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Ed Gein


By Tom BakerPublished 10 months ago Updated 10 months ago 5 min read
At the grave of his sainted mother, Ed Gein (Steve Railsback)

Ed Gein is a glum, unhappy little horror film that plays a cinematic brown note for 148 minutes or so. It features a performance from Steve "Helter Skelter" Railsback that is understated to the point of "not being in the NOW", as Railsback's OTHER famous cinematic alter-ego Charles Manson might put it. I'm not claiming the movie is outright dull. But it's teetering on the edge of same.

Everyone knows the story of Mr. Ed. It's the story celebrated in such low-rent exploitation shockers as Three On a Meathook, Deranged, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and of course, it inspired the big-budget blockbusters Psycho and Silence of the Lambs. Ed was a wee little comic fellow of questionable intelligence and diminished psychological capacity who lived in Plainfield Wisconsin in the mid-Fifties. He was slavishly devoted to his psychologically abusive religious fanatic mother, Augusta, and his worthless sot of a father who died of alcoholism, leaving Ed and Mama and Brother Henry (who is suspected of having been murdered by Ed) alone in a creepy old farmhouse of the damned. And my how the winds must have howled and the snows must have blown hard and cold and bitter on those long Wisconsin nights.

Much like his unrealistically handsome cinematic alter-ego Norman Bates (portrayed with psychotic Ted Bundyesque affability by the late Anthony Perkins), Ed went all to hell and gone when Augusta up and went to that great big Baptist Sunday School in the Sky. It's a wonder he didn't dig her up, stuff, her, and sleep next to her at night like a great big rotten old teddy bear. Nosireebob, he didn't dig her up. Just some OTHER stiffs. Out of which he made furniture, hung the heads from his bedposts, fashioned human face masks, a vest of tits, you get the idea, hoss.

However, he then killed barmaid Mary Hogan (played in the movie by Sally Champlin). Folks reckon Ed was offended by what Mama would have called her "whorish, wanton, Babylonian ways." He absconded with the bar's cash register. He wanted to see how it worked. (Ed only ever really got offended when accused of thievery. But being a cannibal, necrophile, graverobbing MURDERER apparently didn't phase his sense of self-worth. Go figure.)

Ed continued his attempts to psychically "pray" his corpses back to life, skin them to make his ever-growing "lady suit"; allegedly "eat" parts of them. Did he have sex with them? Indeterminate, but I believe he denied this in his confessions.

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His second victim was hardware store owner Bernice Worden, who reminded Ed of MAMA. And so had to die as well. He shotgunned her, stole the register yet again (wasn't one enough?), and headed out the door, leaving a trail of blood leading back to the woodshed where he trussed up Bernice Worden's body like a deer. Sans head. The photos of that exist and are widely available online. Faces of Death stuff.

Bernice's son was a deputy sheriff and he immediately suspected Gein, who had a reputation around town as a real oddball, increasingly someone to be avoided. Some felt pity for the lonely little man (who puts one in mind of a sort of physical avatar of Elmer Fudd), and Ed was having dinner with some "just plain Plainfield folks" when Worden's son pulled up. Together, he and Gein went back to the farmhouse, where the body parts and the whole nine yards were discovered within the reeking, squalid-beyond-belief confines (it was really a place unfit for human habitation; almost as bad as some houses I've seen in South Marion).

Ed was arrested and sent to the pokey. The laundry list of stolen body parts was long, and the weird things he did with them--human face masks, skulls for soup bowls, human femur bones in place of armrests on an old rocking chair--left the investigators agog. Ed was suspected of at least one more abduction, but it could never conclusively be proved against him.

Part of Ed's psychotic inspiration, beyond the obvious abuse of his childhood and his chronic schizophrenia, was attributed by psychologists, such as the famous Frederic Wertham (who interviewed cannibal child-killer ALBERT FISH decades earlier), to the influence of comic books and pulp magazines, of which the obviously literate Gein was a voracious reader. He was also into cheap, trashy paperbacks full of sensational stories of headhunters, cannibals, and even books on Nazi atrocities (think human skin lampshades, ashtrays made from pelvic bones, that sort of thing). Maybe he had a couple of issues of Tales From the Crypt squirreled away amid all the filth and rats and body parts.

Ed never went to prison. He was declared unfit to stand trial and sent to the Mendota State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Later, he was adjudged not guilty by reason of insanity for the murders and sent back to the mental home to mop floors. He died there, in 1984, at the age of seventy-eight. Bye-bye, Ed.

The movie Ed Gein is not substantially different from the true story, although it flashes forward and backward in time, and exposes, at times, the hallucinations of Ed's deranged, murder-happy mind. Mama (Carrie Snodgrass) is shown reading the Biblical book of Revelations, beating son Henry (Brian Evers) when she finds him jerking off in the bathtub (reading a racy detective magazine), and comes back in hallucinations where she possesses Ed like a damn demon of the mind, compelling him to kill, kill, KILL.

The character of Bernice Worden has been changed to "Collette Marshall" (Carol Mansell) and the character of her son eliminated. The final confrontation with Gein didn't take place this way. Otherwise, the film simply has a cop show recreation feel to it, going "by the book" on the Ed Gein Story, with a few notable places here and there where we see the world through Ed's hallucinatory, macabre, death-obsessed gaze.

Railsback is restrained and believable as a nearly mentally-handicapped small-town yokel who exudes weirdness and creeping nausea by his presence. He comes across a little like a character out of a cornpone comedy sketch, maybe the serial killer equivalent of a character off of "Hee Haw."

For the most part, this is a competent, somewhat grisly, but on the whole a very mediocre film on a famous serial killer. Alan Ormsby's Deranged, a take on the Gein case which changes the name of Gein (who was then still living) to "Ezra Cobb" (portrayed by actor and American poet Roberts Blossom), is a bit more of an entertainment as far as horror flicks go. It isn't so reserved. But it doesn't make this material any more pleasant.

I don't think ANYTHING, any film could do that.

Ed Gein (2000) Trailer

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About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.:

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock10 months ago

    Begin the beGein--or something like that. Excellent review.

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