DERANGED (1974) Blu-ray
Directors: Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

A low budget Canadian-American independent horror film, DERANGED has gone down as one of the best (if not the best) cinematic renderings of real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, who committed a number of notorious and morbid crimes during the 1950s. Kino Lorber now debuts the film on domestic Blu-ray utilizing MGM’s impressive uncut HD master.

In a rural Wisconsin town, slow-witted and sheltered middle-aged farmer Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ) cares for his elderly bed-ridden mother Amanda (Cosette Lee, CHANGE OF MIND), and he’s been dedicated to this task for the last 12 years. Ma Cobb warns her naive, virgin son about the dangers of the opposite sex (“I just know some money-stealing bitch is going to come along and try to take advantage of you!”) and as he’s spoon feeding her (or rather force-feeding her) pea soup, she coughs up blood and dies. After Ma is buried, Ezra continues to live alone and takes a job as a handyman for family friend Harlon Kootz (Robert Warner, OCTAMAN) and his family. But the pain of being lonesome and his undying obsession with his mother (he speaks to himself in her voice), makes him realize he can't live without her, and he digs her up, bringing her decomposing corpse back to his farmhouse. Ezra places his mother’s corpse back in her bed, talks to her as if she was still breathing, and patches her crumbling skull up with anything he can find that resembles human flesh (until he unearths real human flesh).

When Ezra learns what an obituary section of a newspaper is, it makes it easy for him to locate the freshest lady corpses to dig up as sort of companions for Ma, removing their facial skin to stick on to her rotted face. In the midst of all this defiling of the dead, Ezra calls upon a female friend of his mother, Maureen Selby (Marian Waldman, WHEN MICHAEL CALLS) who can be trusted, according to ma, because she’s fat. She plays up to be clairvoyant in contact with his Ma in order to get him into the bed, with disastrous results. His next obsession is a sexy brunette cocktail waitress named Mary (Micki Moore, THE VINDICATOR), conniving his way into giving her lift home in his truck, only to abduct her and hold her hostage in his growing house of horrors. With the grave-defiling and murders constantly in the headlines, no one suspects Ezra in the least due to his meek and shy disposition, that is until it’s too late!

DERANGED is one of a handful of noteworthy horror films based on the life and crimes of Ed Gein, including Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and more recently ED GEIN with Steve Railsback in the title role. DERANGED was the first film to give a more accurate portrayal of Gein, obviously with the names changed, and will likely never be topped, as it’s one of those cult movies where everything works in its favor. Directors Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby had previously collaborated with Bob Clark on the zombie favorite CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD as well as DEATHDREAM; Clark was offered the job of directing DERANGED but found the subject matter too disturbing and instead served as producer, uncredited (a number of the supporting actors here would appear in Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS, made shortly after). Shot entirely in Ontario, Canada (which substitutes well for a rural American town) on what must have been a shoestring, the film uses its low budget in its favor, having a distinct aura of grim realism which tops just about any of the backwoods horror films to come out in the 1970s. The script by Ormsby is full of dark, witty black humor that never verges on stupidity, such as when Ezra is pulled over by the sheriff for speeding with his dead mother hidden on the front seat (and making up lame excuses about the awful stench) and when Ezra digs up his mother and imagines her looking as she did when waked, only to discover her horribly decomposed remains.

Blossoms is perfectly cast as Ezra Cobb, and though he might not fully resemble the real Ed Gein, he’s exactly how you’d expect the character to look and act. His depiction of a grave robber, collector of corpses and bodily keepsakes, wearer of human skin masks and implied dabbler in necrophilia and cannibalism is bone-chilling and the actor easily conveys insanity with just the slightest facial expressions and only goes over-the-top when it’s really needed. The film is also directed in such a way that characterizes criminal madness to the extreme while juxtaposing the main character with the unsuspecting innocents (and some inevitable victims) who truly believe he’s incapable of such heinous actions, and this can be quite disturbing. Years before his work on numerous George Romero films, make-up man Tom Savini (in one of his first professional jobs) created the film’s rotted, propped-up corpses and other gory effects (under the guidance of Ormsby, also a talented make-up artist), and his innovative work here really adds a lot to the movie. One caveat is the on-screen journalist narrator (played by Leslie Carlson, the tree salesman in A CHRISTMAS STORY) who pops up periodically in the middle of a scene, adding a sometimes awkward documentary feel to the proceedings.

Distributed theatrically in the U.S. by American International Pictures and also known as DERANGED: CONFESSIONS OF A NECROPHILE, DERANGED was first released on DVD by MGM in 2002 as part of a Midnite Movies double feature with MOTEL HELL. In 2013, Arrow Video used MGM’s HD transfer for a UK Region B Blu-ray release (with different extras, including a Savini commentary), and now Kino Lorber brings the same transfer to Blu-ray for U.S. consumption. Presented in 1080p HD in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, DERANGED looks terrific, with the source elements being in near-pristine condition. The film retains its low budget appearance but has vivid colors which still remain faithful to the intended drab look of the film. Skin-tones look correct, detail is impressively strong, black levels are deep and light filmic grain is respectively present. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is adequate, with the sound appearing a bit flat, but dialogue is at least clear as is the creepy organ score by Carl Zittrer. No subtitle options are included. Note that unlike MGM’s previous DVD release, this HD transfer represents the “unrated” version of the film and includes extra gore not found in the theatrical cut: the sawing of a skull and then removing the top like a lid to reveal some squishy brains which are then scooped out with a kitchen spoon.

Co-director/screenwriter Alan Ormsby is on hand for an audio commentary, moderated by Elijah Drenner. Ormsby starts off by saying how he got involved with the film (while doing promotion for CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS) and that it was Bob Clark’s idea to have him and Gillen direct it. He also talks about how he went about writing the script (researching Ed Gein’s real-life events and feeling a need to add humor to the story) and he states that Clark insisted his name not be on the credits (and describes his actual involvement in the film). Drenner asks all the right questions and Ormsby gives great insight on the making of the Canadian production and working with the likes of Savini and the late Gillen (and that he and Gillen had a falling out with Clark when he shut them out of the final edit). Of course Ormsby addresses his cameo, appearing in a black and white headshot with character make-up by Savini, as well as the revelation that at one time he had to remove his early horror films from his resume in order to find work. A second audio commentary has film historian Richard Harland Smith who gives background information about the production of the film (including that both Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel auditioned for the lead), info about Blossoms and other cast members, some bio bits on Ed Gein and how he inspired the writings of Robert Bloch and Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, and other cannibal horror films throughout the years. Producer Tom Karr is interviewed in a recent featurette (17.19) talking about how he left the world of concert promotion in the early 1970s (working with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) to make a horror movie based on Ed Gein. He touches upon such subjects as meeting Bob Clark, putting up the money to do the film, the compromise he and Clark made to have both Gillen and Ormsby direct, and not being able to shoot in Wisconsin. Karr also seems enthusiastic about remaking the film, if the proper financing can be raised. Rounding off the extras is the original theatrical trailer, presented here without narration. (George R. Reis)