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Ed Gein Part II: The Man Who Inspired Monsters

The devil is out there. Always stalking, ever-lurking, somewhere between the gossamer glow of the waking world inside our minds and just behind the walls of sleep. A genius wolf watching dreary sheep. I’m not asking if you’re religious or not, and, if we’re being perfectly honest, he doesn’t much care. He shows up and there’s Hell to pay. 

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Satan in Council’

Back in the 1950s, every god-fearing American had their butts warming a church pew come Sunday morning. The reverend would stand up and preach from the Good Book and, every so often, if he felt a particular agitation, the grand horrors of Hell would be the topic of the day. Turns out that Satan and his infernal realm of pain and suffering made for crowd-gathering material … just like it did in the Dark Ages.

Ma and Pa saintly do-wells, salt of the earth types who would never be caught dead at a motion picture show, especially one showing a scary movie, sure did eat up that Sunday-Funday grizzly stuff though. Why as a matter of fact, the nastier the Hell the sweeter the Heaven I guess you could say.

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages

Reverend Wonderful had free reign to be as graphic as his imagination allowed when describing the stygian agony awaiting sinners gripped by the Devil’s talons. Horns and pitchforks, rusty chains, and Hell’s unquenching flames, it got the folks all riled up.

People liked the gory bits. They’d shout their support, yell an ‘Amen’ or two sometimes, and if the spirit took ’em, you’d see ol’ Miss Maryweather go a’running up and down the aisles. It was worshipful. It was saintly. It was a fucking circus ruled over by the good Reverend while rivets of sweat streamed like salty beads down his reddened face. The hotter the Hell the better the reaction.

“Preach it, brother!”

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Rebel Angels’

It was pure exploitation and fuck if church-goers didn’t take to it like flies to a turd. For many people, it felt right to think Satan was out there punishing unrepented sinners stewing in their own iniquities.

Did the Devil exist? Hell to the fuckin’ A you bet your ass the Devil existed. And people loved it about as much as they liked sipping their sweet lemon ice tea. He was the atavistic threat reigning over the writing agonies of Outer Darkness. His was the Inferno and all of its black miracles. The burning pits of Hell are where you’d find him and– pardon the pun – it was a burning hot topic. It was also a safe place, somewhere far away from the daily affairs of salt-of-the-earth types. 

They could take comfort knowing they would never have to deal with him. They were also goddamn wrong because one day the Devil showed up and turned out to be everyone’s meek and quiet neighbor.

He was someone they drank with, someone who babysat their kids. People were stunned stupid by the grizzly revelation as to what kind of Evil was living among them. Guess you don’t ever really know a person. Or at least what’s going on inside their heads.

And sure, it’s way easier to present Ed Gein as some evil demon or devil. Something elemental and almost fictional. He wasn’t though. He was one of us. Flesh, blood, and bone. Put his pants on just like we all do. But to his neighbors, he was pure evil. A Devil who built his house out of sin and sat on furnishings stitched together by human body parts.

You can’t make this shit up.

He surrounded himself with death and dwelt in gloom like a troll from some warped fairytale. He adorned himself in human flesh and stitches. And, if rumors are to be believed, he ate who he killed. 

Ed Gein was the stuff nightmares are made of.

inside Ed Gein’s house

But their Devil had been arrested and locked away like a community’s dirty little secret. His reign of terror was over. The ghoul who kept shrunken heads under his bed was now gone and the dead could finally rest in peace.

cop standing outside the Gein estate

Now that old charnel house of his was left to its grey solitude, a molding threshold into the domain of demons. A genuine house of horrors if ever there was one. It stood out like a festering tumor on the pristine façade of the kindly community, reminding everyone of the evils the human mind is capable of. 

