Steve Railsback as Ed Gein: NOT the most well-adjusted of folks...(Gein, not Railsback.)
Edward Theodore Gein...Where would the horror genre of just over the last fifty years be without him unleashing all-too-real nightmares upon an unsuspecting Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950's? Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb all crawled forth from the minds of their creators after being inspired by Gein's crimes, and some would say that the genesis of those fictional murderers was something of an attempt to come to grips with what the unassuming town weirdo got up to back in the days. That's as may be, but I say it's damn near impossible to come up with any fiction that's anywhere near as mind-fucking as the real thing, and you can damned well be sure that the America of the supposedly idyllic Fifties was not ready for what was found in Ed's squalid home and shed. Since that hideous discovery, Ed Gein has crossed over into the most dire annals of Americana, becoming in the popular consciousness a bogeyman of a ghoulish ilk that far surpasses the tales of "the Hook" that have scared kids around campfires for ages.
While not 100% accurate to the facts, this filmic retelling of Gein's story focuses mainly on the events leading up to his murder of shopkeeper Bernice Worden in November of 1957, interspersed with flashbacks from his childhood through his adult years, during which time we see his fragile, sensitive mind and soul crushed under the heel of his clearly psychotic religious fanatic of a mother, a harridan who guilt-tripped the lad with her misrepresentation of the Good Book and a rabid denouncing of anything that was healthily sex-related as evil and sinful. Growing up in such an environment would not be easy on anyone, but poor Ed was doomed from the very start, his mind warped by his mother's influence and constantly at war with his own confused sexual urges. By the time he reached middle age, Ed was a fucking mess — to put it in the mildest possible terms — and when his mother inevitably gave up the ghost, he was lost without her and took care to board up his her rooms in the house they shared, leaving them perfectly preserved while the rest of the place was reportedly a study in clutter and filth.
Considered something of a town weirdo, though deemed by most to be a harmless eccentric, Gein did odd jobs for the citizens of Plainfield but his oddest of jobs were his nocturnal..."hobbies," which included digging up the graves of women and collecting parts of their bodies, which he put to use for a number of grisly "handicrafts." Spurred by his deeply twisted sexual yearnings, Ed would fantasize about changing his gender and even crafted a crude "woman suit" from the skins of his exhumed prizes, in order to facilitate the most horrific form of transvestism imaginable.
"♫ Mystery Date...Are you ready for your Mystery date??? ♬"...No. No, you are NOT.
Gein was always (rightly) perceived as strange, but his unnerving behavior came to a head when he shot and killed Bernice Worden and took her body out to his shed, where he hung her naked, beheaded carcass upside down from the rafters and eviscerated her like one would do to a freshly-hunted deer. When her blood was discovered on the floor of the store where she worked and a sales slip with Ed's signature on it was found, the police went round to Gein's place to question him and unwittingly stumbled into a tableaux that no doubt sent them to voiding the contents of their stomachs all over the gravel outside. Upon searching Gein's house, the unfortunates tasked with the investigation came up with a laundry list of fucked-up shit, including a belt made from nipples, a box containing a number of excised vulvas, "shrunken heads" and "masks" crafted from the skins of corpses, bowls made from human skulls, indications of possible cannibalism...
Gein also confessed to the 1954 murder of Mary Hogan, a tavern proprietress, which brought his official murder total up to two — so he cannot be technically considered a serial killer; you need three or more to rate that classification — but you know the situation is beyond dire when the murder of two innocent women barely registers when stacked against the evidence of his other incredibly ghoulish acts. When all was said and done, Ed Gein was deemed mentally incompetent — Gee, ya think? — and sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and later transferred to the Mendota State Hospital (both located in Wisconsin), spending the remainder of his life in the latter institution, where he died or respiratory failure at the age of 77 in July of 1984. Thus did a pitiful, demented loner enter the annals of history and the darker recesses of pop culture.
The movie alters or condenses a number of the facts of Gein's case, but for the most part what it depicts gives the casual viewer a decent Crib Notes version that works effectively as a straightforward and very creepy horror narrative, albeit one with its roots very firmly embedded in fact. Steve Railsback is quite solid as Gein and adds the poor, tortured ghoul to his short roster of re-enacted madmen, right next to his chilling portrayal of Charles Manson in the made-for-television HELTER SKELTER (1976). He's the glue that holds together what could easily have been just a lurid parade of disgusting necro-degradations, and one even finds it possible to feel sorry for poor Ed because it's obvious that he could have had a chance if only he'd ripped himself free of his mother's warped clutches.
ED GEIN is definitely worth watching and it holds the viewer riveted as the twisted, stomach-churning madness escalates. That said, it's only fair to warn some of this blog's more sensitive readers that the film derives considerable power from its audience knowing that the majority of what's seen in the movie actually happened nearly six decades ago, and unlike the legend of Sawney Beane and his Scottish clan of inbred, cave-dwelling, cannibalistic mass-murderers, photographs documenting the beyond-nauseating evidence of Gein's work exist...