Of the films inspired by Wisconsin body-snatcher Ed Gein, Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby’s 1974 oddity Deranged steers closest to the truth, the opening narration informing us that only the names of the characters have been changed: a quick Wikipedia search will prove its accuracy. Our subject, Ezra Cobb, is less of a Movie Monster than Norman Bates or Leatherface and the low key settings route his exploits in a more mundane realm than Bate’s Motel or even Texas Chainsaw’s backstreets. It begins with Ma Cobb – a fanatically religious mother – on her death bed, her doting son Ezra by her side feeding her what appears to be Regan’s projectile vomit from The Exorcist (the colour of which is enough to turn the stomach in this HD transfer). She uses her dying breaths to spout hateful slurs against woman kind – a practice we understand to be familiar in this household – instilling a biblical fear of the opposite sex in her man-child son.
Roberts Blossom – the scary looking bloke from Home Alone who turns out to be a nice chap – is splendidly cast as Cobb, bringing a quivering intensity to the character that rings true with what we know of Gein. Settling into the community as an odd-job man after his mothers passing, his demeanour is shy and childlike, as is his morbid fascination with death and anatomy. As he sits at his neighbour’s dinner table and openly speaks of his desires to exhume corpses, his words are met with an endearment which chills the bone as we are privy to his midnight trips to the graveyard and his distinctive brand of “home improvement”.
What makes this such a peculiar artefact are in the lengths it goes to hammer home its credibility as an authentic recounting of the events that lead to Ed Gein’s capture. Most affrontingly, the film inserts its narrator – a journalist who calls himself Tom Sims but appears to be Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Concords – directly into the setting. His opening monologue informs us that this is “not a story for the feint of heart” and his regular interruptions are laced with similarly sensational slogans which stand apart from the naturalistic setting. Perhaps an attempt to align itself with true crime television shows, the device – along with a hammy electric organ theme – lends the film a surrealism many may find hard to swallow.
Your enjoyment of Deranged will rest entirely on your preferences towards this type of material.The practical effects by Tom Savini – working here on his second film – are occasionally impressive, but the cadavers often have the appearance of monstrous stuffed toys and will not provoke their intended dismay and recoil. It is clear as to why Deranged has achieved its respectable cult status – ultra low-budget, grotesque and darkly comic, it shares a thread with the recent Human Centipede II – but this may alienate the more casual horror consumer.