A planned auction of the estate was scheduled and you could say a fungal interest blossomed about that macabre place and it was bound to draw in a crowd locals weren’t too keen on. The weird types, outsiders, people with ill intentions for sure. Freaks with a flair for the grotesque oddities of life.

the old Gein house

So when the good citizens of Plainfield woke up one morning to find Gein’s house of death and corpses had mysteriously burned down in the night – just mere days before the auction funny enough – there was a collective sigh of relief. That pretty orange glow radiating brightly in the early dawn hours meant the whole affair had to be over and done with. Call it an act of God (thank ye, Jesus) or comeuppance there weren’t any tears shed over the smoking ashes of the estate once the blazing inferno quieted down. The fire claimed everything. The grounds were burnt black as if nature rejected the earth the foundations were laid on. All that remained were the seared underpinning jutting out like decayed ribs. 

20 Mar 1958, Plainfield, Wisconsin, USA — Smoldering ruins is all that remains of the House of Horrors after a fire of undetermined cause destroyed the two story frame building on March 20, 1958. Once the home of confessed killer ghoul Ed Gein, who shocked the nation when human remains were found in it, the house was to be auctioned. Police suspected arson. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

That’s the end of that, or so it was assumed. Let lying corpses lie (ha, ha), just go on like nothing happened and this whole messy thing’ll just blow over. Thing is though, devils like Gein don’t just go away. They haunt the mind and tickle deeply repressed fantasies in us all. 

Gein had not only just reshaped American culture (not to mention kick-started an international interest in serial killers) but he became the blueprint of horrors to come. In fact, Gein was now the foundation of who the American Boogeyman was to become. Both in real life and on the silver screen.

In the years to follow the genius of horror could not ignore Gein’s playful side and as result, much of culture’s most beloved guilty pleasures sprung up out of the mire of the madman’s crimes against life and death. Had it not been for Gein picking up a shovel and heading out to a cemetery one night would we now have some of horror’s most respected and praised titles? Not likely. That’ll boil your noodles if you let it. 

Boogeyman of Boogeymen

Robert Bloch would make a name for himself – and write one of the most influential horror stories of the century – all due to his little book Psycho. Bloch was living in WI at the time and was shocked by every heinous detail pouring in from the papers about Ed Gein. The concepts of grave robbing and an overbearing mother lording her toxic influence over one lonely young man just couldn’t get out of Bloch’s head. They became the foundations upon which a budding sub-genre of horror would be fortified upon – that being the slasher genre. 

Norman Bates, the titular madman himself, is the focus of the book, something I’ve mentioned before. The book is also even more disturbing than the classic film. The book was enough to scare the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchock who earnestly recognized the indisputable talent of this story. And knowing the book was based on the Ed Gein crimes made the project all the more appealing. 

Norman Bates, kind-natured, quiet, and a bit simple, the humble face of the Bates Motel where, if you catch Norman’s eye and he gets that (uh-oh) funny feeling down his pants, chances are when you check in you won’t be checking out. Berated by his mother (who can be seen sitting menacingly in the upper window of the house atop the hill) Bates lives a lonely life. One you can easily pity. But he lives a double life too. 

As we all now know Norman keeps his dead mother at home where her dried corpse can still torment his broken mind. I think Ed was proud of that little touch. Taking it one step further Norman lets mother have her fun by dressing up and channeling the harsh woman. Hitchcock’s Psycho shocked people and with a little of Gein’s ghoulish fun reshaped the nature of horror movies. Norman Bates was the archetype for future slasher icons such as Michael Myers, Jason, and Leatherface to come.

A decade later the quiet outback of Texas became a slaughter field when young innocents were met with a chainsaw-wielding madman. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is renowned as one of the top five best horror films ever made and its most macabre moments can all be linked back to the grotesque habits of Eddie boy.

It’s interesting that each member of the deranged family of cannibals embodies an attribute of Gein. It’s as if the ghoul’s essence stains each scene from opening to final credits. 

Most people identify the skin-wearing traits of Leatherface back to Eddie, but there’s the Hitchhiker who digs up the dead and brings home the really good stuff to furnish the living room. There’s also the cook whose quiet nature lures in unsuspecting victims. He’s such a nice guy until he can catch you off your guard. Then it’s straight to the icebox with you.

