If you're at all a fan of horror films or if you're interested serial killers or American crime in general, it's highly unlikely that you've never heard the story of Ed Gein. Even though he himself is probably not that well known to the general public nowadays, his crimes were so horrific and unreal in how utterly sick and depraved they were, and have made such a lasting mark in American history and the culture, especially when it comes to literature and film, that it doesn't matter that his name isn't that familiar to people now. His story has been told in so many different ways, be it in Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Silence of the Lambs, or even in more obscure movies like Deranged and, to a certain degree, William Lustig's Maniac, and his methods of butchering people's bodies, using their remains as furniture, and cannibalizing them are such commonplace aspects of countless horror films, especially those made in the last 20 years, that it's ensured him a kind of morbid immortality. It's all become so detached from the man himself in the lexicon that it's almost like he never really existed, that he was just a boogeyman that someone made up and the story got passed down through the generations. It's made him downright mythic. As a result, I don't know if it was really necessary to do a truly faithful biopic of Gein's life. I didn't even know that there was one until one night in either 2003 or 2004 when I saw an episode of Biography on Gein and they had an interview with Chuck Parello, the director, and showed a couple of clips from the film. Since I, like a lot of people, was fascinated by this case, the film did interest me but, while I did catch some bits of it on IFC a couple of years later, I wouldn't see the whole thing until 2007 when, after trying to find it for a while at used DVD stores, I finally broke down and ordered it from Amazon. When I finally did see it, I thought it was an okay film. I felt that it was pretty faithful in telling the story of Gein, it got most of the facts right, and it had some fairly good acting, with the best performance coming from Steve Railsback as Gein. But, I thought, and I still do think, that it's far from perfect. Not only does it do some things that I find kind of annoying about a lot of modern biopics, I don't think it was nearly as disturbing and impactful as it could have been and it didn't delve into the effect the discovery of Gein's crimes had on the town of Plainfield and on 1950's America at large as much as it could have either. That'll more or less be feelings about the film throughout this review: it wasn't bad but it could have been much, much more.
This film takes during the period of time in the mid- to late-50's when Ed Gein's mental health really went downhill. It's clear at the beginning of the film that he's already been robbing graves and making keepsakes out of the bodies for a long time but, as the film goes on, he starts to think about his deceased mother, Augusta, and the life he once had with her more and more. Even though we see in flashbacks how verbally and physically abusive she was to him to when he was growing up due to her insane and overbearing religious beliefs, she was his whole world and he desperately misses her. Wishing that she would come back to him, Gein begins to hallucinate that she's speaking to him from beyond the grave, saying that he must kill foul-mouthed bar owner Mary Hogan for her to be able to come back to life. Eventually, Gein does so and butchers her body, making use of it in very horrific ways. As his downward spiral continues, Gein begins to hallucinate that Augusta has indeed come home. She tells him that he must do God's good work and kill Collette Marshall, the beloved owner of the town's hardware store whom she says is a harlot. Unable to tell reality from fantasy anymore, Gein soons commits his most horrific crime yet, unknowingly ensuring his eventual arrest and place in American history in the process.
Director Chuck Parello started his career in the film industry by holding miscellaneous positions on several different projects, including as a researcher for a 1989 James Bond documentary, The Many Faces of Bond, a production assistant on Martin Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear, and most notably as assistant to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer-director John McNaughton on the films Mad Dog and Glory and Girls in Prison. He soon found himself running McNaughton's production company, Tartan Films, and was eventually asked to write a sequel to his mentor's most well-known film. Apparently, he managed to impress so many people with his script for Henry II: Portrait of a Serial Killer that he was also allowed to direct it. It's weird, I remember reading reviews for that film way back when and most of them were not good but it seems that some critics gave it good notices during its release in 1996. Parello got Ed Gein from that, and since this movie did pretty well, winning some awards at film festivals, that Tartan assigned him to another true crime film (which he's said that he loves), The Hillside Strangler. He was originally meant to follow that up with City Gas, which was another script that he wrote, but that never came to be. He didn't do anything after that until 2012 when he directed a video short called Dr. 420 and he plans to direct a movie called Powder Burns next, although no release date has been put on IMDB as of yet.
