True Crime thriller / biopic
Ed Gein
Dir: Chuck Parello
Star: Steve Railsback, Carrie Snodgress, Steve Blackwood, Pat Skipper
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 2000
Format: VIDEO

Plainfield, Wisconsin in 1957. To many of the townsfolk, local farmer Edward Gein (Steve Railsback) is just a shy, lonely and eccentric old man. But in reality, Ed is haunted by visions of his late mother Augusta (Carrie Snodgress) a devout religious woman who domineered her son, whom has already become a prolific graverobber and an amateur anatomist. Now the ghost of his mother is compelling him to go that bit further, and satisfy his desire to experience real kill or two for himself.

In case you hadn't already gathered, this sleepy little film is a biopic of one of America's most famous murderers, who during the 1950's dug up corpses and killed women for various reasons rationalised by his psychosis. This true story charts Gein's tormented upbringing, at the hands of a brutal father and his domineering mother. His arrest in November 1957 uncovered the most bizarre series of murders America has ever seen, and earned Ed Gein the title the "Butcher of Plainfield".

The film travels full circle and begins with some of the actual newsreel footage from the time of Ed Gein's actual arrest and features interviews with some of the amazed local residents who all echo each other with their disbelief. The newsreel footage frames the film well and as it finishes with it, you get the feeling that this is more of a documentary than a film. Indeed, the film makers have obviously gone to great lengths to maintain the integrity and ensure that they stick to as many of the facts as possible and avoid the typical mistakes and over embellish the story in order to sell it to the audience. In reality, this story is quite disturbing enough as it is, without the over indulgance for the gore fans and Hollywood tinkering and as a primarily factual account it effectively hammers the story home pretty hard. As far as the story goes, the thoughts and hallucinatory visions of Gein can only really be conjected upon and cannot be taken as actual fact, but knowing some of the background and story of these events, it is very easy to see it all fit together like this. Some of the facts of the case are stretched a little but don't thankfully stray too far from the truth and remain primarily objective and not sensationalised.

Considering the exploits of Gein it is nice to see a mature and sensible approach to his antics and the gore is kept to the minimum, not much blood (Except towards the end of the film) and little by way of violence, but there again Ed Gein wasn't particuarly violent in the first place. A lot of the interior of Gein's home is underplayed, suggested and / or omitted completely. Gein's interior design choices are only really briefly touched upon; human pelvis & spine lamp stand, skull bowls and human skin lampshades are the "lighter" of the finds, the heads hanging on the back of his bedroom door are nicely done and the whole production design is well accomplished and designed to heighten the atmosphere and not detract from the story of the lonely and shy Ed Gein. The house itself appears dilapidated from the outside, all manner of junk strewn about the yard and porch. The inside has been well arranged and reflects a certain degree of horror and dread present in the dismal and oppressive hovel. Even the light struggles to enter the place and where the light does reach, it only serves to highlight some very disturbing visuals, as body parts and "home made furniture" fashioned from the pilferred body parts of a local cemetary are plainly visible. Papers and old magazines are piled high, gathering dust in virtually every corner of the property, rats run around unchecked as dirty crockery merely turns black in the overflowing sink. It can truly be said that this film has a very real and disturbing air to it.

A fantastic and evocative performance by Steve Railsback as he manages to underplay the psychosis with an almost childlike charm, creating a likeable but pitiful visage, allegedly not very far removed from the real character. A good ensemble cast provide some solid performances, but it is the performance of Railsback that shines here. Not an enviable task, portraying one of the most notorious serial killers but he pulls it off well and gives it his all.

Gein isn't portrayed here as a blood thirsty lunatic or the psychotic loner, as he may have been in the past. Here the character has been researched and is portrayed as the almost "slow witted", miserable, lonely chap in mucky clothing (not too unlike a hillbilly) but his shy and awkward nature does make you pity him. To many of the population in Plainfield he was just a lonely old man, a little strange, bordering upon eccentic but mainly as he has trouble effectively interacting with others. Gein can merely engage tentatively in conversation, but a lot of the time he is reduced to smiling wryly as he has to ignore many of the arrogant jibes thrown in his direction by some of the townsfolk. Some look upon him with sympathy and "mother" him by occasionally taking him in to cook him a proper meal, because as far as many of them are concerned they only believe him to eat canned pork and beans and they are blissfully unaware of what else he supplements his diet with. Gein is haunted constantly by hallucinations of the ever oppressive spirit of his domineering mother, berating and scolding him for the slightest hesitation or indecision as she prompts him to do various heinous acts, playing upon the strict religious upbringing that he had. Gein is evidently a lonely and deeply troubled soul but tries to remain aloof from the rest of the town, despite craving company. He obviously enjoys his shopping trips to town where he can spend time with other people, even if he is rather ill equipped to engage in "polite conversation", often bewildering and baffling his peers with inappropriate comments and overly graphic statements on gruesome subjects.

As the story unfolds, issues with sexuality become apparent as at one point Gein wears a "woman suit" complete with hand made "merkin" and mask and dances under the moon banging pots together making a godawful racket and making sounds that perhaps only he understood. It also becomes obvious that the loss of his mother had far more of an effect upon him, a mothers boy requiring supervision. You can see the madness and frustration growing beneath the otherwise harmless and innocent facade.

The direction of Chuck Parello is good and copes well with what appears to have been a meagre budget, some design looks a little cheap but the film makers have definitely gotten their moneys worth out of every penny spent. The direction makes good use of photography and brings some stark atmosphere to bear. Remember, this is not just a movie, this actually happened.

A poignant and tastefully handled, authentic portrayal of notorious serial killer Ed Gein. Impressive, memorable and truly chilling. This is the real life story which inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs. There are plenty of stark similarities all of which are frighteningly evident as the film unfolds, but the truth is even more terrifying.


Before DAHMER, Before GACY, There was ED

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home