You know, the more I think of it the more I’m convinced the original film is an absolute masterpiece. Every time I watch it I’m that much more impressed. It’s a simple formula but – as is proven most often in horror – it’s the simple stuff that works the best. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre became a grindhouse staple and was ultimately banned in certain countries. The UK saw fit to slap the movie on the infamous Video Nasties list. And to this day there are some countries where horror fans cannot watch the full movie. It fucked with people’s heads that much. TCM is simply metal to the bone. 

Another writer (Thomas Harris) would make a career for himself when his novel of grizzly crime and mystery took the world by storm and made Anthony Hopkins a name to be feared and celebrated once the story was adapted to film. 

The Silence of the Lambs is punch-to-the-throat thrill ride to stop a serial killer who is mutilating women. Our killer here, nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), not only channels Ed Gein but goes the extra mile by utilizing a few of Ted Bundy’s nefarious tricks to great effect. Bill goes about his transition by capturing women and turning their skins into his new and improved body. 

Though considered more of a psychological thriller than a scary movie I see it as an early example of elevated horror and the movie scared the pink fucking shit out of audiences upon its release. I was a kid when it came out and I remember being reprimanded for just talking about it. I wasn’t allowed to say the name for fucks fucking sake! As if it would conjure up something malignant and stygian. But that’s how badly this movie scared people. It snuck its way into people’s psyche and festered there.

Adding to the grizzly tension is Anthony Hopkin’s searing portrayal of cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. Though incarcerated Lecter’s unique qualities make him a key element to discovering the shrouded identity of Buffalo Bill and putting an end to his reign of terror.

It’s interesting that each of these movies greatly differ from one another in tone and presentation. They each reflect on the social angst and attitude of their times and went on to further influence and redefine horror in the years to come. Hell, most people attribute Psycho as the start of the slasher genre, my favorite! And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired Rob Zombie’s entire film career. Then there’s Silence of the Lambs which led to a massive boom of interest in grizzly crime films that led to future films like Se7enThe Bone CollectorDexter, and every single fucking NCIS you can imagine. Not to mention the phenomenal Hannibal show which is one of my favorite shows of all time.

It’s clear Ed Gein’s legacy could not be burned away. The Ghoul could not be spunged out of our minds. Horror endures. It always does.

As honorable mentions and in case you’ve watched these all a hundred times and need a little more Gein fix I’d recommend the following. 

Ed Gein, a movie that loosely follows the life and crimes of Ed Gein and starring none other than Kane Hodder (Jason and Hatchet) himself in the titular role. It’s not going for accuracy here and is more for shock value so you gotta take it with a grain of salt.

But if you’re in need for a serial killer kind of movie this one has you covered. It also features Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame in it. 

Deranged, is a movie that doesn’t get a lot of attention but one I absolutely love. It’s a purer depiction of the Ed Gein story and is filmed like a semi-documentary or news special.

Yeah I know, it’s weird. But I love the tone and atmosphere of the movie. It has a retro atmosphere to it that sorta resembles A Christmas Story just slightly less satanic. 

Hitchcock, a biopic about the making of the movie Psycho. Anthony Hopkins plays the titular character and is guided by Ed Gein himself through means of inner dialogue. This move is just a little delight and fits in well if you’re in the mood for a Psycho marathon.  

Manic out!

Ed Gein Part I: The Ghoul’s Madhouse of Death and Corpses

Ed Gein, Ed Gein, Ed Gein what a naughty boy you’ve been! 

The crimes of Ed Gein shattered a generation’s predispositions of innocence and morality. I don’t claim to be an expert on the matter but it’s pretty clear that our Eddie boy here gave birth to a whole lot of nightmares.

It was the quiet decade of the 1950s, a time for down to Earth pride and joy. The comatose Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was not only the number one show on TV – and believe you me every happy family sat themselves down to take in that little American dream playing out from the soft crackling glow of the television screen – it was the epitome of what every single goddamn little god-fearing family strove to be like. 

Dad went to work and the loving wife stayed home (and bloody well-liked it) busying her little self by maintaining the image of domestic perfection. The sons played sports and the daughters learned how to grow up and master the kitchen for her own hubby someday. And by the good Lord dad could look forward to a hot meal waiting for his smug ass on the table, a meal made with love and care, just as soon as he got home. Not saying it’s right and not saying it’s what I believe in. It’s just how things were back in those days and you can’t erase history no matter how hard you scrub.