Far and away, the best part of this entire movie is Steve Railsback as Ed Gein. This is a particularly difficult role to play since you have to be pitiable as well as creepy and deranged and Railsback absolutely nails it. It wouldn't be too far off to say that he was born to play this part because he fits it so well, much better than Kane Hodder in the later film Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (I love Kane Hodder but, even without seeing that film, I can say that he was totally the wrong choice). He portrays Gein as a very tortured soul, consumed by both ghoulish impulses that he can't control as well as from extreme loneliness and social awkwardness. It's obvious that he very badly wants to get away from his creepy, rundown farmhouse and interact with people more but he just can't bring himself to do it since it's the only world he's ever known. It also doesn't help that most of the townspeople treat him like he's an alien due to his unusual hobbies and behavior, making him feel even more ostracized. His mental health, which has never been all that great anyway due to the verbal and physical abuse he suffered from all his life, especially from his mother, Augusta, who also put a lot of overwrought religious nonsense into his head, begins to deteriorate rapidly as he becomes obsessed with robbing graves, feeling that he can resurrect the deceased, and then making keepsakes out of the remains when that doesn't work. It comes to a head when his desire for his mother to return causes him to hallucinate that she's speaking to him from the afterlife, telling him that he must do the Lord's bidding and kill Mary Hogan in order for her to do so, leading him to commit murder. Everything goes downhill very quickly after that, to where Gein not only makes hideous use of Hogan's body after she dies, but he hallucinates that his mother is instructing him to murder Collette Marshall next, punishing her for the sins that Augusta claims she has committed, and setting in motion the events that will lead to the revelation of Gein's crimes to Plainfield and the world at large. As I said, Railsback is very good at swinging back and forth between making you sympathize with Gein, as you see what he endured throughout his life and the lingering effects it still has on him, to being utterly creeped out and disturbed by him when he looks at women in bizarre ways, stalks Mary Hogan in her bar after closing time, and when he does horrific stuff like fry up some human flesh in his skillet and dance around in the moonlight in the skin suit he made from women's remains. We also get a sense of how schizophrenic he is with how he quickly he can go from violent and deranged to scared and remorseful for what he's done, such as when he mortally wounds his brother, Henry, and immediately panics over what he just did, and when he shoots Collette, decides he's going to nurse her back to health, and ultimately butchers and hangs her upside down in his cellar like an animal in a slaughterhouse.
The heart of Ed Gein's psychosis is the complicated relationship he had with his mother, Augusta. Even though she was often mentally and physically abusive to him, particularly whenever he did something that she felt was sinful, like when she catches him masturbating in the bathtub in one flashback and hits him with a belt, or when he failed to be a "man" and stand up for himself, as happens with a scene involving his abusive father when he was a kid, he absolutely worships the ground she walks on and does whatever she says. Since she's dominated him in every imaginable way, filling his impressionable head with a bunch of crazy religious ideals and forbidding him from having any contact with women, he feels that she can do no wrong and sees her as a saint. But, since she's always been the only woman in his life, he also has an uncomfortable... attraction to her. In several scenes, although it's done rather subtly, it's obvious that he may look at her as more than just his mother. After his father dies, Gein tells his mother not to waste her tears on him, saying that he never loved them, kind of like he's saying, "You don't need him." When his brother dies, Gein, who's also remorseful about what he did to him, comforts his mother by hugging her and telling her that it's just the two of them now, although the hug goes on longer and is a little more intimate than it should be, prompting Augusta to tell her son to leave her alone. In fact, right before Gein murders Henry, he comes out of Augusta's bedroom, telling him that she's getting dressed. Henry, naturally, asks his brother what he was doing in there if she's getting dressed and Gein simply says, "Nothing," right as Augusta closes the door completely shut from the inside. We never find out what was going on in there but, at the same time, I think it's best if it's kept secret. And finally, Gein's relationship with their mother is not lost on Henry, who ultimately asks him why he doesn't just marry her, prompting his brother to attack and kill him. As complicated as his relationship with her was, Gein absolutely loved her and misses her terribly, wishing that she would come back to life and return to him. This leads to him hallucinating that she can come back to life and will, resulting in him committing murder to ensure that it happens. He completely loses his grip on reality when he imagines that she does come back and even after he's committed to an institution for the rest of his life and is treated for his psychosis, the film ends with the notion that his mother still has a hold on his mind, as he sternly says, "My mother was a saint."
