Just the other day, I blogged about the 1974 film Deranged, which was pretty much the story of real-life psycho killer Ed Gein, with some fictional horror embellishment and the changing of Ed’s name to Ezra Cobb. It would have been more logical for that film to use Gein’s name than the 2007 film Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield.
Considering Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield declares it is inspired by Gein’s case (as were films like Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre), it really should be viewed as just another fictional horror movie that incorporates elements of the true story to create a grisly, pseudo slasher. Of course, that’s asking a lot of an audience when a film totally uses his name, the name of his town, and the time period in which he lived, as well as making the killing of his two main victims in the film mirror the murders of the two women Gein killed in real life.
As hard as it is to separate fiction from fact here, the movie is quite liberal in distorting truth in its effort to deliver a modern horror film. Burly Kane Hodder, who played Jason Voorhees in numerous Friday the 13th installments, makes Ed Gein the kind of threatening, imposing killer we crave. Hodder puts into use of the confident Voorhees stance he perfected years ago, does a fine job playing an intimidating, angry man, and often walks around wearing a butcher’s apron sans shirt to show off his broad shoulders and bulging arm and chest muscles. Hot—but nothing like the real Ed Gein.
The very first scene features Gein hanging a female victim on hooks like something right out of TCM, so it’s no surprise that the opening “camera flash” credits right after feature newspaper clips of his gruesome crimes, not to mention a photo of the actual Ed Gein.
And when Gein wears an entire suit made of female flesh later in the film, Leatherface comes to mind the moment he puts on the face mask.
Gein’s grave robbing is touched upon with one scene here, in which he’s very matter of fact about it and even has an assistant—Michael Berryman, who serves two purposes. First, he makes this a horror film with Michael Berryman. Second, he ups the body count about five minutes after appearing on screen.
Another body piles up minutes later, after Gein is spotted stealing bodies by some random dude in the woods. At this point, the film’s Gein is already a more prolific killer than the actual Gein.
There’s very little reference to the root of all of Gein’s problems—his mother. When Gein nabs his two main female victims, it’s suggested through flashes in his mind that he had issues in his childhood. Borrowing from the facts, the film’s Gein abducts these women from a bar and hardware store. Priscilla Barnes appears as one of these victims – familiar territory for horror fans considering she faced a similar situation a few years before in The Devil’s Rejects.
The main character in this film is the son of Barnes’s character—the local deputy, played by hottie Shawn Hoffman (A Dead Calling).
While he turns in a strong performance, his character’s “story” provides a weak backbone to the plot. Not only does Gein take his mother, but also his girlfriend, who is in the film mostly just to lead him to Gein’s house.
This ends in the deputy’s final, melodramatic confrontation with the killer, which attempts to put a human face on (ew!) the effects Gein had on his victims and their families.
If you’re going to turn an actual horrific event into an exploitative backwoods horror flick loaded with horror icons, how is an audience expected to react when you suddenly try to show some humanity to remind us that this was an actual tragic event? Hell, the film even closes with a postscript giving details of what became of the real Gein after his arrest, a weird reminder that we just used a real, horrific incident to get some cheap horror thrills.
Just imagine if Texas Chainsaw Massacre showed a photo of Ed Gein at the beginning and a summary of Ed Gein’s post-murdering life right before the credits rolled….
Note that this film became the first of several that director Michael Feifer made based on actual serial killers, including Ted Bundy, Richard Speck, the Boston Strangler, the BTK Killer, and Henry Lee Lucas.