In 1974 an infamous and often imitated horror film was released to great shock and disgust, inspired by the sick life of Ed Gein. You know, that mean old butcher from Wisconsin who did all kinds of nauseating things with human leather? Yeah, we all know the story... The villain attacks his victims at his revolting family farm (decorated with human remains) and wears a mask made out of somebody else's face and the whole thing is narrated by a deep-voiced journalist. But I'm not talking about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
Nope. Eight months before Leatherface made his nauseating debut, this similarly themed and much more directly inspired Ed Gein tale hit theatres. It's called Deranged and it's... just sick, man. Although this film isn't the first ever film to take inspiration from the Gein case (that distinction goes to 1960's Psycho), this one does have the very noteworthy distinction as being the first released film work of the legendary special makeup effects magician Tom Savini! Though produced before Deranged, Deathdream wasn't released until August of '74.
Savini was part of a familiar team in those days as well, considering this film was written and directed (with Jeff Gillen) by Alan Ormsby, the same dude who wrote Deathdream. Hell, Gillen himself was the assistant director on that film... but, wait... who was the director of that one? Oh, yeah, smilin' Bob Clark who produced this monster of a slasher movie with Tom Karr and Peter James. While we're playing Six Degrees of film crews here, I might as well point out that old Clark also directed the Holiday Classic A Christmas Story, right? What, like you've got something better to do?
Deranged, I assure you, is NO A Christmas Story... though both films do involve an obsessive son dealing with his overbearing mother until he gets his hands on the gun he's been eyeing. A Holiday Classic, though? Not so much.
Roberts Blossom brings us our Ed Analogue in the creepy-ass character of Ezra "Ez" Cobb, a weird and lonely little farmer with the self-same mommy issues that made Norman Bates a Psycho! Our omniscient (and omnipotent, considering how he just magically appears in the middle of scenes like The Great Gazoo with no warning) narrator Tom Sims (Leslie Carlson) details Ez' disfunctional relationship with his overbearing mother (Cosette Lee). He then shows us how Ez' psychosis gets even more severe when Mommy Cobb buys the big farm in the sky leaving Ez as not only a creepy clown with mommy issues, but a creepy clown with mommy issues who lurks around by himself on a dank-ass farm, peeks in through windows at women and watches them from the seat of his dank-ass truck. The Narrator details all of this for us without even once saying "Hello there, Dum-Dum!" as he pops into the action. That's what Gazoo would do, man. What a Gyp.
See, his mother ingrained into the Cobbster a strange morality that made sex seem not only dangerous but nasty as hell as well. She backs all of this up with biblical ravings and faux religious revelations. You know, I've read the same Bible that this old lady has and somehow I can't imagine how the Eff-You-See-Kay Ez gleaned from this that, while having sex with women is bad, robbing graves, reassembling corpses, making furniture and musical instruments out of cured body parts and finally killing people is perfectly A-OK with the Man upstairs. Where I come from, that's most assuredly known as a DICK MOVE!
That's what the Ezter does, though, starting slowly with robbing his Mom's own grave and moving on down the line to more bodies and ultimately the living. If only he hadn't taken up Taxidermy as a hobby already, maybe this would've been a way different film. Hell, I don't know.
Ez' only real secure anchor to reality are his friends and neighbors who are, lets face it, a bunch of Kootz. Yeah, you've got daddy Harlon Kootz (Robert Warner), mom Jenny Kootz (Marcia Diamond) and that young coot Brad Kootz (Brian Smeagle). As normal as they should be, they can't keep Ez from following what he THINKS are his mother's wishes, starting with his date with his mother's choice for him, good old Maureen Selby (Marian Waldman). Can you guess that Mrs. Cobb's choice for her best boy would be most assuredly at least a LITTLE Crazy?
Yeah, when that doesn't work out he goes after much hotter ladies like sweet Mary (Micki Moore) and the even sweeter Sally Mae (Pat Orr). Seriously? To want to do any harm to women this hot (especially when we see what Sally is hiding in that blouse of hers) Ez would HAVE to be deranged!
Here's where we get into a weird area with Deranged... it's most definitely got its exploitative aspect to it. With Bob Clark involved, it's a safe bet that the horror will be paced and smart (again, unless it's A Christmas Story), but there are a hell of a lot of areas that are calculated just to disturb as much as possible, probably for the sake of controversy. Sure some of this comes off as a bit cartoonish and silly, but other parts are ploddingly grotesque to the point that even those of us with iron constitutions might wince just a little here and there. The sickening mixture of sexuality and murder is of particular disturbing note here and this goes a few steps beyond merely what we know that Ed Gein actually did.
Of course, a lot of this is still a credit to the skills of Tom Savini. A lot of this is disturbing and sick because of his contributions. Further, to the credit of Ormsby, Clark and Gillen (et al), Deranged never shoots for the cheap startles and at least tries to build tense suspense at the right times during its 82 minute runtime. Further, the cast and crew never make Cobb (or, thus, Gein) into some sort of sympathetic anti-hero here. The things he does aren't at all good, but unlike a lot of films of this ilk, the audience is never encouraged to cheer him on throughout his sick escapades.
Savini fans, Clark fans and those among you with an interest in films inspired by Ed Gein should definitely have a gander at this creepy film, more disturbing than terrifying but most certainly not without its chills. The drama of the film is enhanced by the special effects, but detracted from by the acting issues and the occasional moment that inspires a huge DUH! rather than a scream. Two and one half Stars out of Five for Deranged. It's not for the squeamish! Those of you who want more of this kind of thing should know that the same story inspired parts of lots of good and bad films out there from Don't go in the House to Maniac to even The Silence of the Lambs! Then again, if you're interested in that type of thing, you probably already know that and can recite an entire litany of titles inspired by Gein from the aforementioned Texas Chain Saw Massacre to Three on a Meathook to Cartman's Incredible Gift to, well... Ed Gein! For those of you out there, I say good on ya... watch 'em all. I, however, am going to re-watch A Christmas Story. That's right. At least I know Kolchak can protect us there! See you in the next reel!
CORN FLICKS! WHAT A GRAIN IDEA!!!
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