DERANGED – Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)

DERANGED: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)

Directed By: Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby

Starring: Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson

Viewed on Prime-Great transfer!

Deranged

Wow… I had never checked this one out but found that it was pretty damn entertaining to watch. This film is based loosely on the serial killer Ed Gein (though they’ve changed his name to Ezra Cobb for the film).

What we have here is the story of a simple farmer whose domineering mother dies and he just can’t recover from the hold she had on him even after her death. The lunatic’s loneliness and pain slowly turn him into a murder junkie. Ezra brings his rotting mother home after robbing her from her grave. He learns taxidermy and some embalming to try and restore his mom while having conversations with her about killing “sluts” that he can’t trust. He preserves the corpses of many other dead girls and has them all set up at the dining room table.

This is a pretty low budget movie, but the acting is good and the dark black humor kept me giggling to myself throughout its entirety. If you are looking for a lot of gore and violence you won’t find a ton of it here. It’s more deranged and creepy more than anything else (though it does have things in it that will scare you, and gross you out).  Parts of this movie have that Motel Hell, or Texas Chainsaw vibe to it (just not quite as gnarly)

For me the only real bummer about this obscure classic is the TV reporter narration that they throw in from time to time to explain how things that might have gotten lost in the story make sense. It’s a cheat that really doesn’t work very well for this film. I think if the writer put more thought into the script he’d have figured out a way around needing the narration from the reporter. (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

EATEN ALIVE (1976)

Eaten Alive (aka Death Trap)

1976, USA

Starring: Neville Brand (Judd), Marilyn Burns (Faye), Robert Englund (Buck),Stuart Whitman (Sheriff Martin), Mel Ferrer (Harvey Wood), Crystin Sinclair (Libby Wood) Carolyn Jones (Miss Hattie), William Finley (Roy), Roberta Collins (Clara Wood), Kyle Richards (Angie)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Very nice transfer!

Probably my biggest takeaway from this film is that while a scythe looks cool and makes for great promotional poster art, it is ridiculously cumbersome as a murder weapon. Oh, and that Nile crocodiles in Texas can both shrink in size when pursuing prey in tight quarters and eat several adult-sized humans in a single night.

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Hooper again exploits our deep-seated collective fear of backwoods Texas to explore something I’m still not quite able to put my finger on in the horror hotel genre meets Jaws flick, Eaten Alive. Apparently Hooper had some creative differences with the producers that lead to some scenes being helmed by a different director. Perhaps this can explain away why this movie has so many elements that could have made it great, but still manages to fall short. In the end this is a pretty clunky film, but with some cool components, great cast and soundtrack, and a campy plastic crocodile that morphs into different sizes that make it worth checking out.

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So the set-up: The film opens at a sleazy country brothel run by Miss Hattie (Carolyn Jones, The Addams Family) with “Name is Buck, I’m rarin’ to fuck,” Buck (Robert Englund, Nightmare on Elm Street) trying to force newbie prostitute Clara Wood (Roberta Collins, The Big Doll House) to do pervy stuff she doesn’t wanna do. Of course, Miss Hattie takes the good ‘ol boy Buck’s side in the dispute and banishes Clara from the whorehouse. Well, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for poor Clara as she stumbles over to the Starlight Hotel, a dilapidated mess of a place in the swamp where she meets a similarly dilapidated mess of a mental case, Judd (Neville Brand, Mad Bomber, Stalag 17), who owns it. Not to spoil too much, but it doesn’t end well for Clara or just about any man, woman, monkey, or small dog that happens to find themselves at the Starlight that evening.

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While watching this I kept wondering what Judd’s motivation is for undertaking all these killings. At first, he seems to be exacting revenge for all of the abominations and iniquities of the world embodied in the guests he encounters at his hotel. We know he’s definitely got a thing against prostitutes, but it’s certainly not a consistent motivation to kill. For example, he also chases a little kid under the house, with the scythe, no less…a pursuit that smolders throughout the film, but he ties her mother up to the bed without killing her. He mumbles to himself at times, so I’m guessing he’s hearing voices, but that’s never clarified. There’s also this thing where he takes off his glasses when he kills. Maybe an alter ego he takes on? Anyway, don’t expect any of this to be explained at any point. Judd’s just a creepy guy who acts nice and then ends up killing you for no real reason…first with a pitchfork and then with a scythe. And, yes, as the title gives away, Judd doesn’t quite finish off any of his victims, so they’re each “eaten alive” by a giant crocodile that Judd keeps in the bog next to his hotel.

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While leaving things unexplained is what gives the horror in Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre such depth and intensity, it just doesn’t work here. In my opinion, this comes from Hooper’s decision to film the entire movie on a sound stage. I will say first that the genius of this is that it allows him to create a discrete and completely fictional universe, where the rules of the real world don’t necessarily apply. The dominant red hue cast in the hotel scenes really does create an alternate reality kinda feel that intensifies just how cut off from sanity the hotel is. The downside, of course, is that in the process it cuts the viewer off from any sense that this is real, and forces us to start finding holes in the narrative leaving us asking questions like “why any of this is happening?” In Chainsaw, it’s precisely the documentary feel that allows the viewer to abandon need for explanation and join the fictional victims in full panic mode. In Eaten Alive, only confusion results.

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Finally, as ludicrous as the plastic croc is in this, I will say it is pretty absurdly amazing every time it appears on screen. Also, the crescendo of carnage in the final scene is intense enough not be missed. Unfortunately, it’s the only scene that even comes close to the level of anxiety that Chainsaw produces.

Although not quite a “for Hooper completists only,” and not among his top films, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

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