Ezra Cobb – Ed Gein – what’s the difference? None. Now sit down next to dead momma and have some dinner. Deranged is a 1974 slasher film depicting the life of Ezra Cobb. It is also the true story of Ed Gein – the real killer whose maniacal behavior inspired several horror stories, including the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Herschell Gordon Lewis may be the Godfather of Gore, and Elvis Presley the King of Rock and Roll – but Ed Gein is the granddaddy who inspired decades of slasher films that you are still watching to this day.
Ezra Cobb (Ed Gein) was a lonely man – and learning of his story may even stir up feelings of pity for this corpse loving, lost soul, who really had no place in the world. Living alone with his mother on a farm for several years, she becomes ill, crippled by a stroke and bed ridden. Ezra brings her some “good and hot” soup regularly. His mom is his life – and one day, while feeding her pea soup, she croaks, spewing hot red blood out of her nose. Ezra is left lost, lonely, and without anything to live for. He buries his mother, and spends a year in the quiet house, with nobody to talk to, nothing to relate to. Just absence. Enough to make any man’s mind melt into mania.
Isolation and lack of purpose can cause a severe mess in the brain. The mind is driven by purpose and social relations, and when the two are void from an existence, as in Ed Gein’s case, you have the devil’s playground. Many of history’s infamous mass murderers had relationships with mothers who were miles from typical. This mom engraved visions of pus filled sluts where love and femininity should have been cultivated. In Deranged, Ezra, even when confronted with moments of normal lust or accompaniment, bugs out remembering momma’s words of how “the wages of sin are syphilis, gonorrhea and death”. Its a systematic thought process engrained into Ezra which means, bottom line – give Ezra wood, and you’re going to die.
Several of the supporting characters in this film help Ezra look normal. The policeman who pulls him over is hard not to laugh at. The fat woman who he befriends – who talks to her dead husband – makes Ezra seem like the normal guy at the table. Everything that surrounded Ezra in this film, and perhaps Ed Gein in reality, was warped. Take a warped environment, his upbringing, and his simplicity, and mix it together, and you come up with a lonely man who starts to hear voices in his head – hell we all do when isolated and left without purpose – only Ezra hears his mom’s voice telling him to dig her up and bring her home. So he does.
And thus begins the tale of absurdity and disgust – as Ezra begins to gather body parts from the cemetery to enhance his mother and his home. Guts for violin strings. Bones for table legs. When Ezra says he can play the skins, he doesn’t mean he can play the drums. That’s human skin there he’s beating with that “drumstick” (a femur). And as momma rots and falls apart, he cuts off skin and faces and tries them on and pretty much has tea parties, filling his life and home with company and furnishings literally made by “hand”.
Such is the true tale of Ed Gein. Ed became the inspiration for several fictional spin-offs that personified his behavior as characters. Leatherface, the most notorious of them all, is based on Ed Gein. Just looking at the dinner scene in Deranged, you can see hints of what was to come in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise – the dinner parties with mom and all her corpsy friends. Some people have imaginary friends to fill the void – Ezra just checked the obituaries for his future houseguests.
Personal satisfactions that this particular 1974 film may offer to the average horror fan? Tom Savini’s first film! Savini on special fx always guarantees above-average quality gore, and is a great teaser montage of the master in his early days. There’s laughable psycho behavior everywhere, from the town policeman to the lonely fat woman. The blood is Hammer red, and although the corpses are quite waxen looking, and wounds fail to be displayed as per the norm of nowadays, the blood running from mama’s nose, the skull crushing beatings with the femur, and the gore dripping, gutted naked corpse of a hot victim should satisfy. Much along the lines of Don’t Go in the Basement, weirdoes left and right will keep your eyes attached to the commotion on the screen – none more creepily stranger or suspect than the narrator – the “newspaper columnist” – who tells this story ala Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling. While poor old Ezra is wallowing in his own loneliness in the next room, deafened by silence, writing sad letters to his absent beloved mother – single camera shots pan into the hallway where this “newspaper columnist” lurks, enlightening viewers to the methods behind Ezra’s madness. Who’s the psycho here?
Final analysis: If you’d like to learn the true story of Ed Gein, the man that inspired the character of Leatherface, there is no more enjoyable way to do so than watching Deranged. Doing so will enlighten you on how NOT to live your life, how not to bring up your son – and in all honesty, may make you question how much of a “victim” Ezra himself is, being such a product of the environment he was raised in. Add some Hammer style blood and you have the original tale that may have inspired the entire slasher genre. Educate yourself and watch this film. Remember people – these tales of extreme horror are fictionally spun off of a true story – a real, everyday killer, Ed Gein. The more you know and learn, the less likely it is that you’ll end up with another man wearing your face.