Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (DVD)
Directed by Michael Feifer
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Reality can be much more frightening than fiction. From Wikipedia: "Edward Theodore Gein (August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984), was an American serial killer. Though only two murders on his part were proved, he gained great infamy due to necrophiliac behavior (which involved the skinning of his murder victims and exhumed corpses, the decoration of his home with parts of corpses, and the creation of articles of clothing and furniture from the skin of corpses). Besides the death of his brother in 1944 under mysterious circumstances, six people disappeared from the Wisconsin towns of La Crosse and Plainfield between 1947 and 1957.
Searching the house, authorities found:
Above all, Gein's most infamous creation was an entire wardrobe fabricated of human skin consisting of leggings, a gutted torso (including breasts) and an array of tanned, dead-skin masks that looked leathery and almost mummified."
Honestly, does it get any more fucked up than that? You may be wondering why I chose to include those hard facts in this review. The reason being, the above is about as much reality as you'll get when pertaining to Lionsgate's latest telling of this tale. See I'm doing my part!
Many different film makers have borrowed various parts of Gein's story over the years to use as fodder for their fictitious movie villains. Leatherface, Hannibal, Norman Bates, all shared various Gein traits, and now you can add one more big bad to the list -- one who shares his namesake and little else. If you're looking for a true crime version of Gein's story, look elsewhere. Other than a few odds and ends all we have here is you average horror film based on real life events. The fiction begins the second you hold the DVD in your hands and look at the box. The scariest thing about Ed Gein was that he was little more than an average old coot who most people wouldn't give a second glance to. The old guy next door if you will. So who did director Michael Feifer pick to play him? A near seven foot freight train of a man, genre favorite, Kane Hodder.
He's just too big to be Gein. When Hodder is on screen in any film he commands it. The only thing he shares in this movie with his now deceased counter part is that far-away look that Gein would always have in his eyes. A true testament to Hodder's acting chops, his performance of Ed is both sympathetic and completely lethal all at the same time. It's good too see Kane really acting and not just being bogged down by prosthetics while he rampages through scene after scene. He's surprisingly believable, and scary as hell. If you're a Hodder fan, you really should check this out. Sadly, this flick works much better as a fictional horror film than an actual account. I almost wish it were called something else entirely.
So how about the gore? With all the fucked up shit old Ed did, surely there'd be some nasty on screen stuff, yes? Well, kind of. Most of Ed's wrong doings take place during some very dark scenes. The violence is more implied than it is shown, and Hodder only dons the famous flesh-suit for one scene and even then it's only for a few seconds. Don't get me wrong, the film does have its juicy moments but if you're not going to tell a fact-by-fact recreation of the events, why not amp up the gore to give us something squishy to chew on? This is a sadly missed opportunity.
As far as extras go, again it's slim pickings. What we get here are a few deleted scenes that mostly amount to a bit more needless exposition, but there is also a longer version of the main kill of the film that does deliver the gore. Pity it was trimmed for this release. Also included is a lively little commentary which explains why some of the changes were made to the real story. Nothing ground breaking here, but it's certainly better than having zilch.
If you're looking for a better telling of the Ed Gein story, might I suggest Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen's 1974 classic, Deranged. It's already available on DVD in a double feature with Motel Hell of all things (order that here), or if you're really resourceful, I'm sure you can track down the unedited version which features some really nasty early effects from the great Tom Savini. However, if a loosely based brain-on-autopilot opus is more your bag, you could certainly do a lot worse than what we have here. At the very least this is better than that horrid 2001 flick of the same name starring Steve Railsback, although I do miss watching the scene in which Steve stares down at a plate of vagina and lovingly places a little bow right above the clit. Why oh why can't someone make a good movie out of this really twisted tale?
2 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5
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