The true story of Wisconsin killer, Ed Gein, influenced some of the most important films in horror cinema. For starters he was the muse of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are also films which tackle his disturbing crimes head-on with the gory 2000 film of the same name, but the first is the latest film to see release on Arrow Film’s continued endeavour to bring the best underappreciated horror and cult films to a new audience, and that film is Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby’s 1974 film Deranged.
In this accurately titled film Ed Gein has been renamed Ezra Cobbs. Ezra (Roberts Blossom) is very close to his religiously fervent and fatally ill Ma (Cosette Lee), when she dies he doesn’t really know what to do with himself, he tries to live a normal life, but that doesn’t last too long with his insanity growing by the day. His solution is to dig up his Mother’s corpse under the cover of night, taking her home with him. At first he talks with her as if nothing had happened, but as time passes he believes his dead Mother needs company while he’s out working, therefore he digs up other recently deceased Women taking them home to see his Mother. After a chance encounter with the one Woman his Mother could trust, Ezra develops a taste for living flesh, preying on younger and younger girls.
Now there are many things that make Deranged a strange film, chief of which has to be the inclusion of documentary-lite passages where a local journalist sits in shot near Ezra, detailing the ins and outs of his mental state and what will come to be. This sort of technique is intended to make Deranged more of a cinematic re-enactment than an outright straight film. This is particularly true with the film opening with a typical TV-doc disclaimer stating that names have been changed to protect the identities of involved parties.
The humour also deserves billing when describing what makes Gillen & Ormsby’s film such a one-off. There’s two ways the humour manifests itself, the first comes in off scenes. There’s the elderly man at the bar and a séance scene that can only really be described as surreal. There’s no other way to describe a sex scene instigated through possession. The second comes from the disarming honesty of Ezra which is apparently true of the Ed Gein legend. On more than the one occasion, he tells people what happened to locals who’ve gone missing, but no-one believes him owing to the uncomplicated way he blurts these things out.
One of Deranged’s claims to fame is that it’s one of effects and make up maestro Tom Savini’s earliest FX jobs. Even though much of the blood is made of that popular 70s model of red paint and the dead bodies littered around Ezra’s house never come remotely close to convincing, but all that comes with the territory. Even with this being true, there is still that one memorable scene where Ezra uses a spoon to scoop a brain out of one of the corpses he finds. This is an infamous scene and to see that scene restored in hi-definition is disgusting in all the right ways.
What makes all these strange disparate threads work is the lead actor Roberts Blossom. Most of the cast is much of muchness as one would expect in low-budget horror films of most eras, but in Ezra Cobb Roberts Blossom is perfectly cast. His expressive face lifts this film to the next level. Even if it wasn’t the intention, using those passages where the local journalist discusses the psychoses of Ezra increases the films commitment to authenticity.
A commitment which Blossoms takes completely in his stride. He’s a respectful religious man who’ll always address people as Sir and Ma’am, and even though he’s a little eccentric he gets on with the community. In the privacy of his own home he’s a damaged soul who dresses up corpses and sits them at his dining table; he also wears the skin of the dead as a mask. Knowing what he is capable of and his downright isolation from respectable society makes the scenes where he stalks his prey all the more effective.
With a brooding organ score and a frighteningly believable performance by Roberts Blossom, Deranged is a creepy and strange in equal measure. Deranged may be archetypal in many ways, but the thing that marks it as stand out from all the other prototypical horror films is the director duo’s commitment to the weird excesses of a difficult true story.
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the unrated version, featuring the infamous ‘brain-scooping scene’, available uncut in the UK for the first time!
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary with special effects artist Tom Savini
- Introduction to the film by Savini
- A Blossoming Brilliance: Scott Spiegel (Intruder, Evil Dead II) speaks about Deranged star Roberts Blossom and the lasting legacy of this gore-soaked gem
- Ed Gein: From Murder to Movies – Laurence R. Harvey (The Human Centipede II) discusses the lurid legacy of the Wisconsin serial killer and the secrets of portraying a cinematic psychopath
- The Wages of Sin – Making of featurette comprising newly transferred 16mm production footage plus an archive interview with director Jeff Gillen
- Original Trailer
- Stills gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nat Marsh
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA, and an archive interview with producer Bob Clark by Calum Waddell, illustrated with original archive stills and posters