APRIL 9, 2011
A couple months back when I watched Ed Gein, some folks suggested that I watch Deranged (and HMAD reader Jess recommended it even longer ago!), which also told Ed’s tale (albeit with the names changed) but with a more humorous approach. Also, instead of a guy who was best known for playing a serial killer (Steve Railsback, who played Manson), Deranged had the old guy from Home Alone, so now when I watch that movie I will maybe get scared of him again just as Kevin does.
Anyway, it is indeed a better movie than Gein, but I still remain of the opinion that Ed’s case simply isn’t interesting enough to make a whole movie around. Not much time is spent on his pre-corpse keeping days, and for better or worse the movie doesn’t add any murders to Ed’s total ‘killing spree’ (two), so it’s not a particularly exciting film, and by sticking to the facts they sort of kill the suspense of its big centerpiece scene, where Ed takes home a bar waitress he fancied. We know this is the standin for Mary Hogan (partially because they only changed her last name – the character is Mary Ransum here), so she’s obviously a goner, but they stretch out this scene for a while, turning it into a sort of slasher chase movie for a while.
In fact, it’s quite reminiscent of Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was influenced by the Gein case and was shot before Deranged (which was shot in Canada), though they were both released in 1974, so I guess it’s just a coincidence. Still, seeing a heroine strapped to a chair around a macabre dinner setting isn’t exactly a common sight, and that it was not part of the known Gein story (in fact very little is known about Mary’s murder beyond Ed’s confessing to shooting her) makes the coincidence a bit suspicious.
But while TCM only took the basic idea (a guy wearing skin, finding various uses for corpses), Deranged stays unusually close to the Gein story, which makes me wonder why they even bothered changing the names. In fact, the Gein character is named Ezra Cobb, but everyone calls him “Ez”, which sounds like “Ed”, and the two murders play out more or less like they did in real life, right down to the two women having the same jobs (bar waitress and hardware store employee). The only difference is (unlike in the other Gein movie), the two women are much younger and quite attractive, which I guess made it more enticing to the drive-in owners and distributors who handled the movie. Oddly enough, they downplay the other lurid aspects of the case (or legend of it); even though it’s part of the title, necrophilia is never mentioned, and Ed’s “woman suit” is reduced to a mask made of skin (um, like TCM).
So really, the main difference here is the narrator. While the movie doesn’t look or play out like a documentary, there is a guy who breaks into the narrative every now and then, acting like a reporter (think Geraldo) who is telling the tale. And he looks kind of like Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords, and thus whenever he awkwardly butted into the movie, all I could think of was “If You’re Into It”, which I have embedded below for your delight. This, of course, caused the song to be stuck in my head all day.
And, of course, the gore. I can’t remember a damn thing about the FX in Gein, but this movie was the debut of none other than Tom Savini, who provided some nice blood effects (the mother coughing it up as Ez tried to spoon it back into her mouth was a particularly nasty/hilarious sight gag), cutting his teeth a bit before moving on to bigger and better things. The skin effects aren’t particularly realistic, but it sort of fit the movie’s borderline EC comics-style black humor, and he’s always had the best recipe for fake blood, in my opinion. It was also the directorial debut of Jeff Gillen, but also his swan song; he would only take on a few miscellaneous crew roles after this, and a variety of acting roles (he was Santa in Christmas Story; Bob Clark is an uncredited producer on this movie) before dying of a heart attack when he was only 53. Bummer.
Anyway, it’s not too bad; I wish I hadn’t just watched the other Gein movie (I planned to put this one off for a while, but since I wanted to go to Monsterpalooza AND my mother-in-law was coming to town today, I needed something short and Deranged was the only one in the 80 minute range that was catching my eye), because that movie was more or less a remake of this one (minus the narrator), since it was sticking to the established facts of a very small story. Not a lot of wiggle room when that’s your approach. But if you haven’t seen either, I think this one is superior; there’s less nonsense and it’s shorter. Also, it’s a lot easier to pass off Canada as Wisconsin than Los Angeles.
What say you?