Sympathetic is a dangerous word to throw around when dealing with a thinly veiled biopic of notorious patron saint of serial murderers Ed Gein.
Released the same year as that other gristly grindhouse classic that uses Gein’s rap sheet as its starting point, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things)’s Deranged: Confessions Of A Necrophile are kissing cousins (a fitting cliche for a twisted clan), but while both employ hand-in-mouth dinner table torture scenes and a penchant for human leatherwork, Deranged is a stranger beast.
It’s no less shocking, no less brazen, but perhaps far less involving than 1974’s other great backwoods murderspree.
Deranged confronts the minutiae of the Ed Gein case head-on. Where Chain Saw creates its own world of meathook slaughter and buzzing flies, Deranged swaddles itself in reality – the names and locations may have changed (along with some of the ages), but Ezra ‘Ez’ Cobb (Home Alone and Escape From Alcatraz‘ masterful Roberts Blossom) and Woodside are the thin gauze stretched across the weeping controversy of Ed Gein and his home of Plainfield, Illinois.
Early makeup work from Dawn Of The Dead‘s Tom Savini accompanies the death of Cobb’s fire and brimstone-barking hellbeast of a mother (Cosette Lee) in a slurry of blood and pea-soup. With one last warning about the wickedness of women ringing in his ears the isolated and coddled Cobb struggles to cope with his loss, a year later stealing the body from the grave, and then others, and then turning his attention to live prey to fill that void in his life – that yearning for feminine comfort and affection that eventually leads him to stitch together his own Buffalo Bill woman suit.
Blossom may have distanced himself from the film later in life, perhaps the eyeball-scooping sat ill with his more respectable roles, but he tenders a performance that is compelling, his gleeful smile disturbing and his flinty withdrawal disconcerting. It’s a standout performance from an actor who would build a career on saying much while speaking little.
Narrated by The Fly and Black Christmas‘ Leslie Carlson who wanders from scene to scene as a news reporter, linking up the story’s disparate dateline like a Crimewatch reconstruction. As a framing technique it does the job but the sense of artifice and the surrender of pacing breaks the spell cast by Blossom and scatters the plot.
Of the three set-piece murders, one is iconic – sublimely shot as a camera follows waitress Mary (Short Circuit 2‘s Micki Moore) down the darkened corridor and into Cobb’s den of horrors – one is genuinely tense and terrifying as the delicate Shelley (Pat Orr) flees through the snow-capped forest screaming for help that’s forever round the corner – and one feels like a Monty Python sketch as the grasping Maureen (Black Christmas‘ (Marian Waldman) holds a seance in which her dead husband (through her) encourages Ezra to give her a seeing to.
Blackly comedic without ever really being a black comedy, and chilling for instances without ever holding the tone and building on it, Deranged: Confessions Of A Necrophile – while plenty of fun – is as mismatched as Ezra’s cadaverous ladysuit.