Deranged. Film Review


Directed by: Jeff Gillen & Alan Ormsby  

Screenplay: Alan Ormsby

Starring: Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson

Format: Blu-Ray/DVD Combo     

Certificate: 18          

Running Time: 84 mins

Reviewed by Guy Adams

Notoriety is a wonderful thing. I’ve long sought it but it’s an uphill climb for a croc-wearing tea drinker like myself. The best I have achieved is a certain infamy for owning naughty cats. DERANGED has no such problem, ever since its release in1974, it has snarled its credentials to all comers.

Horror cinema has a long tradition of pulling in the punters by offering a challenge. “You won’t be able to take this,” the posters say, “stay at home. This is not for your eyes.” In the case of DERANGED, if it’s (somewhat misleading) subtitle ‘Confessions of a Necrophile’ didn’t make it’s point then the tagline certainly did: ‘Pretty Sally Mae died a very unnatural death… but the worst hasn’t happened to her yet!‘

The movie even goes so far as to build the challenge into the script, with onscreen ‘journalist’  Tom Simms (in actuality, Cronenberg acting alumnus Leslie Carlson hovering casually at the periphery of the action like an invisible, beige, Greek Chorus) appearing on camera warning of the horrors to come. Usually such huckstering is hollow and misleading, the over-cooked promises of a carnival barker wanting to part you from your buck to see The Amazing Mermaid of Fiji (probably a water-bloated monkey with a fish’s tail stitched onto it). Here it contains more than a grain of truth.

That said, approaching the movie as nothing but an exercise in grotesque endurance is to do it a disservice. For it’s first half, DERANGED walks a masterful line between horror and comedy. If Joe Orton had lived long enough to run off to Hollywood and become involved in exploitation cinema (a position he would have been eminently suited to) this is the kind of film he would have written.

Based, like PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, on the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, the seemingly gentle mother’s boy with a penchant for using body parts to decorate his home. It is worth noting that, however shocking the movies he inspired seem to some viewers, they barely skim the surface of the real man. We are talking about a lunatic who had a belt made out of nipples and collected dead women’s vulvae in a shoebox. However hard DERANGED tries to convince us that it will show the full horror of its subject matter we should be thankful it does no such thing.

Divorcing the fantasy from the real-life horror, we are left with a sharp and witty movie about Ezra Cobb, a quiet man falling apart at the seams after the death of his domineering mother. From an early sequence where a lonely widow tries to convince Cobb she is channelling a request from her dead husband to provide her with sexual intimacy to a nightmarish tea party in honour of a kidnapped barmaid, DERANGED leavens its horror with a humour so black it is all but invisible unless you’re as twisted as this reviewer. It is quiet, well-observed and deceptively gentle. Even the infamous scene of Cobb trying to dispose of a brain from a corpse’s skull plays out with the absurd delicacy of a man going about a genteel hobby. The horror is all the more pronounced for the contrast.

The gleeful wickedness vanishes once we approach the final third and, having lulled us into a state of cringing good-humour, the movie then punches us with a climax that is cold, remorseless and all the more effective for it’s change of tone.

I am only too aware that it’s not a movie for everyone but for those viewers who suspect such ‘torture porn’ trash to not be to their liking I would recommend giving it the benefit of the doubt, it is a far better, cleverer film than you might suspect.

As always, Arrow have lavished far more care on the movie than most studios would consider appropriate. As well as an upstanding, uncut HD presentation on the blu-ray, the disc comes with plentiful special features, littered around the menu like ears on Ed Gein’s bedside table.