This film's main goal is to put you inside of Ed Gein's head and have you experience his psychosis the way he did, which is an interesting and logical way to go but is also tough to do since no one really knows what went through Gein's mind when he committed his crimes (Gein himself claimed to have no memory of them after he was arrested and institutionalized). And sure enough, as fascinating as I find this aspect of the film to be, the end result is a bit disappointing. Going into the film, I knew I was going to see a lot of Augusta Gein since it's common knowledge that she was the reason why he was such a disturbed individual but the way they went about it felt cliched to me. Having him see, hear, and talk to her, as well as do her bidding, inevitably makes me think of Norman Bates and his mother. Before you say anything, you should already realize that I know damn well that Ed Gein was the real-life inspiration for the character of Norman Bates and given that, it's not far-fetched for a motif like this to be in a movie about his life. But, even so, I can't help but have constant flashes of Psycho all throughout the scenes with Gein and his mother and taking that, as well as all of the other horror films that have done something similar, into account, I think it would have been more effective to go a different route. For instance, it's well-known that Gein's attraction to his two confirmed victims, Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden (renamed Collette Marshall here), was due to how they resembled his mother in his eyes. Why not, instead of having him kill them because he thinks his mother is telling him to, go with that idea and make him try to replace his mother with them in some way, which wouldn't end well and, in one way or another, result in him killing and butchering them? That would have been more effectively disturbing and original to me than the way they went. In addition, they also show you all of Gein's bizarre and, in some cases, morbid interests, like stories of headhunters and cannibals, female anatomy, the process by which a body decomposes, unsavory comic books, and what it would be like to change one's sex. While the real Ed Gein was interested in all of that stuff, the way they put it into the movie feels like they went down a list and checked everything off. Okay, he's interested in headhunters and cannibals? Check. Changing his sex? Check. Dirty literature? Check. This stuff is mainly brought up merely to confirm that it's present, serving no other purpose. It's a problem I tend to have with biopics in general. It's the same reason why, in the 2000 TV movie on the life of the Three Stooges, I rolled my eyes when Ted Healy just came out and told Larry Fine that the one guy has the name, "Shemp," because his mother couldn't pronounce, "Sam," clearly, or when Larry Cohen made it known out loud that any theater wanting to show a Stooge short would have to put it in front of a B-picture. Maybe no one else feels this way but it always seems to me like it's really hard to put real facts about a person into a movie in a way that feels natural and not just as a checklist for people who know everything about the real story. And finally, what was with that naked Nazi woman Gein dreams about at one point? Disturbed man or not, that doesn't at all fit with anything else he imagines in the movie. Maybe that's the point but, regardless, that got my undivided attention the first time I saw it.
Like Railsback, Carrie Snodgress is another actor in the film who absolutely inhabits her role of Ed Gein's dominating, unhinged mother, Augusta. Although she's dead during the film's main storyline, her presence and influence are very much alive with how much Gein wishes for her to return to life and how he begins to hallucinate that her spirit is speaking to him and telling him to do God's good work. In the flashbacks, we see how she absolutely smothered her two sons with her beliefs, constantly quoting and reading scripture from the Bible, saying that women are filthy harlots, and ultimately undermining Ed's manhood by keeping him away from the women in town and not allowing him to relieve the sexual urges that he naturally developed. Moreover, she was verbally and physically abusive, whipping Ed with a belt when she catches him masturbating in the bathtub one day and, during a scene that takes place when he was a little boy, blaming his crying and sniveling for his abusive father beating on both of them, asking him if he's going to be a crybaby, pantywaist for the rest of his life. All that said, though, when you see her crying over her husband's dead body after he succumbs to pneumonia, despite how horrible of a person he was, and doing the same when Henry dies, even though he butted heads with her teachings and way, you do get the sense that, despite the horrible things she does, she loves her family and didn't want it to fall apart. To that end, she does love Ed and does think she's doing the right thing for him; she's just too blind and misguided to see all the harm that she's doing. And like I mentioned up above, there is something of a perverted sexual nature to their relationship with how Ed comes out of Augusta's room at one point when she's supposedly getting dressed and with how he seems to want to be the only man in her life. Augusta, despite how twisted she herself is, seems to be rather disturbed and confused by this, though, given how she pushes Ed away from her when he gives her a hug that's a little too intimate in the funeral parlor. Eventually, we see how shattered Ed was when Augusta died but, through his crimes and psychosis, he manages to bring her back to life, although I don't know if the real Augusta would have told Ed to go out and kill people. She may have been nutty herself but I don't think it was that serious. I think Ed's damaged mind twisted around all of the stuff that she'd spouted off about over the years, particularly about filthy, sinful women, until it finally manufactured the delusion that she would have had him do such things.
