Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ed Gein's Impact on Horror and Its Notorious Characters

The heinous crimes of Ed Gein have been the subject of documentaries and narrative film since 1957.  From the time of his arrest, up until now, he's been the focus of many of the great modern day horror films.  Many of the characters that have become staples in pop culture have been inspired by the shy, mild-mannered ghoul from Plainfield, Wisconsin.  Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill are three out of the very many who have scared horror movie-goers for decades.

The youngest son of George and Augusta Gein, Ed was a shy boy with very few friends.  Many of the townsfolk thought he was weird, but harmless.  Augusta was despotic; a woman who despised women, their sinful ways, and sexual desires.  She would let her two young sons have no part in any of it.  She dictated the household and considered her husband an utter disappointment and due to his constant shortcomings with job ventures and alcoholism she deemed him a failure.  Because of his overbearing mother, and her decision to move the family in isolation, Gein had no one else in the world.  His father would end up dying of heart failure.  A few years later his brother Henry died after he and Ed went out to burn brush in the woods.  A fire broke out and became uncontrollable.  But the younger Gein was the only one to emerge from the accident.  Later Henry's body was found face down, but there where no burn wounds on his body.  There were bruises on his head, which brought up some red flags that pointed to Ed having had something to do with it, but otherwise it is documented that Henry died of asphyxiation from the smoke.  Augusta was the last to go.  She died in 1945 of a stroke.  This crumbled Ed's world.  He would never be the same again.

Far from the typical serial killer, Ed Gein admitted and was found guilty for killing two women.  
His first victim was Mary Hogan, a tavern owner, who went missing in 1954.  His second victim came three years later.  Bernice Worden, a hardware store owner also went missing.  Her son Frank Worden was the deputy sheriff and quickly Ed Gein became a prime suspect from both an eye witness and a receipt found in the store, proving him to be the last known customer in the store before Bernice's disappearance.  After a hasty investigation at the Gein residence, a grisly scene was discovered in the woodshed behind the house.  There, the body of Bernice was discovered, hung upside down and dressed out like a deer; the head missing and the body eviscerated.

Inside the home were more, barbaric, and gruesome discoveries.  A belt made from human nipples, skulls used for soup bowls, lampshades from human skin, a box full of noses.  The entire house was squalid from floor to ceiling.  The only room in the entire house that was immaculate was his mothers.  That room hadn't been touched since her death years prior.  Most of these body parts, or "souvenirs" were from the graves of the recently dead.  Ed would read the obituaries to find fresh graves and at night he'd set out to go grave robbing.

In 1968 Gein was tried and found guilty of first degree murder, however, he was considered to be legally insane and was sentenced to spend the rest of his years in a mental hospital.  The reason why he was only tried for one murder had to do with monetary budgets.   

Gein had an insatiable appetite for reading books on cannibals and the Nazi atrocities.  Many knew Ed as the weird guy, but he was hardworking and earned his keep.  Often he'd even babysit the local kids.  No one knew, truly, the horrific things he was doing.  Or how his mind spiraled into madness.  That is, not until his macabre and twisted experiments with death surfaced in the isolated town of Plainfield in '57.

Norman Bates

Robert Bloch sat at his kitchen table and read the daily newspaper, only 25 miles from Plainfield.  The details of the Ed Gein crimes were splattered in black and white.  It was then that Bloch began writing his masterpiece.  Psycho would be born and read by the masses.  His character Norman Bates is the template of Ed Gein.  The parallels between the two are undeniable.  Bates runs and operates Bates Motel.  His domineering mother lives up in the big, old house behind the motel.  Norman has to take care of her because nobody else will.  Mother hates women and hates the thought of Norman living in sin with any of them.  And soon mother has to take up a new hobby to protect her son.  Murder.

It's no secret that Norman's mother is dead.  Norman preserves her; keeps her bedroom neat and tidy, dresses like her and even speaks for her.  Ed Gein did the same things.  Moreover, he was extremely interested in the first sex change and often contemplated getting one himself.    The body parts of middle aged women, who strongly resembled Augusta, were dug up by Gein and preserved.   

Psycho is considered the god father of slasher films.  It is most certainly Alfred Hitchcock's best and most celebrated film to this day.  Anthony Perkins was almost born to play this role, even though in the book Bates is shorter, heavier, and wears glasses.  Perkins is interesting in the fact that although he's deranged, he earns your sympathy.  After all, he is doing everything that his mother commands of him.  He lives vicariously through her.  He's psychotic, reclusive and lost without the love of his mother.  It's the only woman in the world who really meant anything to him.  

Always remember, "A boy's best friend is his mother."


There's a false notion out there in the Internet land that Tobe Hooper's classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is actually based on Ed Gein.  The films ideas are in question but without a doubt Leatherface is taken right from the Ed Gein crime lab.  Leatherface was a hulking retard, who wielded a chain saw like a madman, served as the family servant, and donned a mask made of human flesh.  In the original film leatherface wore three different faces.  The first mask we see is the Killing Mask. This is the mask when... you guessed it... Leatherface is doing all the destruction and killing.  The second is the Old Lady Mask.  This mask is worn when he's home playing the made and doing the chores, like cooking and cleaning.  The third mask, which he wears in the third act of the film is the "Pretty Woman Mask", this is where he looks prime and proper for dinner.  These masks are worn to show his personality on any given day.  

