Deranged is a 1974 Canadian-American horror film written and directed by Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things) and Jeff Gillen. It was produced by Bob Clark (Black Christmas; Murder By Decree).
On July 7, 2015, Kino Lorber released Deranged in Blu-ray and DVD versions featuring audio commentary by Alan Ormsby, audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith, a new featurette and the film’s trailer.
You’ve got to hand it to Wisconsin cannibal and murderer Ed Gein – his insanity-soaked criminal exploits have inspired a lot of films over the years, including Psycho (1960). But the early 1970s, in particular, were a great time for Gein-flavoured movies, possibly because it was the first time his twisted crimes could be more explicitly explored. Thus we had the likes of Three on a Meathook, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre … and Deranged, the film that came closest to telling the real story until more recent biopics.
Deranged takes most of the facts of the case but changes the names and the details to create a black comedy that is reminiscent of EC comics with its mix of humour and ghoulishness. Here, Gein is reinvented as Ezra Cobb, played brilliantly by character actor Robert Blossom.
Middle-aged Ez lives with his aged, religiously fanatical mother (Cosette Lee) in their remote farmhouse, and when she dies – haemorrhaging blood while reminding him that “the wages of sin is syphilis, gonorrhoea and death” and that only fat women can be trusted – he begins a slow descent into madness.
After a year, he digs up his decaying mother to bring her home and soon she’s joined by several other corpses that Ez is using for ‘repairs’. Soon, his grave robbing turns to murder, as Ezra’s sinful desires and madness collide.
Deranged is, even now, a remarkably potent horror film, light on gore (sensibly, as Tom Savini’s early special effects are often a tad too red to be convincing) but high on gruesomeness.
The story is told by an on-screen narrator who turns up, Rod Serling style, in the middle of scenes – something that adds a curious theatricality to the proceedings and perhaps takes the edge off the horrific nature of the story. This narration – straight-faced but bordering on the camp – is a novel touch, one that reinforces the film’s connection to horror comics and their hosts, and is sensibly used less and less as the film progresses and the events start to speak for themselves.
The snow-covered, wintery locations stand in marked contrast to Texas Chain Saw‘s blistering Texas heat and add a bleakness to the story that reflects Ezra’s fixation with death.
Blossoms is amazing as Ezra – he’s at once an innocent, a comic character and sympathetic, yet at any moment he will give a sly look that suggests he is sharper than he seems to be and during the murders – especially of barmaid Mary (Micki Moore) – he’s a genuinely monstrous, sadistic character. This killing, the centrepiece of the movie, is remarkably creepy as Mary stumbles into the room full of corpses, only for one of them to be revealed as Ezra in full necro-transvestite mode, wearing the skin, hair and clothes of a dead woman.
Turning a true crime story into a black comedy is always going to be a difficult thing to pull off successfully, but Deranged manages it. The sick humour comes not only from the twitchy performance by Blossoms but also the absurdity of the situation.
If you’ve read anything about Gein, you’ll know that the whole story really does seem like a ghoulish comic strip, right down to him cheerfully confessing his crimes to people who just assume he’s joking (something recreated effectively here). That said, Deranged doesn’t make light of his murders – in fact, the movie makes a point of allowing us to get to know his victims, making their deaths all the more horrifying, and the film’s ending is a quietly unnerving moment of psychotic horror.
I’ve seen Deranged several times and it’s never looked as good as the Arrow Video Blu-ray – even the theatrical print I once caught was vastly inferior. In fact, it’s quite unsettling to see the film looking so sharp. The Blu-ray edition is also the first time the film has been released uncut in the UK, complete with the oft-missing brain-scooping scene.
David Flint, HORRORPEDIA
Alan Ormsby’s original title was Necromania