It was the season of mom’s apple pie and everyone wanted a big, juicy slice. Yeah, the 1950s were a good and godly time and everyone just expected things to keep getting better, taking absolutely no heed to the possibilities of monsters lurking among them. Problem is monsters still hide under the bed, even a pristinely made bed, shying not a single wrinkle. Monsters don’t give a fuck how nice the bed is, they’ll still lurk underneath waiting to snatch you no matter what. 

Ed Gein, soft-spoken, slow-witted, book worming little mama’s boy Eddie one morning showed up in the papers and suddenly everyone knew it: monsters could not be swept away, folded up and neatly drawered, or shooed off by church attendance. No amount of morality or self-righteousness can exorcise evil completely from the human condition. Monsters exist and that’s just all there is to it. 

Society Woke Up To A Nightmare 

The revelation of Ed Gein – whose heinous crimes reigned between 1954 and 1957 – shook everyone’s picture-perfect little dream down to its core and revealed the macabre reality rotting underneath. Sure, everyone would have agreed that evil did exist, but hadn’t we kicked all their Nazi asses in WWII? Hitler was the Boogeyman and he was dead. Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast sure scared the living pink fuck outta everybody, made them all think the sky was falling and Martians were on the warpath with us. But that had all been just fantasy. Given the era, people assumed bad guys were either overseas or just made up. 

How could a good American boy – like Eddie here – turn into a monster who ate his Corn Flakes out of a bleached human skull? Perhaps, as is too often the case, dreams, even the best kind, are just one blink away from nightmares. And the reports coming in from Plainfield, Wisconsin were inducing a whole lot of really nasty ones.  

Freshly rifled graves were only something that happened in monster movies when mad scientists hired grave robbers to bring them new parts. Ed Gein proved such things can also happen at your local cemetery and no one’s dearly departed was safe from ghouls like him who had a fetish for wearing human skins. 

It’s now infamous how police, based on a receipt and a hunch, showed up at the old Gein home, a house of pain and sadness where a ruthless matriarch once ruled over the family with a sadist’s touch. Ed’s mom was someone who could train demons on ruthlessness as she poured paranoia and religious venom into the family. And now, though his mom had been dead for a while now, she never had a chance in Hell of resting in peace. Her ghost lingered in Ed’s mind and viciously haunted the fragile psyche of an already deranged individual. Augusta Gein cannot be solely held responsible for her son’s misbehavior, Lord knows she tried to beat into him the straight and narrah, but nobody’s denying the direct influence she held over him even long after she was buried the first time.

Augusta Gein

However, years of sexual repression and his mother’s demented opinion of all women (dirty whores of Babylon) certainly left their impression on Ed if the belt made of nipples was any indication. Finding himself on his own for the first time after mommy dearest went on to meet Jesus, Ed learned a quick way around loneliness by visiting graveyards after nightfall and bringing home corpses to keep him company. His disgusting necrophilic habits could not be kept secret for long, and by the time cops showed up Ed’s home-making skills had grown so macabre that police fled from his madhouse of death and corpses to woof up their donuts all over the driveway. 

Now Ed Gein was pretty sneaky and his flair for fashion and home decorating had been going on for years before he was caught. Call it obsession or fetish (and really what’s the real difference between them?) Ed ruled the nether-realm of graveyards, turned it into an art, and Ed’s grotesque gallery was displayed all over his home, his very own museum of the macabre. Chairs were upholstered with human skin, a couch was constructed of human bones, and human faces decorated the walls. And that was just for starters.

Problem is Ed got a taste for death, and sometimes a fresh kill serves better purposes that husks fail to provide. 

1954, local saloonkeeper Mary Hogan, unfortunately, met the business end of Ed’s gun and her disappearance shook the community. Something about the loud-mouthed and (according to locals) vulgar Hogans just rubbed Ed the wrong way. She could cuss like a sailor, that’s what regulars had to say in Hogan’s memory, and she was not shy about coughing out sexual jokes. In many ways, she was the exact opposite of Ed’s mommy dearest. She was in fact the very kind of woman Augusta warned Ed about. Or so he justified his crimes.

