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23rd Mar 04
Ezra Cobb, living on his own in rural Wisconsin after his mother’s death, goes slowly insane. He is torn apart by the pain at having been separated from his clinging mother, so he decides to dig her up. In order to keep her corpse in optimum condition, he robs other graves for ‘spare parts’ so can carry out repairs on Ma Cobb. Soon his psychosis develops to the point where he is stealing many more corpses and decorating his home with them, making “belly drums” and other assorted pieces of furniture / household items. Eventually, Ezra starts killing local women. First, Maureen Selby, “a big heifer” whom Ma Cobb wished he would have chosen for a wife because she was fat. Then, a local promiscuous barmaid - Mary Ransom. Ezra is never suspected in relation to the local disappearances, and never particularly tries to keep a secret of what he does. His friendly neighbours eventually discover his sickening crimes when all the obvious clues lead them to suspect that Ezra may have abducted a young girl…
Forget the Ed Gein movie – this is where its at. Deranged is darkly hilarious but also deeply disturbing account of the nefarious activities of the same person, but is executed with much more skill than the Ed Gein movie. The film opens with an introduction from John Sim, a “newspaper columnist”, who warns us of what is about to happen on our screens. Sim becomes our commentator for the duration of the film, and cleverly appears in the same shots as Ezra when he is explaining the hillbilly’s descent into madness.
The first part of the film shows Ma Cobb’s death in all its sickening detail. She has been bedridden for the last 12 years of her life, and she knows that she is dying. On her deathbed, she tells her devoted son to stay away from “filthy whores with puss-filled sores” because she is ultra-religious and as such, pleasures of the flesh are a one way ticket to the fiery pits of Beelzebub. Ma is OBSESSED with “filthy sluts” who want to take advantage of poor l’il Ez. The deathbed scene is revolting - his mother is an archetypal member of the hardcore God-Squad, putrid and decrepit in presentation. The doting son refuses to acknowledge that his dear old mum is dying and proceeds to shovel green-pea Exorcist spew soup into her mouth during her last breath, and she chokes, coughs and splutters the vile looking substance all over the place. Nice.
After Ma’s death, Ez keeps her room all neat and tidy for her return, and this is where we get the first real reminder of Hitchcock’s Psycho (which Ed Gein was the inspiration behind). We are further reminded of the same film by the way that Ezra has conversations with his mother, impersonating her voice with frightening conviction! This is how she orders him to dig her up and “bring me home”. When Ez lifts the lid to Ma’s coffin, we see her through his eyes, looking exactly the same as she did the day she was buried. She slowly smiles at him, in what must be one of the most simply created creepiest moments in the entire film (of which there are quite a few!).
Deranged has the darkest humour imaginable. These are situations we should not be finding amusing, but we cannot help it due to the presence of Roberts Blossom as Ezra Cobb. A very unique-looking actor, you may remember him from Christine, Home Alone (as that creepy old man – yes, HIM!), Escape from Alcatraz and The Quick and the Dead. His turn as Ezra Cobb is unnervingly real and as such, he saturates the character with natural idiosyncrasies whereby he pulls strange facial contortions, especially with his mouth and lips. He also possesses some fantastic verbal quips, such as calling things “dirty!” all the time. We are so convinced as viewers here, that this man on our screen - Ezra Cobb, really is the sicko he is portrayed as, and that there is no way this guy could be an actor. He really is that good! He is also hilariously funny. There is a scene where Ezra is having dinner with his neighbours (at their place, obviously) and they mention that old Ms Johnson has died – this is where Ezra becomes aware of the existence of obituaries:
“You mean, I can find out where and when someone is buried on the same day? This here’d be valuable information…maybe I could just take the head for repairs.”
Everyone laughs hard, and no-one takes him seriously, thinking its just crazy old Ez’s warped sense of humour. There is also a scene in the film where Maureen Selby (his first live victim) is trying to seduce him with a wicked, wicked ploy. She and Ez have a seance to contact her dead husband (Herbert) in order to ask his permission for Ez to take over his loving duties as a husband for the “big heifer”. You won’t forget this scene in a hurry. Maureen, tarted-up like a tupenny whore, lets Herbert speak through her to Ezra, and begins saying things like “Touch her Ezra!”, along with moaning and groaning sounds of an orgasmic nature. Ezra, at the point, is pulling the craziest faces ever – the poor guy doesn’t know what the hell he should be doing here, so when she drags him off into her bed for carnal satisfaction, he pulls a gun (not his love gun) on her, places a pillow over her head and blows her away. Poor Ezra – that’s one head that may not come in so handy for repairs!
Later, in a scene where Ezra tricks the local barmaid to come into his house, she finds herself surrounded by the corpses, sat upright in chairs, Ez sat among them, wearing a dress and a long grey wig. He is manually turning a handle, operating an old fashioned gramophone, whilst rocking back and forth in his chair and making strange, insane noises. This image froze me solid, and is easily one of the most bizarrely sinister and realistic scenes you will ever see in a horror picture.
Deranged has a similar look and feel to Dead of Night by Bob Clark. Alan Ormsby wrote Dead of Night, and it was filmed around the same time with a similar sized crew and budget, so this makes sense. The minor characters in Deranged also have similar mannerisms as they do in Dead of Night. Local people, giving the film a more believable edge. The sheriff, the neighbours, the old pervert in the local bar (“I’d bang her brains out! Look at that ass! Look at them tits! Both of ‘em! I’ve seen tits and I’ve seen tits, and let me tell ya, them’s Tits with a capitol T!”), they all have that special quality which makes you believe they are just the local people who live in the same community as Ezra Cobb – Necrophile.
Mention should be given to the work of Tom Savini in the make-up department. This was his first work on a film, and he worked alongside Jeff Gillen to create the horrid corpses and various body parts throughout the House of Cobb. He was deputy make-up artist on this film. His work shone so much that he was asked to work on Dead of Night as chief make-up artist.
Music is used reasonably sparingly in Deranged, and when it is used, it really works. The main theme isn’t really a theme as such, but rather some sort of old revival-type of hymn, which is highly suggestive of Ms Cobb’s eternal presence in Ezra’s world. Towards the end of the film, some more formulaic incidental music is used, and it works well, although I believe the film could have been just as effective without any music on the soundtrack.
All in all, Deranged is a fantastic little film. Modest in aspirations, yet viciously acute in impact. It will knock you for six and it may take a while to recover.
Versions Exploited Video label's is the version reviewed - it has a much better cover and is now deleted. The version now available has scenes cut from the original. Mainly, these are scenes of a graphic nature, including the scene where Ez scoops out Mrs. Johnson's brains.