Mental Health Awareness Month: Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)

If there was such a thing as a poster boy for Mental Health Awareness Month here at The Lair, I think that Ed Gein might be in the running for the job. Not only was he a cannibal and ruthless killer with  a flair for home décor that included human skin, Gein has served as the inspiration for a host of horror titles throughout the years.  The most famous flicks inspired by the Butcher of Plainfield are, of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Psycho turns Gein into a cross dressing mama’s boy while TCM spins the killer into a whole family of miscreants with strange thoughts about interior design. Today’s film, released the same year as Texas Chainsaw, took a more straightforward approach to the subject, and presents a documentary style that is reminiscent of The Legend of Boggy Creek. However, with Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Popcorn director Alan Ormsby behind the camera, the movie throws out more than a few crazy moments.

Ezra Cobb's favorite band is the Small Faces.
No wait, small faces are just his favorite. 
Gein is renamed here as Ezra Cobb, and played by Roberts Blossom (Close Encounters, Home Alone), he is a shut in warped by his mother's views of the world and women. When mom passes away, she warns Ezra not to trust women, except perhaps the fat ones. Using knowledge of taxidermy and parts looted from graves, he preserves his mother and talks to her daily, but that is only the beginning. Ezra decides that Mom needs some company, and he ramps up a killing spree, filling a room with friends for his Mother. He also gets innovative with his home decorating, and he heads down a path that the Firefly family would emulate many years later in The Devil’s Rejects. Continuing to collect a corpse camaraderie, Ezra sets his sites on the last thing missing from his life, a bride.

Would you buy a Christmas Tree from
this man?
Up front, I mentioned Alan Ormsby, and there’s good reason for that. Anyone who has seen Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (a movie I don’t care for, but respect) can tell you that Ormsby’s first film, made in conjunction with Christmas Story/Black Christmas director Bob Clark, takes the basics of horror down a strange hippie path. Deranged also cut its own way in the world. While the scenes with Ezra Cobb play out like a fiction movie, the action is set up, and occasionally interrupted, by a narrator played by Leslie Carlson. These bits were my favorite part. Not only did it give the film the flavor of classic exploitation shock cinema, it also provided some excellent comic moments which served to play with the tone of this surprisingly gory film. I’d also like to mention two links to Bob Clark’s The Christmas Story. Leslie Carlson appeared as the Christmas Tress Salesman, and co-director of Deranged, Jeff Gillen, played the Santa that warns Ralphie that “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Clark himself served as producer for Deranged.

And you thought meeting your boyfriends
parents was uncomfortable.
While Deranged benefits from some nifty stylistic choices, a fair smattering of gore, and possibly more explicit violence than the relatively unbloody Texas Chainsaw, the real gem on display is the performance of Roberts Blossom. The actor completely embodies Cobb/Gein in such an incredible way that the character actor, who many will recognize, completely disappears into the role of the cuckold killer. The other performance that captured my attention was Marian Waldman as Marueen Shelby, the fat woman who Ezra’s Mom says he can trust. Waldman, who many will know as Mrs. Mac in Clark’s Black Christmas, fusses over Ezra like a mother hen, and there are several scenes where this is well played for comic effect.

Ma, you haven't been the same since
Diagnosis: Murder went off the air, 
While Deranged might be the most straight shooting Ed Gein movie that I’ve seen, it still remains campy, kitchy, and silly enough to not give Tobe Hooper or Leatherface anything to worry about. Since then, there have been several more versions of the Ed Gein story. Everything from a musical to a Kane Hodder powered flick has tried to capture the insanity of the notorious cannibal, taxidermist, and mama’s boy. However, I don’t know that any other actor will single-handedly nail the particular slant of crazy that Roberts Blossoms fires up in Deranged. In his first movie, Alan Ormsby warned about tots having play dates with the past away, but this time, he’s got a more important message. No one should mess with a nutty little bugger with mommy issues. No one. Well, that brings to a close the first installment of Mental Health Awareness Month. Join me back here each Monday in May for more Spring Insanity.

 Bugg Rating

1 comment:

  1. Dude I love this movie! It's been years since I bought and watched it though. One of my few pre-records actually.


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