Ezra Cobb lives with his mother in an unidentified region of the Midwest. His mother, a religious fanatic, has indoctrinated him since childhood to hate women. Upon her death, Ezra digs her up again, believing that she is still alive. Ever more deluded each passing day, Ezra digs up various bodies, restoring them from their decomposition and even using them as home decor. Soon, Ezra’s obsessions go beyond the dead themselves, and he becomes a serial killer. Luring women into his grasp, he soon finds various other “creative” ways in which to decorate his home.
Made in early 73 and released by AIP, DERANGED is the most fact based film yet made based on the exploits of Wisconsin farmer/murderer/grave robber/cannibal Ed Gein. Roberts Blosson is alternately horrifying and hilarious as the shy and polite Ezra Cobb, “the butcher of Woodside,” in this incredible truly twisted semi comedy in which Ezra/Ed jokes about his killing and grave robbing with his neighbors, has a seance with a horny widow, and rebuilds his rotting mother, who earlier describes women as “a lot of filthy, black-souled sluts with pus-filled sores…who carry more diseases than ticks!”
Deranged was originally the brainchild of producer Tom Karr. Although he was only a small child in 1957 when the discovery of Gein’s crimes appalled and fascinated the nation, the memories of the Wisconsin maniac’s exploits stayed with him for life. “I always remembered the headlines about Gein in the Chicago Tribune,” he says. “and when you see things like that on the front page every day for two or three weeks, and all your friends and neighbors are constantly talking about them, you can’t help but take notice. Something as weird as this case only comes along once in a lifetime, and I’d always kept it filed away in the back of my mind. I knew that if I ever got into the movie business, I wanted to do the Ed Gein story, because it hadn’t ever been done faithfully. I thought it would probably make a lot of money. because it was unique and exciting enough to satisfy people who like horror movies.”
Producer Tom Karr raised $200,000 budget from the money he earned as a concert promoter for acts such as Led Zeppelin, Three Dog Night, The Temptations and Rod Stewart.
Fortunately, he was able to hook up with a group of filmmakers who were not only young and hungry, but also talented. Anyone who’s seen the unusually clever, offbeat Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1971) and Deathdream (1972) will recognize the names of Alan Ormsby. Jeff Gillen and Bob Clark as a stamp of quality.
“My first professional contact in the film business was a guy named Bob Kilgore,” Karr says, explaining how he came to meet the Miami based bunch. “Kilgore operated a company called Europix, which handled movies on a distribution basis for up-and-coming filmmakers.” Drive-in movie devotees will recall Europix as the banner under which low-budget favorites like Deathdream, I Dismember Mama and the Immortal Orgy of the Living Dead triple bill reached U.S. screens.
“I went to an industry convention in Kansas City called the Show-A- Rama ’72 to meet with Kilgore and find out more about the movie business,” Karr continues. “Bob took that opportunity to introduce me to Alan Ormsby, who was there promoting and selling Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. They had this actor from Children walking around the place dressed up like a zombie and attracting a lot of attention. I was really impressed, and that’s when I started talking to Alan about writing a script for me.
“Since Alan already had a whole group of filmmakers associated with him, it was easy to go right into Deranged with the same people from Children and Deathdream,” Karr relates. “But before I hired any of these people, I wanted to see what they had done. After the Show-A-Rama ended, Ormsby told me they were having a screening of Children in Miami for the cast and crew. So I went down to Florida, and that’s where I met Bob Clark and Jeff Gillen and all the rest of the people. I thought Children was very good; these guys had just done the type of film that I wanted to do, and they had certainly proven that they could do it for the budget I was shooting for. In fact, Children was done on about one-third the budget of Deranged! So we started talking seriously right then and there.”
Misconceptions about Clark’s role in the making of Deranged have been all too common in the years since its release. Clark has been incorrectly cited as the film’s director.
“Bob didn’t want his name on Deranged because he felt it was too strong for him, and it might hurt his career,” Karr says. “But he was very helpful as a mentor, because he guided Jeff and Alan in their directorial efforts. He also guided me as a producer and helped me over any hurdles I encountered. Bob didn’t want to be right out on the front lines with this picture, and I respected his decision.”
Gillen confirms Karr’s statement. “Bob was, in essence, the executive producer,” he says. “He was ultimately the one who would sign the arrangements and so forth, but he had nothing to do with directing or writing the film.”