The portrayal of Gein's two known murder victims in the film strike me as a bit odd since one is very truthful to the real person while the other one is a little bit fictionalized. Mary Hogan (Sally Champlin) is the former: she's a tough-talking, heavyset woman who is more than happy to swear like a sailor and make really crude, sexual jokes. At one point, she goes as far to serve up some "bra shots": she takes off her bra, puts the cups in one guy's mouth, and pours the liquor down through it. Her less than saintly personality makes her a prime candidate for the type of " divine punishment" Gein's twisted mind dreams up from what Augusta taught him about harlots. Ironically, even though she does think of him as being odd like everyone else, Mary does seem to have some compassion for Gein and, early on when she sees that he's falling apart, she sincerely tells him that she hopes he gets well soon. Following his mother instructions, Gein shoots Mary and takes her back to his house, where he keeps her until she dies from the gunshot in her chest, which is followed by him butchering and disposing of the body. Before we go on, I might as well add that Mary is the focus of another instance of this movie blatantly putting out facts about the real-life person, which is when the one guy at the bar says, "Ain't she a dirty talker?" Yes, we know that she was quite colorful for a woman in the 1950's. It wasn't necessary to say it. In any case, Gein's other known victim, Bernice Worden, is renamed here as Collette Marshall (Carol Mansell). I always found that odd and thought that maybe her family asked that her name be changed since the manner in which she was killed led to one of the most sick and appalling, as well as infamous, images associated with the case and they didn't want her to be "exploited," however I've never been able to find that information. Collette is portrayed as a very compassionate, motherly type of woman who does genuinely like Ed Gein and thinks of him as a son (she turns down an offer to go on a date with him for that reason; note that he's trying to date someone who's something of a motherly figure to him), even if he is pretty odd. But, despite that, she doesn't care for his constant prying into what her ex-husband was like, why he left her, and such, sternly telling him that it's none of his business at one point. She never for a second thinks that Gein is dangerous or sinister in any way, which leads to her murder and horrific butchering afterward since Gein hallucinates that Augusta is a fraud and a whore who drove her husband away. What's most disturbing to me is, since you can hear her moaning after she gets shot, wondering whether or not Collette died before Gein decided to butcher and dress her out like a deer instead of help her. I'll just let that one sink into your nightmares.
There are some noteworthy supporting characters in the film as well. Brian (Steve Blackwood) is an employee and close friend of Collette's, with his family being indebted to her for helping them during some hard times. As a result, he's rather protective of her. He's the only person in town who sees Ed Gein as more than just an oddball; he knows that there's something not right about the way he looks at Collette, angrily saying that he's going to knock Gein's block off if he catches him doing it again. Collette simply dismisses Brian's feelings as being nothing more than a result of Gein's strange personality and his bad temper, but when she comes up missing, Brian is sure that Gein had something to do with it since he saw him looking at Mary the same way before she disappeared. But, when the sheriff doesn't listen to his claims, Brian takes it upon himself to find out the truth and drives out to Gein's house, where he discovers Collette's gutted carcass hanging in the cellar. Horrified and sickened by what he sees, Brian drives out to where Gein is and comes very close to killing him right then and there, but is talked down and allows the sheriff to take Gein away. Nothing much to say about Sheriff Jim Stillwell (Pat Skipper) himself. When Mary Hogan disappears, he does go out and talk to Gein since he was one of the last people at the tavern and while he does appear a bit suspicious when Gein never asks him why he's there, he immediately drops it and, as I said, doesn't believe that Gein could have possibly murdered Collette. When Brian heads out to Gein's house despite his warnings not to go, Stillwell follows him out there and discovers Collette's body as well, and later follows him to the Anderson family's house when Gein is and is able to arrest him. Even though he was doing his job by stopping Brian from killing him, he tells Gein that he should have let Brian do it and tells him he hopes he fries. The last shot of him in the movie is him sitting in the middle of Gein's house as his gruesome creations are taken away, unable to comprehend what he's seeing and what Gein had been doing all those years. George Gein (Bill Cross), Ed's father, is shown to have been nothing more than abusive, foul-mouthed beast of a man who treated his family harshly, beating on Augusta at one point. He gets no sympathy from Ed at all when he dies of pneumonia. Henry (Brian Evers), Ed's older brother, is portrayed as being more independent-minded and not as impressionable as Ed, particularly in regards to Augusta. While