stupid, crazy, and gross, he’s also geekily charming in his complete lack of charm and sophistication and weirdly sympathetic in his earnestness. If you can’t admit to rooting for the guy on at least some deeply-buried level, you’re kidding yourself. Ez is a straight-up likable cannibalistic, necrophiliac loser, and if you don’t think that’s possible, then you need to see this movie, and fast.
Deranged is available on DVD from MGM as a double-bill with Motel Hell as part of the Midnite Movies series. It’s presented in a remastered, exceptionally clean- and crisp-looking anamorphic widescreen transfer with the original mono soundtrack as the only audio option. There are no extras apart from the original theatrical trailer, and while some sort of “special edition” would be nice at some point (yes, MGM, that’s a hint), this presentation at least looks great and sounds adequate. It’s a decent release for a truly great film that is certainly the most fun title we’ve reviewed in our “Halloween 12-Pack” series. Check it out ASAP, you’ll thank me later.