There have been several horror films based on the real life story of serial killer Ed Gein. While PSYCHO (1960), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) remain genre classics - and rightfully so - the movie that depicts the actual events most accurately is 1974's underrated Deranged.
Who is this man - Ed Gein - whose grotesque exploits gave way to not less than six films over the last several decades? Edward Gein was raised in Plainfield, Wisconsin by a domineering mother who ranted about the sins she thought were committed by her own sex.
Ma Gein died in 1945, leaving her son to live alone...at that time, a 39 year-old bachelor. After her death, he boarded up the room she spent her final years in and treated it with the utmost respect.
According to writer Harold Schechter, Gein's atrocities began a few years later. He writes, 'Driven by his desperate loneliness and burgeoning psychosis, Gein started making nocturnal raids on local graveyards, digging up the bodies of middle-aged women and bringing them back to his remote farmhouse.'
'In 1954, he augmented his necrophiliac activities with murder, shooting a local tavernkeeper named Mary Hogan and absconding with her two-hundred pound corpse.'
Three years later, on the first day of hunting season in 1957, he killed another local woman - a fifty eight year-old grandmother who owned the village hardware store. Suspicion immediately centered on Gein, who had been hanging around the shop in recent days.
Schechter adds that when the police searched the property, 'they found the victim's headless and gutted corpse suspended upside down from a rafter like a dressed-out game animal. Inside the house itself, the stunned searchers uncovered a large assortment of unspeakable artifacts - chairs upholstered with human skin, soup bowls fashioned from skulls...'
'...a shoebox full of female genitalia, faces stuffed with newspapers and mounted like hunting trophies on the walls, and a 'mammary vest' flayed from the torso of a woman. Gein later confessed that he enjoyed dressing himself in this and other human skin garments and pretending he was his own mother.'
The names, locations and some situations were changed in Deranged...but the horrifying story was true.
Tom Sims (Leslie Carlson), a fictional newspaper columnist, introduces the story in a narration:
Several years ago, I covered firsthand the incredible story you are about to see recreated in this motion picture. It is a human horror story of ghastly proportions and profound reverberations. But because it is human, perhaps we can learn something from it...something of ourselves, of our own fears and needs.
But please, let me warn you...the events have been recreated in detail. Nothing has been left to the imagination. It is not a story for the squeamish or the fainthearted. Now that you stand warned, we can proceed with our story.
It is the story of Ezra Cobb: murderer, grave robber, necrophiliac perhaps. Or as you may remember him from those stories of long ago...the butcher of Woodside.
When Ez was ten, his father died. For the next fifteen years, Ez and his mother worked the farm by themselves, growing more dependent on each other with the passage of time. Then Amanda Cobb suffered a paralyzing stroke, which crippled her body from the waist down and left her bedridden.
Ez brought her downstairs, sealing off the upstairs room so he could be closer to her. For twelve years, he slept outside her door...waiting on her, feeding her, bathing her, reading to her, comforting her.
To his neighbors, he was a devoted son. But that devotion masked a growing psychosis, which came to the surface when his mother died.
One morning, Ezra (Roberts Blossom) brings his mother (played by Cosette Lee) a bowl of soup. As she lays in bed in her dilapidated condition, Ez is unable to comprehend that his mother is losing the battle with her illness. He massages her hand to get the circulation going - but Ma's eyesight is nearly gone and she can barely see him anymore.
She doesn't want to eat because she knows she's going to die soon...and instructs Ez not to take her to a hospital should she go into a coma because she prefers to die in her own bed.
Furthermore, if he needs help with anything after she's gone, Ma tells Ez to call Maureen Selby, an old friend of hers...the only woman she ever trusted. "She's fat, that's why. A big heifer...but she's the only good-hearted woman I ever knew," she tells him.
Although incapacitated, Ma lets loose with her feelings about most women, calling them "filthy, black-souled sluts with pus-filled sores." She says that some "money-stealing bitch" is going to come along and take advantage of her son.
Despite some difficulty breathing, Ma continues her tirade, holding her Bible while telling Ez that the "wages of sin is gonorrhea, syphilis and death."
