Monday, July 21, 2014

Deranged (1974) review



Roberts Blossom (Ezra Cobb), Cosette Lee (Amanda Cobb), Marion Waldman (Maureen Selby), Micki Moore (Mary Ransom), Leslie Carlson (Tom Simms)

Directed by Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby

The Short Version: This overly gruesome Canadian horror movie is one of the most faithful adaptations about Wisconsin cut-up, Ed Gein, and one of the best about the man that robbed graves, made household appliances out of bones and body parts, and wore women's skin in his spare time. That unique look only found in 1970s cinematic expressions is in abundance here aided to a great degree by that recognizably ghastly Alan Ormsby makeup. There's very little gore, but what's on hand is uniformly grisly, and the macabre atmosphere makes the whole thing about as pleasant as a stomach cramp. This is a recommendation, of course.

Cooped up with his sickly, domineering mother in an old farmhouse, Ezra Cobb is devastated when she passes away. Overcome with grief, he digs up her corpse a year after her burial so as to be closer to her. Ezra then retrieves other moldy corpses to keep his dead mother company. With his mind slipping further into madness, Ezra abandons digging up the dead and begins seeking out living victims.

Wisconsin murderer, alleged cannibal Ed Gein was the source for a small handful of horror films beginning with Hitchcock's PSYCHO in 1960. Gein had been arrested just three years earlier, so the gravity of the man's bizarre, unspeakable crimes was still fresh in the minds of people across the nation. It wasn't until the 1970s that a more graphic exploration of Gein's crimes could be displayed. William Girdler's THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1972) occasionally captured a foreboding rural atmosphere of horror, but it was Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) that became the most famous example. Earlier that same year, DERANGED was released, and unlike those before it, Gillen and Ormsby's co-directorial effort was, at that time, the most faithful adaptation of Ed Gein on screen; and the man tapped to play the lead psycho echoed an incredibly nauseating, occasionally sympathetic portrayal of a man's collapse into madness -- brought on by both a domineering mother, and the death of that matriarchal figure.

To say Roberts Blossom is extraordinary as Gein-in-disguise, Ezra Cobb is an understatement. His mannerisms and body language breathe such life into his character, you can believe that Blossom IS Ezra Cobb. It's a multi-faceted performance that at times is pitiable, and others venomous. As the film progresses, sympathy for this man doting after his long-dead mothers corpse evaporates quickly; and especially once he turns to living victims and wearing their skin. Early on, Blossom engages in some mildly humorous bits of black comedy, but these too are cast to the wind once he claims his first casualty and the picture dives head first into Cobb's sick propensities. It's often been alleged Gein was a cannibal, but this has never been sufficiently proven; and the filmmakers never even tinker with the subject here.

There was something about 70s exploitation movies that felt disturbingly real. Regardless of how cheap the films looked, there was this grimy aura permeating every frame of gritty film stock; and DERANGED is among that class. Much time is spent inside the ghoulish Cobb farmhouse where this repulsive ambiance is exacerbated -- filthy, littered with newspapers and old men's magazines (STAG, anyone?), the mise en scene is completed with a handful of permanent "guests" in the form of Tom Savini's convincing, rotting corpses.

This was the third horror effort that Bob Clark (uncredited producer) and Alan Ormsby worked on, the others being DEATHDREAM and CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (both 1972). Ormsby's uniquely macabre methods as a makeup artist are applied here again, and the results are among his most unsettling work. His depictions of the dead, or dying stood out from the efforts of his colleagues delivering an undeniably sickly pallor when called for. Ormsby's signature 'dead' look was again on display in Ken Weiderhorn's underrated SHOCK WAVES (1976).

Ormsby also wrote the movie. His script is engaging, and populated with a healthy dose of humorous dialog; much of it blackly so. Some of the best exchanges include Ezra talking to his dead mother about his fascination of fat women while dipping fried chicken in a jar of peanut butter. Another occurs when Ezra first meets barmaid Mary. A friend of Ezra's is sitting nearby and crudely relates the sad realities of old age, and the slim to none chance of getting close to an alluring, finely kept female form. Another sequence earlier in the movie starts off funny, but ends catastrophically. Marian Waldman (the house mother in BLACK CHRISTMAS) is the plump, horny lady Ezra's mother mentions he go see in her last dying breath. Coaxing him into a faux seance as a cover for her sexual desires, things ultimately end badly for her.

DERANGED has one major negative against it, and that's an unnecessary onscreen narrator (Leslie Carlson, another BLACK CHRISTMAS alum) who threatens to derail the picture by pulling the viewer out of the moment. Since the movie begins with a "The motion picture you are about to see is absolutely true" title card, the addition of a narrator sends a mixed message that either we're watching a documentary styled re-enactment of Ed Gein's later years, or a faithful interpretation capitalizing on the gruesome events. Thankfully, this intrusiveness in front of the camera only occurs a portion of the time. There's also some voiceover narration that isn't quite the distraction that these rural Rod Serling bits are.

Along with this Canadian production, another similar film also based on Gein was released later in the year; that one being the immortal THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Hooper's far more frenzied film has clearly outlasted the Gillen/Ormsby effort, but there's little denying both pictures have their share of stomach-churning scenes and disturbing subject matter; not to mention striking similarities. One notable difference between the two productions is DERANGED is the "quieter" of the pair. The central focus is on Ezra Cobb and his descent into madness. In some ways, it's just as, if not more unsettling in this less noisy approach. TCM has an erratic, unnerving soundtrack of cacophonous sounds whereas the organ based score of DERANGED magnifies the morbid atmosphere. TCM is a sight and sound symphony of horror, and DERANGED feels like you're spending an hour and a half in a mortuary. 

