Monday, July 20, 2009

Deranged (Canada, 1974)

(Trailer.) Deranged is one of many films based on the true story of one of America’s most popular nut cases, the infamous Wisconsin misfit Ed Gein (shown left), a man who probably needs no introduction to fans of the underbelly of US culture. Gein was the source of inspiration behind films as diverse as Psycho (1960/trailer), Three on a Meathook (1973/trailer), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974/trailer) and Silence of the Lambs (1991/trailer), but up until The Light of the Moon (2000/trailer), Deranged came the closest to telling the “true” story. Oddly enough, however, considering how close the Canadian-made film (usually) stays with the facts, the filmmakers nonetheless decided to change the name of their protagonist (to “Ezra Cobb”) as well as the location (Plainfield became “Woodside”—assumedly in Wisconsin, although the cars do sport Ontario license plates). Likewise, the time frame was updated from the 50s to the 70s—modern times, when the film was made.
This sleaze classic has long been a legendary must see, but for years the chance to do so was a rare occasion indeed. But in 2007 the German DVD company Legend Home Entertainment was nice enough to regurgitate a 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition that not only features an uncut version of the potent shocker but also includes about 86 minutes of bonus materials. And while it is debatable whether or not any of the bonus materials (other than the original trailer) are truly essential, what is not debatable is that the Deranged is one powerful and sedulous slab of grindhouse sleaze that lives up to its reputation.
Co-directed by Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby, Deranged is the only credited directorial work of both men, who were part of the entourage surrounding the late Bob Clark when he began his career in exploitation. (Clark started off doing films like She-Man (1967/credits & opening scene) Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973/trailer), Dead of Night (1974/trailer) and the original Black Christmas (1974/trailer), but by the time he died in a car accident in 2007 he had also foisted such films as Porky's (1982/trailer), Rhinestone (1984/trailer) and SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004/trailer) upon the American public.) Gillen, who was primarily a face in background scenes, is long dead, but Alan Ormsby is still a working scribe—among other films, he wrote Popcorn (1991/trailer) and the 1982 remake of Cat People. Another famous name that whetted his teeth in Deranged is that of Tom Savini: the film is his first credited job for makeup, and if the skeletal remains of Mommy look a little too papier-mâché, the scene in which an eyeball and brains gets scooped out of a skull with a spoon gives a good hint of what he would do four years later in Dawn of the Dead (1978). (That specific scene, actually, is the infamous previously excised scene that has been returned to the film for the uncut and "unrated” anniversary edition.)
Deranged opens with a short blackly humorous scene in which Ezra Cobb (the excellent Roberts Blossom) attempts to force feed Ma Cobb (Cosette Lee) green gruel as she first slags off about the evils of women and then pukes up red blood and dies. The narrator Tim Sims (Leslie Carlson) pops in to supply some explanatory ramblings and justifications before the film returns to Ezra, first for the funeral of his mom and then at his decrepit farmhouse, where he has “recreated” his mother using a photo and her dress. Much like Norman from Psycho, he talks to himself in his mother’s voice. Ezra eventually digs his loving momma up, but is shocked by the way the decayed corpse falls apart in his arms. With the help of books on taxidermy and embalming, he sets about to make her whole again. While having dinner one night with the Koontz family, his neighbors, he not only learns about obituaries but that his old Sunday School teacher Miss Johnson (Arlene Gillen) has died. He digs up her grave, skins the corpse to give his mommy a face and then puts the skull in her room for company. When the Jenny (Marcia Diamond) and Harlon Koontz (Robert Warner) convince Ezra it’s time for him to start dating, he calls up Maureen Selby (Marian Waldman), an old friend of his mother. When she gets all hot and bothered during a séance, however, Ezra decides she is “diseased” and, following the wished of his mother, cleanses the world of her. His interest in women now awoken, he begins to hang out around Goldie’s Tavern where he casts an eye upon Mary (Micki Moore), a waitress too poor to buy underwear that matches her bra. She never survives the unnerving and ghastly introduction to the stuffed family now inhabiting Ezra’s house. Next, Ezra’s eye is caught by the sweet young Sally Mae (Pat Orr), the girlfriend of Brad Kootz (Brian Smeagle) who works at the local hardware store. And, as anyone who knows the true story of Ed Gein and what happened to the Bernice Worden (that’s her hanging in the photo here to the left) already knows, Sally is soon hanging naked in Ezra’s barn…
As much of a black comedy as it is a horror film, the giggles instigated in Deranged often get caught in the throat due to the assiduousness of the shocks. The odd utilization of a narrator to give the film a serious, newsy tone does take a moment to get used to, but as a whole the film unreels its sordid story effectively and, oddly enough, with some sporadically artsy camera work as well. (There is one notable tricky dolly shoot, for example, in which the camera leaves Ezra “at work” in one room and follows the narrator down the hallway into the kitchen, where Ezra is now working away at the kitchen table—not the type of arty tracking shot normal for an exploitation film, and a far cry from anything found in the visually lazy low budget films of today.) As Ezra, Roberts Blossom gives a performance that would win awards in a non-exploitation film.
Now that Deranged is easily available of DVD, the time has come to stop reading about the film and to watch it—you won’t regret it!
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