Ed listens to and gullibly eats up everything that she says and reads, Henry is disinterested and just wants to go and do anything else. It comes to a head when, after their father dies (we never see Henry get abused by their father), Henry tells Ed that he's moving out to go live with a woman that he's met. He feels that their mother is nothing more than an overbearing harpy and makes the remark that Ed is so obsessed with her that he might as well marry her, which leads to Ed bashing him in the head with the butt of a gun in a rage and mortally wounding him in the process. Finally, Pete Anderson (Craig Zimmerman) is one of Ed's true friends in town. The two of them spend a fair amount of time together, going to horror movies and working together, and Ed is a frequent guest at Pete's home. Pete is something of a troublemaker with how he has Ed describe a particularly nauseating fact about decomposition while they're eating dinner and, like almost everyone else, just thinks that Ed is strange and nothing more. However, when Brian storms into their house at the end of the movie and says that Ed murdered Collette, Pete seems to believe him immediately since Ed was saying that he was at the hardware store that morning and with how he's been dodging questions about changes he seems to have made to his truck's tires.
I always feel like a jackass whenever I do this for a movie that I know was independently made with a small budget but, regardless, this film's low budget nature is painfully present throughout. For one, there's its very look, which doesn't feel like something you would see in theaters. It looks more like an actual movie than a micro-budget flick like Death of a Ghost Hunter but it makes me think of a TV movie. More specifically, it looks like a made-for-Lifetime movie or, better yet, a very gruesome Unsolved Mysteries reenactment (that's no slam against Unsolved Mysteries, though; that show is awesome). If it weren't for the high-caliber acting from Steve Railsback and Carrie Snodgress and the graphic nature of the makeup effects, I might have thought that's what it is. It has that generic, dusty-sort of look that movies made for Lifetime tend to and it also has some sound effects, particularly the sound of the doorknob in Collette's hardware store at points, that I've heard on TV shows and made-for-TV movies. It's weird, I know, but stuff like that always makes a movie feel cheap to me. What does that even worse for me, though, are the very poor digital effects in the film. For the most part, the movie's technical aspects consist of practical, makeup effects but there are a couple of instances where they simulate fire digitally and it looks like something from a video game. I always cringe whenever an independent movie makes use of CGI because they almost always don't have the money to make it look good and that's certainly the case here. I get why they used it for a delusion Gein has about a burning bush that his mother speaks to him through because they wanted to simulate the visual that the plant is not being damaged by the flames, but for another scene involving Henry's dead body in the middle of a circle of a fire, couldn't they have maybe used a dummy and real fire or at least used a stuntman and made sure to keep the fire under control and away from him? Not being a filmmaker, I'm probably ignorant to the fact that it's not that easy to do that stuff when you're working on a very low budget but I still think that would have looked better than what they went with. Finally, the fact that this unintentionally ended up being the first in a series of independent movies based on serial killers makes it feel less... special to me. I know that all those other films weren't made by the same company (although Tartan did do the Ted Bundy one) and it's not fair for me to say that but, regardless, it gives the movie something of an assembly line nature that I can't shake.
Going back to Ed Gein's delusions for a bit, while it makes sense that they're very strange and twisted since it's from the mind of a very disturbed person (I still don't entirely get that Nazi woman, though; I know he was reading something about the Nazis there but that was still really random), there are some points where they're arranged in a way that makes it confusing. I'm not talking about the moments where he imagines that the head of a dead woman he's trying to bring back to life moves or that his mother's old rocking chair is creaking even though there's no one there because those get across that he's losing his grip on reality. The scene that I'm specifically talking about is when he's sitting at the bar in Mary Hogan's tavern and suddenly cuts to him being back at his house, reading something, before we get the scene where he imagines his mother's voice telling him to kill Mary for being such a dirty woman and then a fantasy where he gets Mary to have dinner with him and puts poison in the pork and beans he serves her. When it cuts back to the scene at Mary's tavern, my brain gets a little whiplash since, due to the editing, I didn't know we were seeing a flashback or, more to the point, a flashback followed by a fantasy. Again, that was probably the point, that the mind of someone like this is very complex and unpredictable, so I shouldn't be complaining, but it did take me a minute to realize what I had just seen.