Both films are classics in this reviewers opinion, but it's clear which of the two gets the most attention. In 2002, MGM released it paired with MOTEL HELL (1980) as part of their 'Midnite Movies' line, but that version was missing the eyeball scooping, head-cleaving, and brain removal sequence (see above). It's since been released in more respectable form from European companies. If you're a fan of Bob Clark's 70s horror movies, this one will complete his early exploitation opuses. Clark was but a producer here, but that same uncomfortable sense of the macabre evident in his prior directorial works is present. There have been other faithful films based on Gein, but this underrated 1974 tale of small town terror is one of the best.

This review is representative of the Arrow Blu-ray.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Joy Ride 3: Roadkill (2014) review


JOY RIDE 3: ROADKILL 2014 (onscreen title is simply JOY RIDE 3)

Ken Kirzinger (Rusty Nail), Jesse Hutch (Jordan), Ben Hollingsworth (Mickey), Gianpaolo Venuta (Austin), Jake Manley (Bobby), Kirsten Prout (Jewel), Leela Savasta (Alisa), Sarah Mitich (Candy), David Ferry (Barry the trucker)

Directed by Declan O'Brien

The Short Version: Mad trucker Rusty Nail returns in this corroded sequel to mete out SAW-style punishment to an unsavory, utterly stupid, and selfish cast of non-characters for 95 onerous minutes. Arguably the directors "best" movie, his creativity and enthusiasm in the gore department doesn't go unnoticed. In the end, this third Joy Ride is essentially a DIY Jigsaw in a big rig, and virtually interchangeable with the glut of like-minded greasy spoons found on the celluloid horror highway.

Seven obnoxious street racers on their way to a racing rally decide to take a shortcut through the aptly named Slaughter Alley where they encounter psychotic truck driver, Rusty Nail. After nearly running the trucker off the road in a moment of immature foolishness, Rusty Nail sets his sights on torturing and murdering the young racers.

Killer Trucker movies are a mostly underwhelming bunch. Steven Spielberg's masterful DUEL (1971) is the classic example of the form, and virtually every similar movie to follow in its tire tracks have sacrificed a building sense of dread for gorier tactics (excluding Richard Franklin's unique ROAD GAMES from 1981). MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) wallowed in brainless stupidity of a sort rarely matched; MONSTER MAN (2003) was actually pretty enjoyable and humorous on an extremely neolithic level; then there's ROADKILL (2010), a torturous 18 wheeler version of DEATH SHIP (1980).

Now, The master(?) of SyFy Channel excrement (SHARKTOPUS, CYCLOPS) and atrocious WRONG TURN sequels (parts 3,4, and 5 thus far) takes a joy ride with this second sequel to the 2001 horror-thriller favorite. It's the typical modern style horror movie where the writer (director O'Brien again) opts to throw a menagerie of soulless, self-centered individuals at the audience as opposed to crafting even moderately interesting characters with which to put in peril; something the first movie was successful at. So what you're left with is a string of bloody set pieces with some added vehicular stunts as your entertainment for 95 minutes. This vapidness will suffice for some and even less so for others.

The film does have a brief moment of inspired, geek film culture humor in a diner scene with a waitress modeled after the Large Marge character from PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985). Another occupant, Barry the trucker, is clearly off his rocker, yet totally has it right about the literal dead end in store for the cast. If you remember Crazy Ralph from the first couple of FRIDAY THE 13th movies, Barry embodies him; although he never lets those famous words, "You're all dooooomed", roll off his tongue.

Rusty Nail has seriously lost his edge from the first movie. The character was genuinely terrifying there, but here, he's little more than a DIY Jigsaw driving a big rig with a redneck Freddy Krueger comedy routine. No attempt to shroud the character in mystery is made. Granted, this is the third film -- we all know who he is -- but the filmmakers don't even try. We even see Rusty in clear view a number of times, leaving us with the impression he's little more than a highly sophisticated, demented hick. Ken Kirzinger (Jason in FREDDY VS. JASON [2003]), at the mercy of the director, has zero menace as the now RustED Nail. You'd think Ken was still playing Jason Voorhees, but without a mask and talking a lot. He's everywhere at all times, and somehow manages to be the only guy on the highway aside from his intended victim(s) whether it's day or night.

The protagonists are barely that; cardboard cut-outs of archetypal slasher fodder. Out of the whole bunch, there's one individual who almost rises above the off-putting banality of the rest, but O'Brien's script is more interested in quirky secondary characters and devising gruesomely glorious methods of dispatch. If you get a kick out of seeing shallow personages getting crushed, broken, and ripped asunder by a lower tier slasher paragon, this truck stop has good diner food; ditto if you found any of the directors previous sequels and SyFy non-events entertaining.

Overall, this is Declan O'Brien's most tolerable movie thus far, with this reviewer having more or less despised them all up to this point. There are a couple of nice touches, some nicely edited stunts, and one spectacularly squishy gore sequence that punctuates the only surprise the film has to offer. These few nuances give the film some mileage, even if it's running on fumes most of the time. Compared with the first JOY RIDE (2001), this third load is mediocre by comparison; but by itself, it does have some recommended qualities that may keep you from falling asleep at the wheel.

This review is representative of the 20th Century Fox DVD.
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