Leatherface is a man of very few words, outside of the occasional grunt.  After Kirk is killed and Pam ventures into the old, dilapidated farm house, she's caught in the clutches of the massive, over-sized behemoth and carried back to the kitchen. As he carries her with ease you can hear him sometimes laughing hysterically or grunting in frustration.  Pam's end comes when Leatherface hangs her on the meat hook.  She screams as her blood drips into a bucket below her.  All the while Leatherface is prepping Kirk, with his chain saw roaring, cutting flesh, and getting the sausage ready for dinner later on in the evening.  He acts on compulsion, doing what he thinks is right.  He's clearly insane and hasn't a rational cell in his brain.  He's also protective of his family and when these young kids come snooping around he has no idea on how to control the situation.   When he kills Jerry, he panics and starts beating his head with the birdcage out of rage and frustration.  Why are these people are invading his home?  

Leatherface isn't a human being.  He's a monster, a bastard of the universe, a horrible mistake gone terribly wrong.  This is the movies, where monsters scare and entertain us.  Where we can have fun, and know that when we turn the lights on and the TV off, things will return to normal.  Life will go on as it does.  

Ed Gein is a real monster.  And our society is full of them.

Buffalo Bill

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) had a snowball effect.  It wasn't a huge success at first.  Gradually over time many of the actors and filmmakers started to earn acclaim from reviews and mover-goers.  Most of the reviews were positive which led to many claiming that the film should rank with other horror classics like: Psycho and Halloween.  

Ted Levine played Buffalo Bill, a character who kidnaps, murders and skins women.  He dresses like a woman because he hates himself and wants nothing more than to change his appearance.  He admires their skin and wants them to be apart of him.  Much like cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer did when he consumed his victims so they would never leave him.  Buffalo Bill is interesting in the fact that he reflects another serial killer, Ted Bundy.  His modus operandi was similar to that of Bundy's.  Playing off that he had a broken arm, or other heath issues, he gained sympathy from his victims, luring them into his trap.

The film went on to win a bunch of Oscars and became one of the few films in history to win all five major categories including, Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture.  Where the positive criticism came the negative would follow.  It was also criticized for being sexist and homophobic.  

Was Buffalo Bill gay?  

Director Johnathan said no.  He was just a tormented guy.  Does it really matter if he was gay or not?  

Was he sexist?  Yes.  He killed women.  He was a sadistic person.  Enough said. 

Ezra Cobb

In 1974 Deranged was released.  Roberts Blossom plays Ezra Cobb, a replicate of Ed Gein.  He lives at home with his oppressive mother, has very few friends and is considered a bit odd by the townsfolk.  After the death of his mother, Ezra digs her up and keeps her.   He also takes up grave robbing and uses body parts as decoration around his house.  Once that becomes a bore he resorts to killing women and quickly morphs into a serial killer.  One thing that Ezra does in the film that Ed Gein vehemently denied was taking pleasure in necrophilia. 

The film depicts isolation and loneliness very well.  Again all the characters have one thing in common, without the love and guidance of family (particularly their mothers) they have no reason.  And sometimes loneliness and depression is a recipe for disaster.

Other notable film based on the crimes of Ed Gein

Motel Hell (1980) a farmer and his wife kill people and plant them in their human garden.  Later, they're rounded up and made into Vincent's Fritters.  I'm sure it's beef jerky to die for!  Don't take the film too seriously.

Three on a Meathook (1973) here is a link to a review I wrote of the film back in 2011.

Ed and his Dead Mother (1993)  Horror/comedy about a man who wants to reanimate his dead mother.   

Roadkill:  The Last Days of John Martin (1988) - a short film by director Jim Van Bebber. 

Ed Gein (2000)  Steve Railsback nails the performance.  The story is pretty true to the facts.

Ed Gein:  The Butcher of Plainfield (2007)  Odd casting choice putting Kane Hodder as Ed Gein.  There's quite a size difference there.  Nonetheless a great effort and really shows Hodder's acting chops.

Following his arrest there was a media frenzy.  In his own right, Ed quickly became somewhat of a notorious celebrity.  Media surrounded the old farmhouse, Ed's '49 Ford sedan was auctioned off, and later put up in a local fair.  The car was dubbed "Ghoul Car", the car used to transport the dead bodies from the cemetery to Ed's farmhouse.  Many people paid a quarter just to get a quick peek inside the car.

March, 1958, Ed Gein's farmhouse was burned to the ground.  No arrests were ever made.

"Just as well," was Ed's response after being told of the fire.

His final years were spent in the Mendota Mental Health Institute.  He enjoyed life in the facility and many staff members said he was a perfect prisoner.

Ed died of cancer in 1984.  He was buried next to his mother, in the same cemetery he once prowled. 


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