As for the story, it unfolds episodically split up by the narration and has a certain '70s strangeness to the entire mood and presentation. It's hard to put a finger on it, but it's worth seeing. I mean, this is co-directed and written by the writer of Dead of Night, who was also the star and co-writer of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. Plus Tom Savini had his hand in the make-up effects.
Done, you're sold.
Of all the movies based on Ed Gein this is the most realistic and to some degree the most accurate. A great drive-in classic that never seemed to get attention beyond the parking lot.
Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) is a sheltered man living alone with his bed-ridden mother (Cosette Lee) who directs him to avoid women, who she believes are instruments of the devil, riddled with gonorrhea and syphilis and planning to take financial advantage of Ez as soon as she leaves this earth. Fire and brimstone are the cornerstones of her dying speeches to shaking, worried, desperate Ez, who tries to feed her soup on her deathbed, sure that he can keep her alive a little longer. Of course, she does die, and so Ez is left alone, taking on the role of handyman to Harlon Kootz (Robert Warner) and his family, including his wife Jenny (Marcia Diamond) and son Brad (Brian Smeagle). Ed, I mean, Ez, however, still misses his mother and is absolutely grief-stricken over her death. He begins to hear her voice, asking him to bring her home. Of course, he does just that, shocked to find her in a state of decay and determined to put this to right.
Interestingly enough, despite the wild deviations of the other films based on Ed Gein (Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,* The Silence of the Lambs--Buffalo Bill, not Hannibal), this one is reasonably accurate, especially as film adaptations go. I was surprised that the film opened by addressing his mother's controlling, dominating, self-loathing misogyny as used to raise Ed, hinting at the effect it later had on him. We're brought in close to Ed (forget "Ez," it's so close as to be pointless, and we all know who it is) and see some measure of sympathy for him as it begins. Blossom plays him as a simpering, dependent, scrawny man in his 40s who lived for his mother and was never allowed to develop a backbone. He tries to follow his mother's teachings with some measure of strength, but is otherwise completely without a will of his own. We feel some pity for him in this, and at least see the roots of what comes from it. Cleverly, the way Blossom performs it and Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby direct it, we don't end up thinking, "Gee, he wasn't that bad!" or "The poor fellow!" We certainly see his victims as victims, and him as monstrous. There are no bones about this, despite the fact that we see the tragedy of poor parenting and the horrid effect it can have on someone, leaving fault not with that parenting, but with the result of it (in this case Ed).
There is not a lot of focus on his, er, trophies (for the sake of most, I'm not going to list them, you can look them up if you want) or in some ways even on the murders, until the end when we see his mind completely devolving as he falls into the sickening trap of feeling the power that his acts have given him. Stumbling into the first, but finding something in the act as he continues, until he, too, does not realize where he has let himself wander. There is some gore--it should be noted that I've seen the R-rated and not the unrated version, which includes far more gruesome acts--but not an awful lot. Moreso we find thoroughly decayed corpses being used as companions, which is disturbing in an altogether different way. Blossom never plays this aspect for complete, drooling madness, nor for pure evil. Ed is a severely misguided and altogether screwed-up mind, and is acting as if this group of women is indeed still alive and keeping him company.
Rather a surprise for its treatment of the events, even going so far as to underline the idea that these events are true but for the names and locations, it even employs a narrator (Leslie Carlson) who occasionally appears to tell us he is a reporter who first wrote about the story. This can be a bit distracting, but not overly so, and can break the tension--appropriately--at some moments. It's a good idea that doesn't quite work like it should, but does not bring the movie down for it.
Special moment: most of the scenes revolving around "Ma Cobb's" death are soaked in church organ music playing various hymns, but when Ez brings a skull to her that is to be her "company" and places it on a bedpost, suddenly the chord goes amelodic and sustains, the sort of music you would more expect out of a horror movie, but not jarring or overly loud, just a sudden change in atmosphere that tells us Ez has finally lost it, that up to then he was crossing major lines, but now he has passed the point of no return.
*As someone once said, really, "The Wisconsin Rifle Double-Homicide" would not have been near as menacing a title.
Worth a rental.
Roberts Blossom tries his hardest to be scary as Ezra Cobb but his performance comes off as being more camp than anything else.
The murder sequences, although there are only a couple, are handled very well and contain a fair amount of suspense even though the gore is quite low. The movie tells the Gein story quite well and the highlight performance has to come from the actress who plays his mother.
Being a low budget movie, the soundtrack is very limited and it often plays the same portion of music over and over which can become quickly annoying but this is nothing new from low budget horror films of this era.
It's worth seeking out if you are curious about the Ed Gein case or are a Roberts Blossom fan.