A bit of backwoods American horror (actually a Canadian-American co-production) Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby’s version of the Ed Gein story is probably the most understated, but is no less disturbing for it. Soon to be released for the first time anywhere in the world on Blu-ray and completely uncut (so horror fans will finally be able to bear witness to the movie’s infamous ‘brain-scooping scene’ in all its glory - according to the press release) Arrow Films’ presentation of DERANGED is certainly the best way to watch this curious, cold and downbeat little low budget movie. Despite using the same inspiration as Hitchcock’s (or rather Robert Bloch’s) PSYCHO and Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, DERANGED is an altogether more sober affair, although it still manages some standout scenes of outrageous excess to rival either of those two pictures.
When the quadriplegic domineering mother of Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) dies in a welter of bloody vomit as he attempts to feed her the greenest pea soup ever committed to celluloid, poor old Ezra can’t quite cope with the fact that she’s not coming back. A year after her death, Ezra pops over to the local cemetery, digs her up, and brings her mummified, crumbling, slightly melty corpse (a very effective Tom Savini construct) home with him. When a local woman dies, Ezra wastes no time in getting hold of her corpse to use as spare parts in patching up mum’s tatty bits, this leading to the aforementioned cranial evacuation with a large dessert spoon and yes, that scene is indeed intact and as disturbing today as it probably would have been back in 1974 had anyone been allowed to see it.
“The wages of sin is (sic) gonorrhoea, syphilis and death!” were Mrs Cobb’s final words, and so it's probably unsurprising that Ezra’s view of women is a little on the loony side. After waxing lyrical on the virtues of the outsized Maureen Selby (Marion Waldman) to his dead mother while eating a chicken leg dipped in peanut butter (you won’t forget this either if you watch the film and I don’t see why I should be the only one stuck with the image), Ezra shoots Maureen after she pretends to channel the spirit of her dead husband and demand Ezra have sex with her. Far slimmer and more normal is waitress Mary (“who, truth be told, was somewhat over the hill,” the bespectacled onscreen narrator helpfully informs us) who ends up back at Ezra’s place, bound and stripped to her underwear to witness one of the best and most unnerving tea parties in the whole of exploitation cinema (and that includes TEXAS CHAIN SAW). Soon she’s dead too, and Ezra is helpfully being handed a gun with telescopic sights by a chum of his in the local shop. Unfortunately young Sally (Pat Orr) is soon within his sights and, after a chase through the woods, she enters exploitation history as the girl who gets strung up naked in Ezra’s barn. As a result she also ended up on all the posters.
DERANGED is a pretty grim film, and doesn’t exactly qualify as entertainment. Occasionally it gets things horribly wrong - Les Carlson (Barry Convex from Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME) is okay as the narrator in the opening scene, but his constant intrusions into the narrative effectively dispel any atmosphere that’s been built up by what’s gone before. The swings from humour to horror are amongst the broadest ever put on screen, but whether or not you’ll find any of it funny will very much depend on how Grand Guignol your sense of humour is. The direction ranges from flat static shots to moments of brilliance (the hanging body seen in the barn from a distance, Mary discovering her gruesome teatime friends) and the effects by a young Tom Savini still hold up pretty well today. Anchoring the film in believability is Roberts Blossom as Ezra. Rather than play Cobb as an eyeball-rolling loony, Blossom’s performance is so straight and yet so subtle that he makes Cobb a frighteningly bland and believable character. Ultimately it's due to him that DERANGED owes its success, and he deserves whatever accolades he may have received for it.
Arrow’s Blu-ray is crisp, clean and - yes - uncut. Extras include possibly the briefest introduction to a movie ever by Tom Savini, and a couple of slightly pointless and rambling featurettes - one with Scott Speigel about Roberts Blossom, and another in which HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 actor Laurence R Harvey talks about Ed Gein in the movies. Much better is THE WAGES OF SIN - a making-of featurette that includes a lot of behind the scenes footage as well as archive interview footage with co-director Jeff Gillen. This was Gillen’s only film as director. He died in 1995 and apparently his last job was playing ‘Man in Restroom’ in the BBC’s ONLY FOOLS AND HORSES. There’s a commentary track with Tom Savini, and a Trailers From Hell snippet in which Adam Rifkin talks about the film. Finally there’s the usual reversible artwork and booklet, which includes an article by Stephen Thrower.
Definitely the best presentation of the strange little classic around, Arrow’s release of DERANGED is well worth picking up. In fact, you’d be mad not to.
Arrow Video will be releasing the Blu-ray of DERANGED on Monday, August 19th 2013