JANUARY 23, 2011
After watching Ed Gein, I joked about how there were too many Gein movies, only to discover later that there were actually very few that were specifically about him. Instead, his story has just served as the basis for so many films (Psycho, Texas Chain Saw, even Silence Of The Lambs to some degree), I felt like I already knew the entire story, even though this was actually the first full blown Gein film I had seen. Stupid "inspirations"!
But my point remains valid, I think – Ed Gein’s story simply doesn’t lend itself to a full blown feature, let alone several. He only killed two people, and the more sensational aspects of his story (i.e. cannibalism) were never proven or even really suspected at the time – it just became part of the legend somehow (possibly from Chain Saw). The movie seems to be hinting that this was indeed the case – there are a number of scenes of him cooking, but the C-word is never mentioned. It’s just part of how the movie stretches itself out to feature length while more or less sticking to the facts.
It’s funny, I read Gein’s Wikipedia page after watching the movie, and if the site had been around back in 2000 when the movie was made, I would have suspected that the screenwriter had done the same, as the movie hits pretty much every single fact given on the page without really exploring it. The real Gein worked as a babysitter sometimes – the film opens with Gein watching two kids. Ed had human skulls that he claimed he got from his cousin overseas – the movie has Gein say exactly that, and then they are never mentioned again. And so on. I’m all for sticking to the facts, but that only works for someone who had a story with telling. Bundy, Manson, Zodiac, etc – there’s a lot of ground to cover there. Ed was a weird guy who killed someone, got caught a day or two later, and they found out he had killed someone else three years prior... and that’s it.
If anything, they probably should have gone the Psycho IV route and spent a lot of time with Gein as a kid. Not that he (like Norman) killed folks as a teen, but his younger life isn’t as well documented, and spending more time with him and his mother in more normal times might make his later actions (you know, digging up her grave and what not) slightly more interesting. But the movie jumps around in time, showing mainly the lurid highlights and skipping most of the “boring” times.
It doesn’t help that Steve Railsback is one of those actors who could easily pass for OLDER than his actual age, not younger. I actually had trouble placing the time period more than once, because he often looked as old if not older than the woman playing his mother, and they didn’t do much to make him look younger either. I know he was the “draw” since he played Manson nearly 25 years prior, but again, they should have taken a page from Psycho IV and had a younger actor playing the role in flashbacks, cutting in with present day scenes with Railsback.
They also toss in a number of nightmare or daydream type scenes (including one where he invites the annoying waitress over and poisons her – which turns out to be a more effective and interesting version of her death than the one that actually happens later), making the story even harder to penetrate at times. At one point he even reads a Nazi book (!) while a naked Ilsa type watches (!!!), one of many things that, again, just seems to be there in order to make the movie slightly more interesting without going too far into made-up land. The third act, detailing the murder he was actually arrested for, is largely presented in a normal way, which is a blessing since it allows the movie to save some face instead of being a total head scratcher, but these these scenes also include him hallucinating his mother giving him orders, which will just (ironically) remind you of Psycho, a far superior film. Never a good thing to risk copying a classic, even if the facts “belong” to your story more than theirs!
Also my handwriting is getting worse. One of my notes says what appears to be “GVB”. The fuck?
On the plus side, Railsback is quite good in the role, even managing to make Gein sympathetic during the scenes where he awkwardly tries to ask a woman out, or when he is “talking” to his mother. And while the filmmakers’ attempts to pass off California as Wisconsin (no mountains in that area, fellas), the period setting is fairly solid, and not just with the props and old cars, the people genuinely LOOK like 1950s folk (helps that Railsback is one of the few recognizable actors), so kudos to the casting/costume personnel on that one. And fans of F13’s Final Chapter will enjoy the house seen during the climax – it’s the one where the Jarvis family lived in that film (the stairs/den area look exactly the same). Plus, even if the facts aren’t particularly exciting, at least they did their research instead of just making shit up like Mike Feifer and Ulli Lommel do. A not very good serial killer movie that sticks to the facts is better than a not very good serial killer movie that doesn’t, right? At least you’ll learn something.
What say you?