After saying that Ez is a handsome man who'll have great attraction for the opposite sex, Ma's pain increases. Ez tries to force feed her the pea soup he made but Ma starts throwing up blood and passes away.
The funeral is a quiet affair. There is an open casket and besides Ez, the only other mourners attending the service are his neighbors Harlan Kootz (Robert Warner) and his wife Jenny (Marcia Diamond).
Harlan tries to find the words to describe the deceased but all he can manage to tell Ez is that his mother was "demure" and "real religious." When he says that Ma Cobb looks like she's sleeping, Ed says "she is." And he believes it too.
Narrator: A month passed. Six months. A year. Still, Ezra refused to accept the death of his mother. He visited her grave as often as four or five times a week. And at home...at home, he continued as though she were only away on a trip.
He kept her room neat and clean and made sure the stove was always going so it would be warm when she returned to him. He dreamed about her and in his despair, even wrote letters to her.
To the outside world, Ez was...oh, a little eccentric maybe, but basically a normal, decent guy. He quit farming altogether and hired on as a general handyman for his neighbors and especially his good friend, Harlan Kootz. But the loneliness within him had grown to a vast abyss...and the pain of his loss at last pushed him over the precipice and into madness.
Ez would spent time at the Kootz residence, even playing with their youngest son in the yard. But he would lay in bed for hours...talking to his mother in the squalid farmhouse they shared.
Eventually, Ez would begin to speak back...in his mother's voice. "If you miss me so much, why don't you come and bring me home? You should be ashamed of yourself, leaving me here more than a year now. I'm all alone here in the dark. Shame, Ez!"
Feeling guilty, Ez takes a drive to the cemetery and exhumes his mother's body...imagining she would look the same way she did when she was alive.
When Ez opens the casket, Ma Cobb indeed looks healthy to him. She even smiles as he takes her hand. But reality settles in when the corpse's arm breaks off and Ez sees that the body has decomposed. "I'm takin' you home, Mama," he says.
On the drive back to the farm, Ez sings to his mother. The Sheriff (Robert McHeady) pulls him over for going past the speed limit. Despite the stench coming from Ez's truck, the officer doesn't take notice of the "passenger." Ez attributes the smell to a butchered hog that he "forgot" to take out of the vehicle.
Ez is let off with a warning and when he gets home, he carries Ma back to her bedroom and lays her down on the bed. Her body and face are in terrible shape.
"Gonna have to put you back together like that old egg in the fairy story," he says as he puts her Bible on her stomach and a bell in her hand.
Narrator: Now he intended to restore her. And to that purpose, he began reading everything he could about embalming...taxidermy. But it wasn't an easy job. His mother had been buried for over a year now. There were lots of repairs to make.
He tried to patch her with fish skin, with wax, with any substance which he thought resembled human flesh. It wasn't until later that the idea of using real flesh occurred to him. Ironically enough, it was his friend and neighbor who accidentally give him the inspiration.
During dinner one day, the little Kootz boy tells his family and Ez that a local Sunday school teacher named Miss Johnson has "kicked the bucket." The woman taught both Harlan and Ez when they attended middle school. Harlan promptly pulls out the newspaper and shows Ez her photo.
Ez becomes fascinated by the concept of knowing where funerals are held and where the bodies are buried. "This here could be real valuable information," he says. Brad (Brian Smeagle), the elder son, jokes about Ez digging up the bodies.
"Wouldn't have to dig it all up" adding that "if you need the head for repairs or something...well then, just take the head." The Kootz family have a good laugh over what they perceive to be Ez's black humor.
Ez does indeed go to Miss Johnson's grave, where he cuts her head off. Back at the house, he cuts the skin off the face for his mother. Later, he brings the skull into Ma's bedroom so she won't be alone.
Narrator: After that, Ezra made many visits to the graveyard, bringing home bodies--or parts of bodies to keep his mother and himself company. He was a ghoul, a necromaniac, a defiler of the dead. But he had not yet turned his sickness on a living victim. It was only a matter of time until he did.