“Jeff was originally set to direct the movie, but I wanted to go to bat for Alan, because Alan had originally talked to me about directing as well as writing the script,” Karr says. “I compromised and said they could both direct. That compromise was agreeable to everybody.”
The original screenplay for Deranged was entitled Necromania, a moniker which stayed with the film until roughly halfway through the shooting. “I basically wanted the film to present the Gein story as closely as possible,” Karr says. “I gave Alan all the original press clippings from the Chicago Tribune as well as the Life magazine coverage of the case. Alan came up with something along those lines, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted at first.”
“I wrote ’em pretty quickly in those days,” Ormsby recalls. “On Deranged, I basically used my research on the Gein case pretty straightforwardly, but I gave it a black-comedy twist. I don’t think Tom was quite prepared for the comic aspect of the script. He was worried that it would be too funny and not horrifying enough. He wanted it straighter than we played it, but he eventually accepted it.”
While Karr may have conceded to Ormsby’s humorous angle on the story at the time, it was a reluctant acceptance. To this day, Karr takes issue with the film’s lighthearted approach to its heinous subject matter. “I never did want the black humor in there, or any kind of humor at all,” the producer emphatically states. “The comedy took away from the real horror of the story, and I felt it made light of a very serious subject. Alan and Jeff assured me that they thought the film was so strong that we had to put a little comic relief in there; I think their exact words were that we had to relieve the tension.’ I still don’t agree with that today, and if I had to do the story over again, I would do it with no humor whatsoever. But I must admit, a lot of people seem to like the humor, so I’m not saying they’re right or wrong.”
All of the film’s players were cast out of Toronto, with one notable exception. “The advance people went up to Canada before I did,” Karr explains. “Alan and Jeff and some others cast everybody up there, including a guy they’d selected to play the part of Ezra Cobb—but when I got there, I didn’t like him. I wanted to give it one more shot, because the entire film would revolve around this one character. We couldn’t find anybody else in Canada, So Alan and I jumped on a plane to New York and got a hold of a casting agent named Vic Ramos, who’s still in business today. Harvey Keitel and ‘Christopher Walken’ both auditioned for the role of Ezra Cobb in New York. Tom Karr felt they were a bit too young for the part though. Roberts Blossom was the last to audition and Tom knew he had his man. DERANGED was Blossom’s only lead role in a feature, although hard to see these days, is a horror classic, almost on a level with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (which was made later). Both were inspired by the famous real Ed Gein. Blossom is excellent as Ezra Cobb, “the butcher of Woodside,” a simple minded backwoods guy with a serious mother problem. At one point he digs up his mother’s grave. He skins a woman alive, talks to mummified Corpses and wears a human skin.
“Roberts was very much a loner during the shoot,” Gillen recalls. “He had a strict regimen, and was so perfect for the part that he barely needed to be directed. He was always in character; he assumed the role completely. So from that standpoint, he was easy to work with.”
Blossom also added some amusing improvisational touches to his character. For instance, in one scene the screenplay specified that Ez is eating crackers, peanut butter and chicken while talking to his mother’s corpse. To further enhance the dementia, Blossom came up with the idea of Ezra actually dipping the chicken in the peanut butter during his hilarious soliloquy on the virtues of an obese woman.
You’ve seen that? That was made in Canada. Shot in Oshawa (just outside of Toronto) over a month. I believe I saw it once. I remember it went smoothly and they were very satisfied with a couple of takes. I took it because I needed the money. I wasn’t entirely proud of the script. I found it a funny script though. But I didn’t think it was supposed to be funny when I first read it. The author said to me, ‘Oh yes, you can laugh.” And I thought, “Oh. It was a true story by the way, did you know that? Happened in Wisconsin. Some people liked it. I didn’t.” Blossom used a frequent facial twitch for Ezra. “I think it just came to me and I was pleased with how I looked, so I kept it. The humor just came out of the performance. I was trying to find the truth of the man. I don’t think any murderer thinks, “I’m a murderer and I like it,” I don’t think that’s part of the psyche. It’s more complicated.” – Robert Blossom
Karr wanted to shoot in Ed Gein’s hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin to give it the real feel needed with lots of snow. The town council there told Tom they would never okay it since the town already had enough notoriety over the murders there. Tom then tried other towns in Wisconsin and was basically told to never come back. It was then that he talked to Bob Clark about filming in Ontario, Canada for the tax benefits and because of the snowy resemblance to Wisconsin. “Since it was deer hunting season when the story broke, we needed snow, and the only place we could be sure of having snow was Canada,” Karr explains. According to Gillen, there were several other factors that helped make Deranged a Canadian event. “Bob Clark had an editing deal in Canada at the time (for Deathdream), and he’d also found the Ukrainian film studio where we built most of the sets, along with the farmhouse location. There was also a financial advantage at the time to shooting films in Canada.”
