History - in the form of lurid paperbacks - has sought to paint Gein as
a monster whose perversions knew no bounds. Films such as Psycho and The
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, have painted him as a disturbed individual who
could only connect with reality through murder, mutilation and
cannibalism. Ed Gein doesn't try to counter either of those points of
view. What it does is portray a human being, a person with hopes and
fears, thereby making him a character with whom the audience can, if not
identify, then at least relate to in an attempt to understand his
actions. This is a character study of possibly the most infamous serial
killer of our times.
Ed is a loner, socially awkward, living alone on an isolated farmhouse
and is renowned for his religious beliefs. In archive footage at the
beginning, one of the townsfolk describes him as a 'nice guy', and it's
that impression that Ed Gein seeks to underline. It wasn't an act. Ed
was genuinely affable, even sweet. Until he shot you and dismembered
Not an easy character to make sympathetic, but Railsback manages it in a
performance that is both touching and creepy. The quality of acting is
exemplary, with Carrie Snodgrass as Ed's harpy mother being a particular
highlight. The script gives a genuine psychological insight into how
someone can be driven to commit acts which most people would have
trouble even thinking of - let alone doing. It's also injected with a
certain amount of wicked humour ('Eddie', says a young boy, 'I think my
Dad's right - you shouldn't be babysitting us anymore').
The depiction of mutilation follows the 'less is more' approach (as
evidenced by the '' certificate) but this comes off as a coy, and the
most infamous aspect of Gein's crimes, the 'birthday suit', is given a
brief scene to unfortunate comic effect.
Although this won't be everyone's cup of tea, it's powerful - with a
strong message that just because someone is capable of the most horrific
acts, it doesn't automatically make them a mindless slavering zombie.