|Review||Deranged (1974)||Directors||Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby|
|Cast||Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson, Robert Warner, Marcia Diamond, Marian Waldman, Pat Orr, Robert McHeady and Micki Moore|
“That ain’t cat gut” – Ezra Cobb
The infamous Ed Gein (1906-1984), aka the Butcher of Plainfield, certainly had an impact on horror cinema. He was the inspiration for Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and Gein’s dastardly deeds heavily influenced Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) and he’s also credited with influencing, in some ways, Hannibal Lecter who made the biggest impact in Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991). His own story is most accurately depicted in 1974’s “Deranged” by Bob Clark (“Black Christmas” – 1974) disciples Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen. Not only is “Deranged” the most accurate adaptation of Gein’s doings but also a film that presents a sick and dangerous individual who went unnoticed for some time in a manner that feels very authentic and unglamourised. And while doing so it also infuses the morbid story with some very dark and wildly funny humour and that’s no small feat.
The depiction of murderers in movies and on TV shows have, at times, left me a little perplexed. So often they are these intellectual powerhouses that us mere average Joe’s look dumb and uninteresting by comparison. I’m mostly thinking of two killers who have left a lasting impression and been copied since in many guises afterwards; John Doe in “Se7en” (1995) and Hannibal Lecter in “Manhunter” (1986), “The Silence of the Lambs”, “Hannibal” (2001), “The Red Dragon” (2002) and the TV series “Hannibal” (2013-2015). John Doe is the Statement killer who’s wildly intelligent, inhumanly patient and endlessly resourceful and, in the end, remains victorious in his judgement of mankind’s fallible tendencies when he manipulates his own demise. Although he’s presented as a loner with little social skills he’s most certainly an individual that merits praise and admiration for what he accomplished. The same in many ways with Hannibal Lecter but he’s also presented as a very cultural, intellectual and witty person with dynamic social skills and he also looks smashing to boot as he commits his heinous crimes and later breaks out of confinement and evades authorities successfully. These killers are simply too cool for school and I’ll be damned if I haven’t at some point secretly wished that I possessed some of these qualities. Except for the gruesome killings and cannibalism of course 😊. That’s where “Deranged” comes in like a form of antidote when you want to experience a more likely scenario of a sick mind at work, the human misery it creates and the sad individual who performs the deeds.
Ezra Cobb (Blossom) is an emotionally crippled and socially awkward farmer who’s sole purpose is caring for his domineering and aging mother (Lee). When she dies Ezra’s whole world crumbles and he’s gradually slipping further into insanity. He finds a renewed purpose when he digs up his mother’s corpse and brings it home. At first Ezra starts to dig up other, fresher, corpses to patch up his mother and also provide her with some company. Soon things escalade and Ezra starts killing women, among them an old friend of his mother’s and a promiscuous bar maid. Eventually Ezra’s madness goes too far and attracts attention.
This film is quite disturbing and has a number of unpleasant visuals that might take up permanent residence in the viewer’s mind. But the way screenwriter Ormsby presents the story and the two directors visualise it the movie goes by breezily enough so the undeniably horrific aspects may take a while to sink in. While the same year’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was more like a rollercoaster of tension, paranoia and claustrophobia and left the viewer drained then “Deranged” comes across as a more leisurely paced story with a very human villain and then periodically hammers home a sickening set-piece in a most detached way. A big part of what makes the film work so well is Blossom’s alarmingly convincing performance as Ezra Cobb. His looks, mannerisms and awkward social demeanour make it very believable how this eccentric individual managed to avoid suspicion once people were missing and Blossom even manages to gain viewer sympathy to some extent.
Then there’s the humorous aspect that’s so well woven into the storyline and comes by naturally. The scene where Ezra suddenly learns of how he can know exactly where and when a person is buried is handled so plainly, hilariously and yet somehow so sinisterly. Some visually repellent scenes, such as the infamous brain scooping scene, are so mundanely presented and coupled with Blossom’s unique performance that they really to stay with the viewer afterwards. And yet they’re so easy to watch thanks to the breezy atmosphere that’s created and sustained by Gillen and Ormsby.
Cinematography by Jack McGowan is superb and Carl Zittrer’s music is appropriately zany. The rural Canadian locations used are certainly a character in their own right and magnificently enhance the oppressing mood of the film. An interesting side note is that “Deranged” was also co-produced by Bob Clark (and edited by) who chose to have his name removed as he felt the film was simply too powerful a shocker for audiences to accept.
The final moments when Ezra’s madness have completely overtaken him are quite tough to watch. He sets his sights on a particular victim and is relentless in his pursuit. It’s very gruelling and makes damn sure that the film presents this sick individual with no glory or gloss…and this deranged fella’ certainly lives up to his name.