During a visit to the Kootz home one afternoon, Harlan has a "man to man" talk with Ez. He tells him to stop calling him "sir" and Jenny "ma'am" because he's a grown man. His friends are also worried that he isn't married yet at his age. Ez tells them he doesn't trust girls...except for Maureen Selby "cause she's fat."
With encouragement from Harlan and Jenny, Ez pays a call to Maureen (Marian Waldman). Reluctant to let him into her apartment at first, Maureen perks up when she realizes he's Amanda Cobb's son.
She tells Ez that she and his mother were very close - until Mrs. Cobb developed a grudge over something and wouldn't speak to her for years.
Maureen asks Ez what he does and he tells her that he takes care of his mother and keeps their house in order. When he reveals that he even speaks to his Ma, Maureen becomes offended because she thinks he's making fun of her. She too speaks to a dead person - her late husband Herbert, who was killed four years ago in a car accident.
Maureen has an idea that they should get together and hold a four-way seance with Herbert and Amanda. Ez reluctantly agrees.
That evening, Ez tells his Ma that she was right. Maureen IS fat. But he likes her that way. Perhaps he can use it for something...although he muses that the woman is not all there "upstairs."
At the seance, Maureen dons a blonde wig and asks Ez to concentrate. Sitting at a small table with a lit candle in the middle, she introduces Herbert to Ez. Clearly a charlatan, she claims that her deceased husband wants Ez to go to bed with her.
Maureen then claims to channel Herbert, speaking in a deep voice. "Make my wife a woman again," she says. Ez is nervous as he touches her breasts. He allows Maureen to lead him to her bed where she begs for him to make love to her.
Hearing his mother's warning about sex and death, Ez puts a pillow over Maureen's head and fires two shots from his gun into her skull.
Narrator: The death of Maureen Selby did not seem to affect Ez unduly. He went on as if nothing had happened - except for one thing. Now he began to seek the companionship of women. He started in strange places...none stranger than Goldie's Tavern.
Her name was Mary Ransom. She was 34 years old and, if truth were told, a little over the hill. But Ezra had never seen a woman like her before: beautiful, promiscuous, with a constant promise of being available...even perhaps, to him.
When they meet, Ez amuses her by asking for a glass of milk (she's a waitress). There's a one-drink minimum and she talks him into ordering a whisky sour - for which Ez gives her a very generous tip. A nearby drunk (Jack Mather) goes on about how attractive Mary is but she just tells him to "shove it."
Ez has to be helped out when the tavern closes. He asks Mary for a kiss and she obliges, planting one on his cheek.
He cases the joint night after night, waiting for the opportunity to be alone with Mary. Then, one evening...Ez slashes Mary's tires and waits nearby in his car. After she closes up for the day, she quickly realizes that the car isn't going anywhere. She asks Ez to drive her to a filling station in town.
He's happy to oblige but when he goes past the correct exit, Mary tells him he's made a wrong turn. Ez says he's going to his place to get a couple of spares, in order to save her some money.
Mary warns him to keep his hands to himself and she turns down his offer to go into the house, choosing instead to wait in the truck.
As time passes, Mary becomes impatient and honks the horn. There is no response from Ez so she enters the house. Because it is dark inside, she lights a lantern and then heads down the hallway and into one of the rooms.
A skull on the floor frightens her and when she turns around, she sees a truly horrific sight. There are several human corpses seated in chairs. One of them begins to move.
It is Ezra himself, wearing someone's flesh on his face and the hair of one of his victims. He starts playing a music box maniacally and then tries to grab her. Mary screams and tosses the lantern at him.
She manages to make it to the truck but Ez is just as fast. He brings her back into the house, where he ties her up and places her in a closet. Mary gains consciousness and wakes up with most of her clothing off.
Ez begins preparing the dining room. He wants his friends to meet his "future wife." Promising not to hurt her, he leads Mary to the dinner table. The bodies of his Ma, Maureen and two other women are propped up in chairs. "They play bridge out on the porch," Ez tells the shocked waitress.
Clearly visible on the wall is an amputated arm. For entertainment, Ez bangs on a drum with a bone taken from someone's thigh. The drum itself is made from a corpse's belly.