The interiors of Ezra’s house were all constructed within the studio’s walls. For a bar scene, the filmmakers used the basement lounge of the hotel where the cast and crew resided. Other locations included a hardware store (in real life, Gein was convicted of murdering hardware store owner Bernice Worden) and an abandoned farmhouse which was used solely for exteriors. Art director Albert Fisher dressed the Deranged Set based on news reports describing the inside of Gein’s farmhouse, even including such details as the stacks of old crime and girlie magazines which Gein was fond of perusing. “Fisher was brilliant,” Karr raves. “I didn’t provide him with any photos of Gein’s farmhouse, but he came up with something realistic just based on verbal descriptions.”
Once more, Ormsby employed the help of Tom Savini, this time getting his first solo makeup effects credit. Savini did some incredible work, much of it visible only in the uncut version.
Tom Savini had just come off the set of Deathdream, where he served as Ormsby’s assistant, when he was hired to head the makeup crew on Deranged. Savini was assisted by Ormsby’s friend Jerome Bergson on such tasks as creating a roomful of decomposing bodies and such morbid artifacts as a “belly drum.” “I remember that the weather was extremely cold, and the snow outside the studio door was always red,”
Savini says of the Deranged shoot. “We were constantly mixing up blood in the kitchen, trying out different formulas. Alan suggested adding peanut butter at one point to thicken the blood mixture. Later on, I got a hold of Dick Smith, and I’ve been using his formula ever since.” When asked how he feels now about his work on Deranged, Savini good-naturedly replies, “It looks pretty good. The effects were very crude, but back then I didn’t know any better. Today, if you wanted a body made, you’d order a skeleton and decorate it, but back then we built them out of chicken wire, dowel rods, latex and cotton!”
The most outrageous gore set piece in Deranged occurs when Ezra brings Miss Johnson’s decapitated head back to his home workshop for some Gein-style “repairs.” In a truly jaw-dropping display of grue, the good-natured ghoul shoves a spoon into the dead woman’s eye socket, removes an eyeball, saws off the top of the head, scoops out the brains and crafts a skin mask from the remaining flesh. True. it’s not in good taste, but then again, neither were the Gein crimes themselves…and besides, anyone out to make an exploitation film is not going to be concerned with “good taste.”
Missing for years from prints of the film, the sequence has recently been restored and gives H.G. Lewis a run for his money in the splatter sweepstakes.
“That head was just thick latex molded around a plastic skull with a wig attached to it; I think the brains were made out of Jell-o!” Savini reveals. I can’t believe how crude that stuff was!” Crude, yes, but certainly effective; just try and suppress the nausea when Ma Cobb (Cosette Lee) has an on-camera hemorrhage while the dim-witted Ez attempts to spoon pea soup into her blood-spewing maw. This particular scene was accomplished in one take using a simple rubber-hose rig attached to an off-camera blood pump.
Bob Clark Interview
There’s a lot of confusion around your next project, Deranged. You’ve been listed in the credits as producer, producer and director and not listed at all.
CLARK:: Alan directed it and I produced it. But I decided to take my name off it. It was too good. It was so real and so horrible as it was played.
But you liked it?
CLARK:: I thought the look of the film was remarkably good. We were going for a Police Gazette look and I think we achieved it.
What exactly prompted you to take your name off it?
CLARK:: It was based on Ed Gein, the man who was also the basis for Psycho. In Deranged you feel for this character because he doesn’t know he’s murdering people. He thinks he’s killing and skinning deer, and you see that in the film. That’s where I had trouble with the film. You feel for him. It’s chilling, because when he kills and mutilates people, you do feel something for him. It was too much. The film is Alan Ormsby at his drollest, it’s got some brilliant black, black comedy in it. But the end of the film is absolutely brutal, to the point where I was quite horrified personally.