Being a biopic about Ed Gein, you shouldn't be too surprised to see some gruesome and disturbing images here. Roger McSwain handles the special makeup effects here and does a pretty good job of recreating Gein's disturbing handiwork. You get all of the stuff that you would expect: severed heads hanging on the back of the door in Gein's bedroom, flayed faces on the wall, skulls in a box, a lamp made out of what appears to be a spinal cord, pieces of human meat that Gein fries up in a skillet, a severed vagina (which really makes me cringe), some human noses that Gein actually tries on while looking at himself in the mirror, some bowls that appear to be made of bones, and a human heart that you see in the skillet at the end of the film, which is supposed to have been something the police actually found when they raided his house. However, the most disturbing makeup effects are two that I can't show images of for fear of getting into trouble. One is the horrific skin suit that Gein wears during a scene where he walks out of the house at night and dances around in the yard, all the while banging on a pot and howling. I'm really glad that the scene takes place at night and you can't really make out the details of the suit because I would much rather do without that (fortunately, you don't get to see it that well when the police discover in his house at the end either; the brief image of it hanging in a dark room while the light from the hallway pours over it is creepy enough). The other is Collette's headless, naked, sliced open body that Brian finds hanging in Gein's cellar, which I was waiting on when I first watched the film because I knew its effectiveness would make or break the film. Fortunately, they didn't chicken out at all and did an accurate recreation of that gruesome crime scene photo of Bernice Worden's body. (I also like the nice foreshadowing during one of the flashbacks when young Ed sees his parents cutting open a pig in the cellar.) If you've never seen that photograph but you have seen the film, then trust me when I say that you more or less have seen the actual photo, because that effect is as close as they could have possibly gotten without actually killing someone and cutting their body open in that same manner. That visual, coupled with the music and Brian's horrified reaction, make that easily the most effective scene in the entire film. The only thing more disturbing than that is a shot when Gein gets out of while wearing those old-fashioned long-johns that leave nothing to the imagination and you get a nice view of his equipment, and if there's one thing I never need to think about again in my life, it's Steve Railsback's junk (I about went ballistic when I later saw Lifeforce, where he's naked during the last scene).
It's weird, even though I'm glad on the one hand that this stuff, especially that skin suit scene, isn't as disturbing as it could have been, on the other I'm also kind of disappointed that it isn't. Normally, I would never complain about a movie not being disturbing enough because that's usually not my kind of movies. I don't mind blood and gore or great makeup effects but when something has no other purpose than to freak you out and repulse you, like the Hostel and August Underground movies and A Serbian Film, it's not going to appeal to me. But, all that said, I think that this movie could have been much, much more effectively disturbing given the subject matter. I'm sure that the filmmakers didn't want this to just be a nasty exploitation movie and I do think they were wise in not making it nothing more than a slasher movie, as the later Kane Hodder film appears to be, but regardless, this is the story of Ed Gein, who inspired so many different horror films and books because of how horrible and sick his crimes were. If you're going to make a true-to-life movie about him, I think you should just go out and really show all of the horrific things he did in gruesome detail. While I mentioned that there's already a fair amount of horrific images and scenes in the film, there could have been even more. You could have shown Gein butchering the corpses he stole from graves, making his skin suit and macabre furniture pieces, cutting up Mary and Collette's bodies (although, at the same time, I do think it's possibly more effective to not show the gory details of the latter's fate), and, although it was never proven if Gein really did this, cannibalizing some of the pieces of meat we see him cooking. I also don't think his house was used as effectively as it could have been. It's certainly as rundown and filthy as it was described as having been but I think it was in the middle of a big field, looked a little more like it, and almost completely dark, all of which were the case in actuality, I think it would have been very memorable, particularly if you use the metaphor that it's a reflection of what's going on in his mind. (I would say to put more emphasis on the horrific furniture out of the body parts but, inspiration or not, that may feel like you're stepping on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's toes.) And finally, the investigation of the house and the discovery of Gein's handiwork could have been an unforgettable scene if you went with the real-life idea of it being a cold, snowy night as the policemen roam through the dark house and discover all of his horrific creations. As effective as the scene where Brian discovers Collette's body is, can you imagine what it could have been like had the scenario been the police bumbling around, not sure of what they're going to find, and then stumbling across that sight in a shed separate from the house? I think that would have been positively nightmarish.
