Opinions on what makes a good horror film usually fall into two distinct camps. On the one hand you have those which unsettle and shock audiences, but sends them home smiling. Then you have the likes of Deranged (1974), the notorious cult outing by directors Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsbury – starring Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee and Leslie Carlson – which leaves the viewer nauseated and repulsed, asking the question “Was that really necessary?” Deep in the heart of rural America, Ezra Cobb (Blossom) lives alone with his mother Amanda (Lee). When Amanda dies, Ezra is left to fend for himself.
Haunted by the presence of his overbearing mother, Ezra embarks on a series of inhuman acts which would go down in the annals of American history as some of the country’s most depraved and heinous crimes. Over the years, the life of Ed Gein – the unhinged handyman from La Crosse County, Wisconsin, known as ‘The Plainfield Ghoul’ and ‘The Mad Butcher’ who, after the death of his domineering mother, shocked 1950s America with his penchant for grave-robbing and fashioning household furniture from human body parts – has proved a rich source of inspiration for cinematic bogeymen, including Norman Bates in Psycho (1960), Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Deranged’s Cobb.
Yet, whereas Hitchcock’s rendering had some degree of Hollywood respectability, Deranged is more akin to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in its realistic approach. Released in the US as Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile, the film takes visual gore as far as was permissible in the early 70s, with the closing scenes particularly hard to sit through for those without a cast iron constitution. It’s the tangible sense of depravity and hopelessness, however, which imprints the film’s most disturbing mental images. Blossom’s depiction of a man pushed to the edge of madness is impressive, whilst the desperation of Micki Moore and Pat Orr (as two hapless victims) is extremely harrowing.
Much like the infamous Gein himself, the movies based upon his life have become notorious in the main for graphically depicting the depths a human being can sink to under certain circumstances and pressures. If watched as a warning against this descent, efforts like Gillen and Ormsbury’s Deranged could indeed be argued to have some degree of legitimacy and cultural value. If viewed purely for entertainment purposes, however, this may be considered as something of a moot, exploitative offering.