In a land that in no way lacks in murdering sickos, one of the most legendary and influential is without a doubt Ed Gein. A less than bright, soft-spoken farmer from Plainsfield, Wisconsin, Ed is credited with few murders but with numerous grave robberies — how many graves he actually robbed is unknown, for many families in the area preferred to remain in the dark and refused to let the plots of loved ones be opened. Up until he was caught at the age of 51 in 1957, he was well integrated in the local community of Plainfield, Wisconsin, known as a harmless oddball and unsuccessful farmer who lived alone on the deteriorating family farm; Ed even babysat for local families. How he could fit so well and easily into the community becomes obvious during the opening minutes of Chuck Parello's movie when old newsreels of interviews with local men reveal that they all looked, talked and carried themselves pretty much the same way as Ed did. (One of the many interesting aspects of this movie is just how easily an utter nutcase can function socially, abet bizarrely, within a community and not be found out.) A practicing cannibal and believed necrophiliac with an excessive Opedial complex, Ed Gein has been the inspiration for countless films, including (to name but a few) Psycho (1960), Silence of the Lambs (1991), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Deranged (1974). Oddly enough, for all the cinematic stories he inspired, no film has been made telling the "true" story, not even a television miniseries. At least, not until Chuck Parello's movie, although it too takes many liberties in the known facts, mostly by speeding up a generation worth of events and condensing them into what seems to be but a few weeks or months. Originally entitled In the Light of the Moon, the film has since been given the less poetic and more marketable title Ed Gein. As directed by Chuck Parello, the man behind the interesting but unnecessary Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Part 2 (1998) and the disturbing Hillside Strangler (2004), the movie will definitely be a disappointment to lovers of the gore and flashy serial killers of the average American killer on the loose flick, including those very films Gein helped inspire. But then, this movie is not a typical body count film, but is rather much more an un-sensationalistic character study of a sick individual, his development and his environment. The murders are few but unpleasant, less bloody than sad and none are half as quick as the average movie death. Still, the film leaves an unpleasant aftertaste, achieved primarily through the disturbing, oppressive and creepy aura that pervades virtually every scene. (The only scenes that fail to work well are the badly shot night for day scenes, but for the singular short scene of Ed (B-movie stalwart Steve Railsback) dancing to the light of the moon in a suit made of women's skin, which is effective more due to its perversity than to how it is filmed.) In overall tone, Ed Gein is closely related to The Honeymoon Killers (1970), a likewise low budget and realistic true crime film classic that flopped upon its original release. Ed Gein very much puts the blame of Ed's twisted development into the lap of his mother Augusta (Carrie Snodgrass), an abusive and fanatically religious woman who the simpleminded Ed dearly worships. In the film, as in real life, she claims all women to be sluts and sex to be a sin and installs the warped sense of reality that eventually ferments into full blown psychosis, necrophilia, cannibalism and murder. Ed's first murder is that of his brother, the real motive of which is unknown but in the movie is the result of Ed's rage when his brother bad-talks about Mama. Later, driven by the urging of the apparition of his dead mom, he commits the two other murders commonly and directly linked to him, that of the local bar keeper Mary Hogan (Sally Champlin) and the proprietress of the local hardware store Collette Marshall (Caroll Mansell). While it is both doubtful and never before inferred that such hallucinations drove Ed to do his murders, in the context of the film they serve to reiterate and confirm the commonly held belief that Augusta is the one truly at fault for all that happened, being the person that made Ed what he was. The slow build up of Ed Gein heightens the general oppressiveness and feeling of ill ease that needles its way throughout the film. Relatively static and excellently acted, the film has a good eye for period setting (though more than one car from the wrong year is seen in the background and more than one redneck has hair much too long for the generation and location). A quiet film, a sickening film, Ed Gein is well worth watching—ideally as a double feature with the original The Honeymoon Killers.
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