Movie Review by Kris Griffiths
Starring: Steve Railsback, Carrie Snodgress, Carol Mansell
Director: Chuck Parello
Ed Gein – the homicidal nutter whose crazed antics inspired the creation of Buffalo Bill from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PSYCHO’S nutty Norman Bates, and the downright demented Leatherface from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Is this portrayal of a real man’s madness in 1950’s Wisconsin as watchable as that of the screen screwballs who followed him?
Wasting no time, the film opens with Ed (Steve Railsback) eagerly digging up a fresh female corpse from the village graveyard, and armed with a copy of ‘Gray’s Anatomy’, studying the most interesting parts of her body. Back at his crumbling farmhouse he casually baby-sits the town Sheriff’s young sons, but after the younger one sneakily finds several shrunken heads dangling from his bedroom walls, Ed’s blase explanation about war mementos fails to prevent them rushing away with new tales for the townspeople. He actually comes across as a likeable loon, and is known fondly around town as ‘Weird old Eddie’ – weird but harmless. Through flashback sequences, the film then unfolds the source of his weirdness as the strict religious upbringing at the hands of his bible-bashing mother, Augusta (Carrie Snodgress). The sins of sex are drummed into him on a daily basis. We see her give the poor boy a sound belting after catching him having a sneaky hand shandy in the bath. At night she reads him soothing bedtime stories from the book of Revelations – the ‘whore of Babylon’ extract being her favourite. When the father dies, Ed kills his only brother during an argument, and the mother dies soon afterwards. The scarred forty year-old virgin bachelor is left to run the family farm on his own, and madness inevitably arrives in the form of ghostly visitations from Augusta.
We now see the parallels of his future film influences. Like Bates he obeys his dead mother’s murderous orders, but the ‘whores’ that Augusta wants dead happen to be in their fifties: the local barmaid is too flirty for her liking, whilst the respected hardware store owner happens to be a Methodist. Like Leatherface, he brings his victims back to his unpleasant shambles of a house where meat hooks are used for corpse mutilation. And like Buffalo Bill he mutilates his corpses well, using their flayed skin for lampshades and skin-suits, and their skulls for soup bowls.
The unimaginative title of this film pretty much sums up its form and content. This is a straightforward and unexaggerated account of Gein’s grisly hobbies culminating in his arrest at the end of the film. Dramatic licence is kept to a bare minimum. There are no sudden violin stabs or stylish murder scenes; in fact the film is completely devoid of any tension or horror. But it is this detached style that makes it so watchable. Despite the film’s low budget, obscure cast and laughable special effects (muffled chuckles greeted the appearance of Augusta’s face in a burning bush), the fact that all this really happened is enough to make it an enjoyable and thought-provoking watch.