Ez tells Mary to eat and she convinces him to untie her hands so she can get the food in her mouth. She promises not to try anything but he isn't sure he can trust her.
Ez starts to unfasten the rope after she tells him, "that's not a very nice way to treat your bride, is it?"
Taking the opportunity to touch a pretty woman, Ez runs his hands over Mary's body. She pretends to want it and while he's distracted, she hits him on the side of his head with a bottle.
Ez chases Mary around the table and all she can do is toss the corpses in Ez's direction. This enrages him and he corners her in another room and bashes her head in with the thigh bone.
The only clue left to the police in Mary's disappearance is the parked car outside of the tavern, with its tires slashed.
While reading about the case in the paper, Harlan tells Ez that the authorities will probably never find the girl after so much time has passed.
Ez says that he has her in his house, along his Ma, Miss Johnson and several others. "You cut out that kind of talk!" Harlan admonishes him. Ez claims to be joking.
Brad arrives home with his girlfriend Sally (Pat Orr), who works at Anderson's hardware store. A discussion of hunting equipment makes the girl uncomfortable. "I just don't like the idea of shooting animals and trapping them..." she says.
A few days later, Ez is watching Sally in the store through the window. Harlan and his son stop by on their way to a hunting expedition. Ez doesn't seem particularly interested in a high-powered rifle that Harlan shows him, pretending to be there just to buy some antifreeze.
After Harlan and Brad have left the shop and Ez is alone with Sally, he goes to the back of the store and picks up the rifle. Aiming it at the young girl's head, he pulls the trigger and she falls to the ground.
While taking his victim back to his farm, Sally wakes up in the back of the truck...having only been grazed on the side of her head. She leaps off and Ez chases after her. She sees the vehicle belonging to the Kootz family and calls out for Brad. But tragically, Sally steps into a steel animal trap that was set by her boyfriend and his father.
In pain and bleeding, Mary tries to hide under some brush. Ez finds the chain from the trap and pulls the girl out towards him. As she pleads for her life, Ez shoots Sally once again, this time killing her.
Harlan and Brad find evidence of foul play at the hardware store and call the Sheriff. Remembering that Ezra was one of the last people there, they head to his farmhouse - despite Harlan's insistence that someone he's known for 25 years would never do something sinister.
Meanwhile, Ez has taken Sally's body back to his barn, where he strings her upside down by her feet. He takes a knife and guts her stomach open. Hearing his mother talk about death in his head, Ez puts down the knife and lets out a shriek.
The Sheriff and the two Kootz men arrive at the farm and see Sally's bloodied body hanging in the barn.
While Brad tends to her corpse, Harlan and the Sheriff rush into Ezra's house, where they find him sitting at the kitchen table, covered in blood and singing an eerie jingle:
Vengeance within demanding...whose is the voice I hear? Sweetly, the songs are calling. Open the door for me...
Narrator: Several nights later, a group of townspeople - reportedly led by Harlan Kootz, under cover of night, burned the Cobb farm to the ground.
After his capture in 1957, Ed Gein spent ten years in a mental hospital before being judged competent to stand trial. He was found guilty but insane and was sent to an institution for life. He died of cancer in 1984.
Deranged was co-directed by Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby.
The film is truly a product of a bygone era. A low budget horror film that never *looks* low budget, but instead synthesizes the homegrown feel into the overall atmosphere. The result is a gritty horror movie true to its subject matter: a psychologically complex serial killer who poses more questions than answers.
Exemplary special mention should go to Roberts Blossom, who does an extraordinary job of conveying Gein's psychotic underpinnings. Incorporating a variety of levels to 'Cobbs' character, he deftly showcases them all.
A nervous, twitchy, shy and emotionally undeveloped boy. A quiet, matter-of-fact good ol' boy. Inexperienced and clumsy chum, but confident in his surroundings. Psycho butcher. Blossom is simply extraordinary, making Ezra both reprehensible and sympathetic at the same time.
Deranged is a bleak and uncompromising look at a fascinating true-crime case.