Maybe Ed felt it was his duty to punish the woman. Or maybe it was a full moon and the opportunity for murder presented itself and Ed just couldn’t resist. Whatever the reason Hogan wound up as one more decoration in his house of horrors.

For years the town was haunted by her sudden disappearance. Ed, as is the case with other psychos, was mighty proud of himself and would often joke about keeping poor Mary back at home with mother. No one took him seriously and just assumed it was Ed’s sick sense of humor. Ed kept up the joking and the fact that no one laughed made his smile broader. 

1957, Bernice Worden would join Gein’s gathering back home, but Ed got sloppy this time around. Left a bit of blood and a receipt behind at the hardware store Worden owned. With her going missing and him being the last person known to be in her company, all they had to do was put two-and-two together to make a murder. Sure Ed had a taste for death and when needed he fed, but you could say Gein shat a little too close to where he slept and it didn’t take long for the pigs to come sniffing. 

Plainfield’s finest stumbled upon the threshold of a very real Hell built on God’s good Earth. The Gein home would go on to inspire gothic culture and haunted house enthusiasts across the globe. Furniture built out of human body parts, human bones used as display decorations, and human faces made to be lamp shades. Not to mention skulls lined the kitchen counter, skulls used as bowls and cups. These are just a few tangents from Gein’s trollheim, a ghoulish vision of what the human mind can dig up out of a deep and dark place of the soul. Dead bodies were set up like dolls arranged aesthetically for a grotesque tea party. I mean let’s be real since Ed brought mommy dearest home from the grave all those years back it only made sense for her friends to be brought home as well to keep her company. 

Seeing the horrific extent – and number – of cadavers, and in various stages of decay, made it disturbingly clear to anyone who knew the man why Ed took such interest in scouring the obituary section of the papers. His was an open house to the recently deceased. It was also crystal clear that Eddie boy’d been up to his naughty habit for a very, very long time. 

Ed, for all his shortcomings in the brains department, proved to be very skilled and creative. For example, he made himself a fine pair of gloves and a leather dress from his assortment of cadavers and would frolic outside play-pretending to be Augusta herself. Ed also had made for himself, what experts came to call, the mammery suit (given its name you can imagine for yourself why) that he’d wear around the house pretending to be a woman in.

And when Ed wasn’t dressing up in his Sunday’s best he busied himself with reading. I bet he settled down on one of those cadaver couches he built and read a bit of Dickens while sipping coffee out of someone’s head. Best part of waking up if you ask me. 

Aforementioned cops first stumbled upon what they initially thought to be a gutted deer. I mean the carcass they stumbled upon had all the making of one. Except for the human anatomy stuff. Once their eyes adjusted to the dark it didn’t take long before they realized they were looking into the open cavity of their missing VIP Bernice Worden.

She’d been hollowed out like a wild animal. Rumor has it Ed intended her to be dinner, maybe he’d already had the stove warming too. Cops had other plans for supper though (or whenever they got their appetites back) and made their arrest. Ed never showed the first hint that he suspected what he had been up to was in any way wrong either. 

As more details of the Gein house were released the less safe people across the country felt. People who knew Ed were the most perplexed. This was a man who babysat their children. People said he might have been a little bit of an oddball but no one would have figured him to be a monster.

Ed Gein confessed to his crimes, had been all along if his jokes were to be taken seriously. And the more he talked the more listeners he got. A macabre fascination was building around the meek little ghoul and he liked it.

Ed Gein would spend the rest of his life in a mental institution for the criminally insane. In true ghoul fashion, Eddie would get a little weirder whenever the moon was full, or so the doctors would say. The house of horrors he’d built would not be long for this world though as, due to very mysterious circumstances, just out of the blue the Gein house, all alone by itself on the outside of town, caught fire and burned to the ground. 

