Based on the Ed Gein case, a deranged rural farmer becomes a grave robber and murderer after the death of his possessive mother whom he keeps her corpse, among others, as his companions in his decaying farmhouse
If not for serial killer Ed Gein, the world of horror movies would be missing some of its most important films. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and Silence of the Lambs, just to name a few, are partially based and/or have characters based on the legacy of Plainfield, Wisconsin’s own “Mad Butcher.” Not to mention the influence his crimes have had on bands like Slayer and Ed Gein’s Car. But one movie that is often left out of the group is 1974’s Deranged. Directed by Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby (this is Gillen’s only role behind the camera, but Ormsby might sound familiar as the writer of the 1980’s re-make of Cat People as well as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things), this movie is a direct reflection of the life of Ed Gein, from his mother’s death to his arrest. And as they say at the beginning of the film, only names and locations have been changed.
Deranged begins with Ezra Cobb, the film’s version of Ed Gein (played by Roberts Blossom, also known as Doc from Escape From Alcatraz and Marley from Home Alone), tending to his sick mother. She had a stroke and he lives with her at the family farm, taking care of her. She, on the other hand, goes back and forth between moaning about her impending doom and reminding Ezra that women are evil and spread disease. Then, as he feeds her a thick green soup, she starts bleeding profusely from the mouth and nose and, just like that, she is dead. At the funeral, a couple try and comfort the grieving son, saying she was a great woman, and Ezra tells them that she is only asleep. Being that she is only “asleep” in his mind, he takes care to keep the house tidy, especially her room. He writes his mother letters. He talks to her, and hears her talking back. One night, when she tells him that she wants to be at home, he proceeds to go to the graveyard, dig up her body, and do just that. He puts her to bed, but is saddened by her decomposition (she looks blue, much like the zombies from the original Dawn of the Dead). So he starts to research anatomy and taxidermy.
If you are at all familiar with the story of Ed Gein, you know exactly what to expect around nearly every corner of the film. If not, it is at this point that he begins to follow the obituaries and starts bringing home other freshly deceased women, as company for his mother, of course. But eventually even this is not enough, and he starts looking for real, living, breathing women to bring home (beginning with an attractive bar waitress played by Micki Moore).
Ed Gein, er, sorry, Ezra Cobb, who is often called “Ez” for short, is played perfectly by Roberts Blossom, and could be seen as a more simple predecessor of Otis from House of 1,000 Corpses. In fact, if Deranged were to be re-made as is Hollywood’s current trend, Bill Moseley would be an obvious choice in the role.
Deranged isn’t an action packed movie, or the type of horror movie packed will scares. There is some gore, with very Blood Sucking Freaks-like red-paint blood. But the idea of a dining room table occupied by a variety of decomposing corpses (an idea that was expanded on in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and, years later, in a reanimated kind of way in Dead Alive) and a host who wears torn off flesh as a type of body suit is more than a little unsettling. There are a couple truly creepy moments in this film.
While much of the movie is fascinating for any fan of 1970’s horror or any Ed Gein enthusiast, it does have a couple less-than-stellar moments. Throughout the movie, a reporter/narrator (played by Les Carlson, Barry from Videodrome) appears on screen or in overdubbed vocals to move the story forward. While this gives a little extra exposition that the story itself may not have been able to explain in detail, for the most part this character is unnecessary. In another scene, one which seems to go on for far too long, Ezra goes to the apartment of his mother’s old friend Maureen Selby (a woman his mother said he could trust because “she is fat”). They chat about talking to the dead, and end up joining each other for a séance that turns awkward.
This is yet another in a long line of horror films from the 1970’s in which the fear is more psychological than in-your-face, and the creepy organ theme throughout the film only adds to that fear. The acting is good, performed by a well put together cast (and incidentally, a cast that shares no fewer than six cast members with the original Black Christmas). You’ve already seen what Tobe Hooper and Alfred Hitchcock have done with the legend of Ed Gein, now it’s time to watch the most factual based, fictional Ed Gein film out there.
Deranged: The Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)