Thursday, 15 August 2013

Blu-ray review: Deranged (1974) classic Ed Gein inspired shocker

 deranged poster
An overlooked and forgotten gem from 1974, available for the first time in the UK uncut and in high definition to boot! Based on the infamous case of Ed Gein, the Wisconsin ghoul, infamous for grave robbing and wearing the flesh of the dead, but is thought to have only killed two people (it is rightly pointed out during the fantastic extra features that Gein was not a serial killer). Anyone who has read the Gein case will instantly realise how close Deranged follows his story.
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Presented as a pseudo-documentary, complete with an on-screen narrator (played by the brilliant Leslie Carlson, instantly recognisable from films such as Videodrome and The Fly), who appears every now and again to move the narrative along. Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom, who is simply fantastic as the Gein inspired loner) is so upset when his mother dies that he eventually decides to dig her up and move her back into the family home. Alarmed by the state of decay, he starts digging up freshly buried bodies to use the skin.
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Remembering his dying mother's words, he seeks out her only friend, Maureen Selby (Marian Waldman, the wonderful drunken fraternity mother Mrs Mac in the original Black Christmas), whom he can trust because "she's a big fat woman". Maureen is taken with Ezra's interest, and in order to get permission from her late husband, conducts a hokey seance. This sequence provides a welcome bit of comic relief, with the woman, channeling her husbands voice, teling Ezra to look after her carnal needs; "Carnival?" he asks naively. It doesn't end well, as when she takes him to bed he recalls his mama's words: "The wages of sin are gonorrhea, syphilis, and death", and promptly shoots her.
The film varies from the real life story in a number of ways: the real Gein didn't dig his own mother up, and his two victims were a lot older than depicted in the film (the family friend just mentioned is a film elaboration). Arrow's HD release restores the often cut sequence in which Cobb gouges an eye and scoops brains from a unearthed head; a scene played so straight - no need for shock sound design or over dramatic music - that it just adds to the documentary feel. The score, by Bob Clark regular Carl Zittrer, is an understated funeral parlour style organ which suits it perfectly. The make-up effects, early work by Tom Savini, are basic, but perfectly suitable and believable.
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Gein has influenced horror cinema more than most, his story being the basis for stories and films such as Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs, but they don't have the kick in the teeth realism of Deranged. Tobe Hooper's 1974 film, filmed at almost the same time as this, takes the elements of the story but takes them into different, albeit equally disturbing places. With Deranged, writer/co-director Alan Ormsby, who also made Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things with Deranged's (uncredited) producer Bob Clark, and Jeff Gillen have created a disturbing film, which quietly manages to get under your skin, making it crawl when needed. Blossom's effortless performance is so believable, you can guarantee the next time you see him wink at that kid in Close Encounters of the Third Kind you'll read something so much more sinister into it.
deranged ed gein film 74
I first saw the film in the late 80s, via a late night screening on the just launched Sky channel. After years of seeing stills and reading of this film, it didn't let me down. Re-watching it again after all these years it is not disappointing. If anything, the film has become even more powerful over time, the gritty realism of some scenes only offset by the on-screen narrator.
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Full marks to Arrow, as always, for their fabulous bonus features on the disc. As well as an informative, enlightening, amusing, if meandering, commentary from Tom Savini (talking to respected genre writer Calum Waddell, whose company High Rising Productions also provide some of the other featurettes, and who made the brilliant Slice & Dice: The Slasher Film Forever documentary), there are interviews with Intruder producer Scott Spiegel, discussing working with Roberts Blossom (this extra is worth watching for the hilarious animated title sequence alone), Laurence R. Harvey (The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence) on the legacy of Gein, and a great archive interview with co-director Jeff Gillen which also includes rare on-set footage. The set is completed by a chunky booklet, packed with even more fascinating material. You really have to admire Arrow Video, don't you? Who else would spend so much love and care on, what is to many,  just an obscure grindhouse film from the 70s?
Highly recommended.
9 out of 10

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