Town’s folk chalked it up to one of those acts of God and tried their damnedest to just let things go back to normal. But, as the Joker said in Dark Knight, there’s no going back. Not after this kind of a mess. Remember, you can’t erase history, especially a stain like this one left on time. And you can’t kill a demon like this with fire either. They may have all pretended like nothing ever happened, and burned that fucking house to the ground to make sure no sickos like me would ever drive up and pay it a visit, but the legacy of the Gein Ghoul has endured and has haunted every single generation to come since.

You can’t fuck with nature and disturb the Reaper’s garden as much as Ed did and it not leave a mark on the world. It’s simply not natural.

It wouldn’t take long either before culture tried making sense out of this senseless horror and cinema-goers would bear witness to a whole new breed of monsters and madmen. All thanks to Ed’s creativity.

Gunnar Hansen, also known as Leatherface from “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” makes his first appearance in Connecticut at CT HorrorFest in Danbury.

Stay tuned because in Part II we’ll be talking about the impact our boy Ed here has had on horror as a whole and how one man’s legacy gave birth to generations of monsters

Manic out! 

Made For TV: “The Secret Life of Jeffrey Dahmer”

If you were of sound mind in 1993, you may recall a horrific little made for TV movie entitled The Secret Life of Jeffrey Dahmer.  Or technically speaking, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer.

Oh yes, we’re going to talk about this fuckery.

Image result for the secret life of jeffrey dahmer

Frankly speaking, I’m not sure why this film isn’t talked about more often in horror circles. Visually the 1993 film looks pretty dated however, the movie that in my opinion, has most accurately depicted Dahmer’s perception of life and twisted state of mind, to this day holds up as THEE legit Dahmer movie out of the several that have popped up since the twisted killer’s arrest on July 22, 1991. And regarding gorehounds out there, it’s DEFINITELY the most brutal and by far the most unsettling to sit through. I’m not sure how I got away with watching this completely fucked up movie with my virgin 10-year-old eyes, but I most certainly did. Bless the golden age of HBO and the days when the boob tube was an acceptable babysitter for rugrats.

Directed by David Bowen and starring a convincible Carl Crew as the infamous Dahmer, The Secret Life is told from the killer’s point of view and laid out through the horrific 14 years of Dahmer’s life of murder and madness that resulted in the deaths of 17 young men and ultimately, leading up to his arrest. Crew (Dahmer) with those hauntingly calming voice-over monologues as a well-aware killer with an eternal fear of abandonment throughout the movie and ability to go from calm as a cucumber to unhinged is in my opinion, pretty underrated as Crew’s performance is quite the treat for fans of this type of film.

The Secret Life was released two years after Dahmer’s real-life arrest and one year prior to his death in prison, so the terrifying discovery of the acts from Dahmer was still fresh in the world’s mind. And the fact that the film played the no hold’s barred card with extremely violent sequences involving the murder of Dahmer’s victims, really set some folks off in the sensitivity department. Curious audiences who had followed the case knew to an extent, of the horrors Dahmer unleashed upon his prey, but I’m not so sure anyone was really prepared for the brutal savagery displayed on film that seemed like something out of a snuff flick but was in fact, reality of the final moments of the casualties of Dahmer. Bowen’s telling of the grisly murders and semi-humanizing Dahmer in a way to look deeper behind the monster didn’t sit too well with a lot of critics and viewers back in ’93 so the film seemed to drop off the face of the earth with the ending of the VHS era until a few years back when Intervision released a DVD that includes the original trailer, audio commentary with director Bowen, and a featurette with Carl Crew.

The Dahmer true tale of torture and terror is unsettling enough as it is and this movie goes balls deep right into it without adding any flair or big-budget fluff. And frankly, it works better that way. It feels like you’re watching something maybe you really shouldn’t be looking at. However, the story is told so well that behind the brutality of severed heads proudly on display in Dahmer’s fridge, are secondary elements in Bowen’s movie. Even so, it’s not for the queasy folks. And I wouldn’t suggest eating any beef stew during a viewing.

For those interested in revisiting or for first-time viewers, The Secret Life is available over on Amazon.