The film’s climax, wherein our hero hunts down a young woman at length and then kills and disembowels her was originally going to be intercut with shots of a deer being gutted to establish the fact that Gein was a schizophrenic, who believed that the human meat he ate (and reportedly gave to his neighbors as Xmas presents) was venison.
Was the ending changed?
CLARK:: There were supposed to be subliminal shots of the deer being gutted, with shots of the girl, to show what the murderer saw. But we couldn’t get a deer. We simply couldn’t get one and we weren’t willing to get someone to shoot one. We tried to get one that had been hit by a car. That ending would have softened it considerably for me. It would have shown his state of mind. A deer to him was no different. As it is, it’s considerably more horrible. Robert Blossom also did a marvelous job with the character, so that makes it even worse.
Without that device to soften the finale’s disturbing tone, and the fact that the audience winds up sympathizing, even liking the lead character, unsettled Bob enough to take his name off the credits. To avoid much confusion once and for all, Alan wrote the film and directed it with Clark regular, Jeff Gillen and Bob produced with Tom Karr.
Did it do well when it was released?
CLARK:: Not really. It was just too horrible for people. AIP released it. But I didn’t want to be associated with it. Actually, Vincent Canby (of the New York Times) did a review of that film. He saw the film and thought, where did that movie come from? He talked about the consciousness behind the film, which is interesting because clearly the film works on several levels.
The filmmakers also saved money by relentlessly using the same piece of droning music (“The Old Rugged Cross”) over numerous scenes in the movie. While this may seem nerve-racking to some viewers, it adds to the general tone of gonzo American Gothic which pervades the entire film.
“Carl Zittrer did the music for Deranged,” Gillen recalls, “and was also working on the soundtrack for Deathdream, which Bob Clark was editing. I think it was actually Carl who said, ‘Let’s use “The Old Rugged Cross,” which influenced us a lot. There was quite a bit of that going on with our group; everybody made suggestions.”
Deranged’s credits list no editor which points to some behind-the scenes confusion. “Alan and I thought we were going to edit the film,” Gillen says. “We went back to Toronto after the movie was done. But for a number of reasons, it was made difficult for us to stay in Canada, and we left.” Ultimately, it was Clark who took over the final cut of Deranged. “Bob and I had a falling out at some point, and I left,” Ormsby recalls. “We disagreed about how the editing should be done. He cut some stuff out, and one of the reasons he gave me was that it was too good for the movie. So I was locked out of the final cut.
Karr’s early attempts to sell Deranged to distributors didn’t result in immediate success. “I took the film to LA, and brought it to (exploitation legend) Joe Solomon, who had just had a big success with Evel Knievel,” the producer recalls. “Solomon and I went to a screening room, where he taught me one of my first lessons in selling a film: He only wanted to see the first and the last reel. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure if I should be insulted by that or not, but I brought the two reels up to the projection booth. Joe sat down with a big cigar, and after watching the beginning and end, he said it was too rough for him. That was the end of Joe Solomon,”
Solomon was not the only Hollywood huckster to be repulsed by the film’s graphic content, as Karr recalls. “I remember showing Deranged to a guy at the William Morris Agency in hopes of getting myself an agent,” he says. “And this guy was talking on the phone in the screening room while watching the movie. When the scene came up where Ezra scoops the brains out of the severed head, he put his hand over the telephone receiver, turned to me and said, I can’t believe what I’m seeing!’ Then he went back to his phone conversation. So that’s your typical William Morris agent, a guy who can talk on the phone and watch a movie at the same time!”
Other distributors who passed on Deranged included Crown International and Fanfare. Eventually. Karr was able to attract the interest of American International Pictures, who released the film in February 1974. Deranged went out to theaters with an R rating, which meant the removal of the infamous dissection scene and the trimming down of Ezra’s antics with Mary Ransom (minor blood and nudity).
Directed by Jeff Gillen/Alan Ormsby
Produced by Tom Karr
Written by Alan Ormsby
Music by Carl Zittrer
REFERENCES and SOURCES
Psychotronic Video 14