Deranged – Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby – 1974

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Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby probably had no idea how influential their little film base on Ed Gein would be. Told in a semi-documentary style, with a reporter occasionally appearing to give details, Deranged is a lurid piece of sleaze, anchored by one of the great performances in film history. Roberts Blossom, as Ezra Cobb, gives a super damaged and creeptastic portrayal of a man who likes to dig up corpses and set them around his dinner table.

Before his creepy mom dies she tells him that all women are trying to get him to have sex with them and that you can’t trust any of them, unless they are fat. Really. That’s a point in the film. And at some point Ezra meets with a fat “psychic” lady who swears her dead husband wants Ezra to oblige her carnal desires. Luckily, Ezra knew this might happen and puts a pillow over her face and shoots her. Down flies up in front of the photo of her husband. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

I’m getting ahead of myself. After his mom dies, Ezra digs her up and begins making treasures out of human remains. Soon he needs fresh supplies. At a bar he makes friends with an older waitress. After a few weeks of ingratiation, he slashes her tires and lurks about until she asks for his help. He basically abducts her and takes her to his house…I don’t really know what his plan was. She discovers his corpse zoo and he shows her a flesh drum and wears a flesh face “ala Leatherface”. Soon he smashes her and that’s the end of her.

Ezra is a friend with the neighboring farmer, and the farmer’s son has a hot girlfriend who works at the hardware store. Ezra sets his sights on her and the third act of the film features him shooting her, her getting stuck in a bear trap and eventually Ezra being caught in the act of filleting her while she hangs by her feet. Ezra is shot in this act but it gives very little sense of relief.

This film was obviously made cheaply and quickly to cash in on the sordid details of the Ed Gein case, however, what could have been an HGL horror-show, ends up a strange existential picture in which Roberts Blossom takes us inside the mind of a maniac. His characterization comes off as pitiable and broken rather than insidious and malevolent.

By straddling the line of gore and character, the film gives us that rare creature; one I celebrate here, art-horror. It is a primary goal of the film to have us connect with this monstrous man. I’d say due to Blossom’s extraordinary performance they succeed. Another indispensable element is the funerary organ score by Carl Zittrer. We first here the music during Ezra’s mothers funeral, and by repeating this music, we know that Ezra carries around his mother’s death with him. This moment is so defining for him, that his every action reflects his mother’s expectation for him.

In this way, Deranged occupies a very specific place in the history of horror films; it is the direct descendant of Psycho, even being based on the same events. Deranged is much less plot based than Psycho and revels more in the red stuff and the brain of the killer. Deranged is also the father of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It came one year before, and while I doubt Hooper saw this film before he shot TCM both films consider that purgatory that exists on private property in rural areas, far from the prying eyes of official types.

Because of the pseudo-doc style, the film never allows for the subjectivity of a horror scene. Instead, it plays the events with objectivity, never seeking to manipulate the audience with suspense or terror. Rather, we are left cold observers, powerless to help the victims and fascinated and repulsed that such event s transpire in the world around us.

Gillen and Ormsby didn’t end up being Horror Gods or even Film luminaries, but the lightning in the bottle that is Deranged left a lovely legacy to existential gore films. The film world is better with films like this in it.

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