Sunday, June 7, 2015
A fairly okay movie on Ed Gein, the famed Serial Killer of the 50s
Before serial killing became a fashionable hobby, Ed Gein was doing terrible things to women in Wisconsin in the Fifties. Usually they were dead and he stole their bodies from the grave, but occasionally, when his mother told him, "It's time for you to do the Lord's work," they were alive. By then, his mother was also dead, which made it doubly weird.
The producers are eager to point out that Gein was the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence Of The Lambs. It's true that Ed adored his mother and she filled his young mind with images of Old Testament damnation and after she died, when he was 39, he became increasingly reclusive and strange. He would flay the flesh of unresurrected corpses and use the skin to make lampshades and chair covers and clothes.
He lived alone in a farmhouse, reading books on the female anatomy, Nazi war crimes and Polynesian head-shrinkers. The place was filled with macabre momentoes and junk. He ate tinned pork-and-beans and human body parts. He would go to the bar in the little town of Plainfield, where the locals made fun of him, and occasionally to a neighbour's house to watch TV and play draughts. His shyness with women was acute.
Given such real-life material, writer Stephen Johnston and director Chuck Parello (Henry II: Portrait of a Serial Killer) go against the trend for explicit gore. They recreate the atmosphere of a rural community during the Eisenhower era, when life was slow and easy, with infinite care. Steve Railsback plays Ed as a man tormented by visions, caught between the need to bring the dead back to life and do his mother's bidding. He is neither vicious, nor intimidating, rather sad and gentle. The madness that drives him belongs in another place.
Carrie Snodgrass gives herself more room. Ed's mother controlled her children with an iron will. Religious mania clouded her judgement. She would save her boys from the wickedness of the world and destroy sin through the instrument of her second son, as Jehovah did at Sodom and Gomorrah. After her death, when she appears to Ed, she has become a figure of nightmares.
Ed Gein, the movie, is a fine example of horror as an extension of private delusion, rather than the expansion of something beyond human experience.