DERANGED. (1974) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

deranged mary table

DERANGED… THE CONFESSIONS OF A NECROPHILE. (1974) AN AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL FILM. DIRECTED BY JEFF GILLEN AND ALAN ORMSBY. WRITTEN BY ALAN ORMSBY. PRODUCED BY TOM KARR. SPECIAL EFFECTS BY TOM SAVINI.

STARRING ROBERTS BLOSSOM, COSETTE LEE, LESLIE CARLSON, MARIAN WALDMAN, MICKI MOORE, ROBERT WARNER, MARCIA DIAMOND, BRIAN SMEAGLE AND PAT ORR.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘The wages of sin are gonorrhea, syphilis and death. Remember that, boy!’

Amanda Cobb, Ezra’s Mother.

This film is loosely based on the story of real-life American boogeyman and murderer Ed Gein (1906-1984), although in this film he’s called Ezra Cobb for some reason. Maybe because the real Ed Gein was still alive at this time, I don’t know what the deal is with that.

Ed Gein, known as the Butcher of Plainfield, was the Wisconsin farmer-cum-handyman who achieved permanent notoriety when he was found to have peopled his house with the mutilated corpses of women, and mostly elderly women at that, after his mother’s death in 1945 at the age of sixty-seven.

He was the inspiration for Robert Bloch’s horror novel PSYCHO, which in turn went on to become Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movie PSYCHO in 1960. Iconic weirdo Norman Bates (‘A boy’s best friend is his mother’) was probably the first cinema character to portray what might happen when a fatherless boy with an uber-domineering mother who gives him some very messed-up ideas about women and sex is abandoned in death by that mother. Unable to cope with her very significant loss, his mind gives way and he devises a method that ensures that he can hold onto her forever. If a few other women are sacrificed along the way, well sure, what harm?

The bonkers Ed Gein was also the inspiration behind the character Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and the character Buffalo Bill in the 1991 smash hit movie THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which introduced the character of Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter to the world, played so immaculately and memorably by Anthony Hopkins.

The Ezra Cobb in DERANGED is heavily emotionally attached to his own extremely domineering, deeply religious mother, Amanda Cobb. She’s bedridden and about to die when we meet her, but her venomous mouth has lost none of its power to shock and scare the child of her loins.

With her last breath, she’s telling her virgin son Ezra, who’s fifty if he’s a day, to watch out for the filthy, disease-ridden gold-digging whores who will flock to him now he’s such an eligible bachelor, with his own farm and a house to go with it and no doubt a few bucks in the bank as well. She’s filled Ezra so full of misogynistic poison that it’s a wonder he’s not scared off women for life.

He misses his mother so much that, one night, he imagines that he hears her calling to him from the grave. ‘Bring me home, boy! It’s cold and dark down here! Bring me home, I tell you!’ It’s his own voice mouthing the words but he thinks it’s his mother talking to him. Off he drives to the cemetery to dig her up, as happy as Larry once he gets her home and back in her own nice warm bed.

Over the coming weeks and months, he tries to patch her up with bits and pieces of animal skin, but it’s not long before he realises that human skin would work so much better for this purpose. What to do, what to do…?

When he hears about the recent death of his old Sunday-School teacher Mrs. Johnson, he digs her up, decapitates her gruesomely and uses her ancient facial skin to patch up his old Ma’s disintegrating kisser. The results, hideous beyond belief to the viewer, are mighty pleasing to Ezra Cobb, whom we can already see is completely and utterly mad.

His meeting with the equally bonkers Maureen Selby- is this what it sounds like when doves cry…?- leads to death and horror for poor lonely Maureen. And in front of her Herbert’s lovely photo, too! What in the wide world are things coming to?

The fate of attractive barmaid Mary Ransom is much more frightening. Ezra meets her in a bar and begins immediately to fixate on her. He cunningly slashes Mary’s tyres in secret one night so that she’s obliged to take a lift home with him.

This proves that his abduction of Mary is no spur-of-the-moment action but very much a premeditated one. What it proves legally I don’t know, but the educationally backwards and even mentally retarded Ezra can be as sly as a fox when pursuing his own twisted ends.

When the stunning Mary, described unflatteringly by the narrative voice-over as ‘thirty-four and already over the hill,’ follows Ezra into his isolated farmhouse and sees the little gathering of ‘women’ waiting to receive her in the parlour, it’s like the scene in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE where the screaming girl meets Leatherface’s ‘family.’ It’s just horrible. Poor Mary, initially brought here to be Ezra’s ‘bride’ rather than just another ‘companion’ for Ma Cobb, goes into shock. 

Major spoiler alert here now, folks. If she’d known as she clocked in for work at the bar that night that, before the night was over, she’d be beaten to death with a human thigh-bone that she’d earlier seen being used as a drum stick by a transvestite freak wearing a titty-vest made of human skin and real titties, she might well have called in sick.

It’s funny when Ezra admits openly to his one friend, Harlan Kootz, that he’s got all the missing women up at his place. Harlan, who’s known Ezra since they were schoolboys together and who regards him as a harmless simpleton who does a bit of work around his- Harlan’s- place, just laughs and then berates Ezra for telling fairy stories. Well, he can’t say he wasn’t forewarned.

What happens to pretty little Sally-Mae, the high school girlfriend of Harlan’s son Brad, mirrors closely the fate of real-life victim of Ed Gein’s, poor old Beatrice Wordern, whose naked body was found hanging upside-down in the Gein barn, gutted like a deer. Jesus wept.

It’s apparently the closest the film gets to reflecting the real-life murderous career of Ed Gein, who’s today known as a serial killer and serial defiler of the dead. Ezra doesn’t have sex with any of the corpses in DERANGED although Ed Gein is very much known as a man who liked a nice bit of necrophilia.

Still, we must remember that the word ‘necrophilia’ can have two meanings. Yes, it means having sex with corpses (Ted Bundy definitely did this, until the corpses became too discomposed for comfort), but it can also mean someone who is obsessed with death, corpses and cemeteries. Both Ed Gein and Ezra Cobb fit this bill.

Apparently, Ed Gein denied having sex with any of his corpses but only because they ‘smelled too bad.’ Would he have had sex with them then if they’d smelled as fragrant as a lily-of-the-valley Christmas bath-set? Is that what he’s saying?

I read in a biography of Ed Gein’s that he was as happy as a sandboy to be carted off to a state mental institution for the remainder of his life for his crimes. He never gave the authorities there a lick of trouble. I can kind of understand why.

He had company there and people who spoke kindly to him, it was clean and presumably warm and he would have been given three square meals a day. A far cry from the cold, dirty, cluttered isolated charnel-house where he lived alone with his ‘Mother’ and her ‘friends.’ I can’t say I really blame him. Anything’s better than that, even for a man like Ed Gein.

What a kick in the knickers Ed must have been for the Plainfield Tourist Board all the same. They can have as much good hunting (for shame!) and lovely picturesque snow there as they please, but will Plainfield ever be known for anything but being the home of the man who, by digging up his dead mother and preserving her corpse, simultaneously dug his way right into the annals of crime history and also into the very pysche of the American people?

You know what, I bet there are mothers in Plainfield today who still use old Ed as the boogeyman to fractious children. ‘Hush up now and get to sleep, you pesky young’uns, or Ed Gein will come and cart you away!’ Aw. It’s good to know he’s useful for something.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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