That leads me to something else that I don't think the film took advantage of: the effect that something like this had on such a small, innocent town in the 1950's. Besides the gruesome details of the crimes themselves, what makes the story of Ed Gein significant is that it happened during a complacent, wholesome and innocent, "apple pie" sort of period in time where the general consensus was that, with World War II having ended a decade before, the future was very bright and everything was going to be alright from then on. Gein's horrific crimes shattered that entire notion, and the fact that they were committed by an unassuming man who could be your next door neighbor, and was for the citizens of Plainfield, particularly struck a chord with people. I don't really get a sense of that from the film. You do know from the get-go that it's a big story since the movie starts with actual news interviews with people who knew Gein giving their impressions of him, and throughout the film, there are bits of dialogue that back up the notion that no one in Plainfield ever suspected Gein of doing anything wrong, but by the time the film's over, you don't see how the revelation of his crimes have affected the town. We see how horrified and enraged some people are, particularly Sheriff Stillwell, who we last see sitting in the middle of Gein's living room as the gruesome pieces of evidence are taken away, completely speechless, while we hear Augusta Gein's reading of the Bible corresponding to the abominations that have been uncovered, but the film just ends with Gein being institutionalized and trying to put things right in his own mind. Why not have a little epilogue showing the townspeople having become suspicious of each other, now wondering what's going on behind closed doors in all the houses, and locking their doors at night, as one real-life citizen said happened afterward? For that matter, why not show Gein's house being burned down, the fire department's taking their time putting it out, and how this final act, coupled with Gein's death in 1984, made it feel like it was finally over for the town? To me, that would have been interesting avenues to explore but I guess the filmmakers were more interested in simply sticking to Gein's personal story, which may have been the best course of action. I still would have liked to have seen that angle explored, though.
It's interesting that I mentioned Unsolved Mysteries earlier in terms of the film's look because the music score by Robert McNaughton reminds me a lot of the stuff that Gary Malkin did for that show. While that music isn't the kind of thing I would expect to hear in a theater, it's nonetheless one of the movie's strongest aspects. The music is very disquieting, with a lot of disturbing, electronic-sounding aspects to it (very little of it sounds orchestral) that really get across how horrific what you're seeing is and how twisted and demented a person Ed Gein is. I especially get freaked out by the theme that plays when, after killing Mary Hogan, we see Gein doing something with her severed vagina and then cook some meat in the skillet, and the barrage of frightening sounds during the last few minutes of the movie when he's arrested, his secret is discovered, he's institutionalized, and during the ending credits, with the last part of it involving a constant, menacing warbling sound in the background. And I also have to mention what you hear when Brian discovers Collette's mutilated body in the cellar. Like everything else, it perfectly captures the horror of what's happened and how Gein has now become a serious threat to everyone in the town. Overall, the music doesn't have a lot of variety and some may view it as just a bunch of noise, but I think it's one of the film's biggest strengths and does a good job in getting across a truly insane person's madness.
All in all, Ed Gein is certainly not a terrible movie. It has some great actors, especially Steve Railsback and Carrie Snodgress, is fairly faithful to the true story, has some appropriately disturbing images and makeup effects, and a film score that accompanies the sheer insanity of what's going on really well. That said, though, I do have my fair share of issues with it, with the biggest ones being that I don't think the movie was as powerful and unforgettable as it could have been and I wish they had shown the effect that Gein's crimes had on the town after his arrest, as well as its made-for-TV look and feel, which include some really bad digital effects, the use of some plot devices that I find to be a bit cliched, its need to blatantly put out real-life facts about the case, and the slew of low-budget movies based around serial killers that came after its release making it feel less special to me. If you're at all interested in the Gein case, I would say that it's worth a watch because there is some talent and good intentions behind it, but don't expect one of the most effective and powerful true-crime movies ever made.