Tuesday, April 12, 2011


(1974; d- Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby)

There is a moment beginning near the halfway point in DERANGED in which the heretofore morbid (and often amusing) proceedings take a rather grim shift in tone.  Up to this point, the specter of terror--the nature of Ezra Cobb’s macabre deeds--had been mostly implied, even taking on a certain perverse comic sensibility.  The actual horror had yet to come.  This probably wasn’t so much deliberate pacing as it was an earnest attempt to piece together the essence of the real Ed Gein case, the details of which I’ll spare you (the film takes plenty enough liberty, regardless).  As in the case of Ed Gein, DERANGED begins with Ezra Cobb a slow-witted farmer, a doting man-child caring for his domineering (though invalid) mother.  And as Ezra is completely reliant on his mother’s guidance--that of a fervently Old Testament-spouting tyrant--his fragile make-up is shattered when she dies.
And so the progress up to “the moment” is gradual, the restraint and quirky sensibility compliant with Ezra’s still emerging psychosis.  In succession, we witness him eerily speak in his mother’s voice (“bring me home, bring me home…”); he digs up (then serenades) her corpse, which he returns to the comfort of her bedroom; he begins robbing the graves of other freshly deceased women for which to add to an ever increasing collection; there are vague allusions to necrophilia, as related by the narrator, who often puts his own ghastly spin on things (“He was a ghoul,  a necromaniac, a defiler of the dead!”)--and then comes Ezra’s first murder.  And with this killing, which appears to have been premeditated--he shoots the batty widow he’d begun courting after declaring his fondness for her hefty build--his course is irrevocably set.  Soon afterwards he begins to acquaint himself with, then stalk, an alluring barmaid named Mary.
“Night after night Ezra stood watch at the bar, waiting to be alone with Mary.  Then, one night…”

Ezra waits for the lights to go out in the bar...and Mary to exit.  He knows something she doesn't.  Her tires have been slashed and she may be needing a ride. 

“What seems to be the trouble?”
“Oh, hello Ez.  Some goddamn punk slashed my goddamn tires -- that‘s the trouble!”  Whoa...careful, Mary.
“Could you just give me a lift down to the filling station or something, huh?”
“Uh…why sure.”  Stammering some with his reply, Mary grows flustered and impatient, cutting him off brusquely. 
And as they pass the road to the gas station… “Hey, you just took a wrong turn…where you think you’re going anyway?”  “My place.”  “Oh, the hell you are!  Just turn this thing around and stop this truck.”

Searching for the words, he tells her of a couple of spares he’ll put on for free back at his remote farm.  "Now why would you want to go to a mechanic when I'll do it for nothing?"  Reluctantly, she agrees, “…you’re a nice guy and I like you, but don’t get any ideas; just keep your hands to yourself, OK?”             

“Yes’m.  Cross my heart.”
“Would you like to come in?”
“How long do you plan to be?”
“Oh, just a minute or two.”
“I’ll wait here.  Would you just hurry it up?”
But he isn’t hurrying.  As his plodding stride might suggest, the task he has in mind isn’t as simple as grabbing a couple of spare tires.

The scene fades out, then back in, suggesting a considerable lapse in time.

It’s dead inside that old farmhouse.
No light, no sound, and no sign of Ezra. 

Growing ever the more frustrated and indignant, she turns to notice the key still in the ignition.  Mulling over the obvious for a second, then laying on the horn, she scrambles out of the truck and angrily towards the house.  Mary still hasn’t considered the possibility of anything so awful from such a simple-minded old coot.
Roberts Blossom, both a fine actor and a gaunt man with an unsettling pallor, perfectly embodies the ghoulish Ezra Cobb.
And why should she?  This was, after all, before the words “serial killer” had even entered the vernacular, before the Bundys and Gacys of the world had essentially pulled back the wool from the calcified matter of good vs. evil.  Jack the Ripper was scarcely but a faceless nightmare, Bluebeard but a fable. 

It’s dark in there, Mary.  Halfway up the walk, she pauses, looking back to the truck...Her instincts are kicking in, but she handles the improprieties of vulgar drunks far worse than Ezra on a nightly basis.  And so she goes in.

The place is a shambles, abound in squalor and decay--not fit for anything living.  Mary’s clearly repulsed, her nerves beginning to get to her.  What kind of life do you lead, Ezra?
With lantern in hand, she begins down the hallway.  And her calls go unanswered.

As she enters the room on the left, something slides across the floor.

And she backs up…

Either too shocked to respond or unable to make any sense of what she sees, it’s as if she’s waiting to be pinched awake.  Then…

In the grand scheme of things, in the pantheon of all those classic horrors that had gone before, it is but an easily forgotten moment.  But it succeeds where so many others do not, reminding us once again the reason we strangely turn to horror.  For me, at least, the reason is simple.


  1. Dude, this is sweet! Thanks for breathing life back into an amazing scene!

  2. this is a great film. thank you for your review. i know they were going some what for a documentary feel, but to me the narration greatly under mines the film. it makes everything too obvious. why explain what is going on in Cobb's head through narration, when the actor is roberts blossom who is capable enough of an actor that all he would have to do is mutter to himself to get the idea across that his fragile mind is splintering. great review. keep up the good work!

  3. Thanks guys! Yeah, that narration is unnecessary, to say the least...you're not the only person this week to tell me it all but sinks it. The first time I saw DERANGED, when I was a horror-obsessed younger teen, I just hated it. For some reason, though, I gave it another chance a few years back and it's really grown on me. I actually like the narrator's strange intrusions, like when he pops up in mom's room as Ez chats up her corpse. Though ill-conceived, I think it adds an inadvertant quirky charm to an already bizarre mix. I've found over time this is one of those films horror fans either love or hate.

  4. Thanks for posting this. I love DERANGED, and I think it's an underrated classic. The narration adds a very campy (unintentional?) flavor to the movie, which I find hilarious. But when it goes dark as you point out, it takes a nasty turn from which it doesn't really come back from. Most of the previous scenes are played for laughs.