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ed gein

review by rob gonsalves

Chuck Parello

Stephen Johnston

Mark Boot
Hamish McAlpine
Michael Muscal

Vanja Cernjul

Robert McNaughton

Elena Maganini


Steve Railsback (Ed Gein)
Carrie Snodgress
Carol Mansell
(Collette Marshall)
Ryan Thomas Brockington
(Ed at 16)
Austin James Peck
(Ed at 10)
Bill Cross
(George Gein)
Brian Evers
(Henry Gein)
Rick Simpson
(Henry aged 20)
Luke Rowland
(Henry aged 14)
Sally Champlin
(Mary Hogan)
Travis McKenna
Nancy Linehan Charles
Jan Hoag
(Irene Hill)
Craig Zimmerman
(Pete Anderson)
Lee McLaughlin
(Warren Hill)
Pat Skipper
(Sheriff Jim Stillwell)

mpaa rating: none
running time: 100m
u.s. release: May 4, 2001
video availability: VHS - DVD
official website

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The true story of the real Leatherface.

Ed Gein? Who?

The real-life inspiration for Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs), that's who. In the '50s in Wisconsin, he did creative things with human remains, including dressing up in women's skins. He died in an institution in 1984.

Wow. So, if not for this sick bastard, the horror genre would be minus three enduring icons.

Yep. Of course, Tobe Hooper, Robert Bloch, and Thomas Harris embellished a bit. Aside from his bizarre proclivities, ol' Ed was a pretty dull guy.

So does that mean this is a pretty dull movie?

Not at all; it tries for, and occasionally achieves, the same sort of queasy, drab, kitchen-sink realism as Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. As well it should, since it shares that film's music composer and editor, and its director, Chuck Parello, also did the sequel to Henry.

Is it as good as Henry?

Not quite. That's why I said "occasionally." It does boast a peerlessly creepy performance by Steve Railsback, who embodies Ed just as indelibly as he portrayed Charles Manson in Helter Skelter 25 years ago. What's good about the movie is essentially all Railsback (also a producer on the film): his blank amiability, his hapless attempts to connect with people, and especially a sequence of such ghastly black humor -- Ed giggling like a kid while trying on a variety of severed noses -- that I won't forget it any time soon.

What's bad about it?

The whole mama's-boy thing gets tiresome (Carrie Snodgress plays Ed's viciously religious mother in flashbacks -- and hallucinations, egging Ed on to take care of those "filthy whores"). We've simply seen the Psycho Got That Way Because of His Nutty Punitive Bible-Thumping Mama thing in too many other movies.

There's no MPAA rating on this. Is it that gross?

Not in terms of overt onscreen violence. You do see lots of aftermath, though -- a woman's body dressed out like a deer; a disembodied vagina lying on a kitchen counter; Ed dancing in the moonlight wearing his special costume. The murders themselves are bland gunshot affairs; the true horrors happen offscreen.

So this tries to be a serious movie about Ed Gein?

And, again, mostly succeeds (it's not the movie's fault, really, that everyone under the sun co-opted the Religious Mama thing). It has a low-simmering intensity, but there aren't really any powerful moments like the original Henry's several bowel-loosening moments. Henry was unafraid to dive headlong into tabloid territory (think of the ugly montage of Henry's trail of corpses in the first five minutes); Ed Gein mostly minds its manners. Certainly it's the mildest biopic of a cannibalistic necrophiliac you'll ever see. It's far from a horror movie as everyone usually defines "horror movie." You don't see Ed going wacky with a chainsaw, or anything.

Too bad this didn't get a real theatrical release. Any idea why?

Uh, because studios are populated by idiots? Serious, artful movies like this and Ginger Snaps go straight to video in America, while studios are happy to roll out smegma like Valentine and Soul Survivors on 2,000 screens. Its lack of an MPAA rating probably didn't help, either.

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