Monday, December 3, 2012

Deranged (1974)

... aka: Deranged: The Confessions of a Necrophile

Directed by:
Jeff Gillen
Alan Ormsby

I seriously doubt Ed Gein, who lived a very sad and lonely existence, thought much about his contributions to society while he was out in the country robbing graves, defiling corpses and murdering people. However, when it comes to real-life killers, Gein and his ghastly crimes are right up there with Jack the Ripper in how they've helped influence and re-shape the genre we all know and love. Three of the best horror films ever made - PSYCHO (1960), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) - were clearly influenced by the crimes Gein committed, and there were countless more where those came from that didn't quite reach the heights of fame and acclaim as that sacred circle of three. Deranged is one of those "other" films. It sticks closer to the actual story than most other films influenced by Gein (the opening disclaimer states "The motion picture you are about to see is absolutely true! Only the names and locations have been changed.") and would hold that distinction until 2000's [somewhat boring] ED GEIN (aka In the Light of the Moon) was released.

Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) has lived a very sheltered life out on in the country with his ultra-religious, by-the-bible mama, Amanda (Cosette Lee). Ez'a father died when he was just a young boy and Ez took his place and all of his responsibilities that went along with that; tending to the farm and taking care of his crippled, ailing mother... even going so far as sleeping right outside his ma's bedroom for over a decade just in case she needed him for something. All that time, Ez hasn't had a chance to develop any lasting friendships, let alone a sexual relationship, and a deepening psychosis has been building steadily for years. On her death bed, Amanda regrets not lasting long enough to see the Great Flood wipe away all of the sinners and curses "filthy, black-souled sluts." She doesn't want her boy messing around with women - all whores and users in her eyes - when she passes, and makes sure he knows it. After Amanda finally dies and Ezra is left to his own, he snaps and things start getting nasty.

A year passes and Ezra has refused to accept his mother's death. To him, she's "just sleeping." He hears her voice calling to him and goes to the graveyard, digs up her corpse and brings it back home. Ez studies up on embalming and taxidermy and starts following the obituary column in the newspaper. After all, ma needs frequent repair work done on her face. That escalates to Ezra bringing home body parts and entire corpses to keep him and ma company. Ez goes to visit Maureen Selby (Marian Waldman, the drunk house mother from BLACK CHRISTMAS), the only woman his mother claims to have trusted (because she's fat). She turns out to be not quite right in the head herself and holds a séance where she speaks in her dead husband's voice and encourages Ezra to have sex with her. After murdering her, Ezra begins to yearn for the companionship of a living woman, which leads to fatal encounters with both a promiscuous barmaid (Micki Moore) and the teenage girlfriend (Pat Orr) of his neighbor's (Robert Warner) son.

Instead of presenting this grim material matter-of-factly, director Jeff Gillen and writer / co-director Alan Ormsby include lots of black humor and fashion the whole thing as a pseudo-documentary, with an on-screen narrator (Les Carlson) filtering in and out as the action unfolds. Though this format won't work for everybody, I found it both clever and effective. Released the same year as Texas Chainsaw; both films feature a macabre set design inside the killer's home. This one has arms nailed to walls, a skull bowl, a drum made from belly skin, a club made from bone and other such touches to the horror-home's decor. It's well-made on a low-budget and manages to be creepy, disturbing and darkly humorous (frequently all at once). The rural / small town atmosphere feels authentic and believable and there's an effective, organ-heavy score from Carl Zittrer. But what really makes the movie is the excellent central performance from Blossom. A skinny, frail-looking man, Blossom refuses to showboat or go over-the-top and instead relies heavily on facial expressions in his quiet portrayal of a very disturbed mind. His ability to convey madness through body tics and an intensity in the eyes is pretty amazing to watch. Because of the actor, you can't help but feel some pity for the meek, fragile, awkward and uneducated man, but he's also very scary in the role.

Filmed in February and March of 1973 in Oshawa and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the budget was just 200,000 dollars, much of it put up by concert promoter Tom Karr. Bob Clark was also a producer on the project, though he's not credited. Ormsby, Jerome Bergson and, a name that should need no introduction, Tom Savini, did the makeups. The most gruesome effect (pictured below) ended up being omitted from the original theatrical release print and remained absent from most DVD and VHS versions of the film. It featured Ezra digging up the grave of his recently-departed Sunday school teacher, scooping out her eyeball with a spoon, sawing off the top of her head and then removing the brains.

In 2002, MGM released the R-rated cut (missing the entire scene above) as as part of their "Midnite Movies" collection, where it was paired with MOTEL HELL (1980). The 30th Anniversay Collector's Edition DVD (which was released in Germany) puts the MGM one to shame. They not only present the film unrated and uncut, but the set also includes multiple documentaries (one on the film and one on Gein), plus a 24-page booklet and other extras.

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