Saturday, January 19, 2008

#29: Deranged (Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby, 1974)

Real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein "inspired," if that's the right word, elements of many horror films and novels, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and The Silence of the Lambs. This excellent, low-budget Canadian film uses most of the facts of the Gein story, but instead of presenting these facts in straight-forwardly generic bio-pic or slasher-flick fashion, Deranged tells its story as a mixture of sensitively played character study, dark comedy, pseudo-documentary parody, suspense thriller, and, to a lesser extent, gross-out gore film. Gillen and Ormsby's film begins with a ridiculous on-screen narrator pretentiously and portentously intoning the facts (and fictions) of the story, a dryly humorous parody of the typical condescending narration of educational films, film strips, and documentaries from television's first quarter-century. The film then shifts gears entirely, letting veteran character actor Roberts Blossom empathetically portray the lonely, childish Gein figure (renamed Ezra Cobb), under the thumb of his sickly, puritanical Bible-thumping, sex-hating mother. Once their relationship is set up, the mother promptly dies in a ghastly gross-out scene in which Blossom spoon-feeds her garishly snot-green soup and she vomits up gallons of Tempera-paint blood. Most viewers at this point will probably turn from the screen and say, "What the fuck am I watching?" If you're as big a fan of low-budget films and tonal shifts as I am, though, you will say this with a large smile on your face. After a handful of further appearances by the goofy narrator, the film sticks with its quiet character study. Blossom is fantastic in a part that could have gone to Harvey Keitel (he auditioned), and his character's extreme naivety and kind-heartedness gives his performance a charming likability, even as he digs up corpses and murders young women in his increasingly deranged state. That's a hard thing for any actor to pull off. Lots of serial killers in films are charismatic, but few are empathetic, likable, and pitiful. As an audience member, I desperately wanted the women to escape from him, but I never stopped feeling for the guy. This is a strangely likable film.
Co-directors Gillen and Ormsby have many connections to director Bob Clark. Before his untimely death from a heart attack in the 1990s, Gillen worked on the crews of Deathdream and Porky's II, played the bartender in Deathdream, and played the department store Santa Claus in A Christmas Story. Ormsby wrote the scripts for Clark's Porky's II, Deathdream, and Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, and worked on the makeup effects crew for the latter two. Clark was a production consultant/advisor for this film.
Some quality dialogue from Deranged:
Old guy at a bar: "I've seen tits from Berlin to Okinawa, and those are some tits with a capital T."
Blossom, showing a future murder victim some musical instruments he made out of human remains: "This ain't catgut."
Blossom, after the woman who will become his first victim tells him she misses the "carnal" aspects of her life after her husband's death: (Smiling hugely) "Carnival?"

1 comment:

Michael Can't Sleep said...

I always get this one confused with William Girdler's 1972 film "Three on a Meathook."

Apparently Ormsby also invented "Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces," one of my favorite childhood toys.