Thursday, May 6, 2010
Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield
Let me begin with a quick promise: I do not intend to get into the grisly details of Ed Gein's crimes here. I do this not because I'm a nice guy, but because those gory details might make someone curious enough to watch this movie. And that would be a shame.
I am all for a movie choosing to take a walk on the dark side and attempt to understand and sympathize with a notorious killer. It's an interesting idea and a difficult one to pull off. By giving a movie a definitive name (in this case, a movie about Ed Gein called Ed Gein), the filmmakers are implicitly saying that the movie's subject matches the movie's title. Now, this doesn't always hold true (I had no idea Pearl Harbor was all about a romantic triangle!), but it's a reasonable assumption. Following that logic, I foolishly assumed that the movie Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield might be a look into the killer's psyche and motives. Boy, am I stupid sometimes.
Instead of being about the upbringing and driving forces behind Ed Gein (played by Kane Hodder) over the twelve or fifteen year span that he was active, this movie focuses on the time immediately preceding his arrest in 1957. Okay, that's not a terrible idea; this means that the viewer is thrust right into the action. Unfortunately, that is both too correct and incorrect at the same time. It is correct because this movie gives viewers a lot of grisly action. It is incorrect because it doesn't actually match the events in Gein's life very closely. I have no problem with filmmakers taking some dramatic license and playing with the facts in order to make a more dramatic movie, but this is just laziness.
The movie begins by following Ed Gein around as he acts kind of creepy. He decides that he really needs to start digging up corpses (with a friend played by Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame), so he does. His friend gets tired of grave robbing, so Gein kills the friend. You don't find out what Gein was doing with the dead bodies until the end, when the police open up his Texas Chainsaw Massacre-styled home. Gein then goes on a bit of a spree, killing maybe ten people, most for no real reason other than to keep them quiet. That all makes sense, from a criminal point of view. After all, dead men tell no tales, right? The only problem with that is most of these characters don't have real-life counterparts. Gein was suspected of two murders (maybe a few more, but no evidence was found), with most of his crimes being related to grave robbing. Adding another eight or ten people changes his story significantly. That sort of upgrade makes him go from killer pervert to bad-ass serial killer in under two hours of film.
Well, so maybe the screenwriter has done some research and is making some strained but plausible claims about the missing persons in Gein's area, circa 1957. That might make some sense. After all, Oliver Stone doesn't bother much with facts if it can make an entertaining movie. However, this movie appears to take place over maybe a week (if you're generous). The two characters that actually represent his known victims appear to have been killed one day after the other. Gein was active for ten years. The two murders he was arrested for took place two years apart. This compression of real-life events casts this man's actions in an even more psychotic light than they currently reside.
So the movie plays it loose with the amount of kills, the frequency of those kills and the time period in which they took place. The important thing is that viewers can watch this and get a glimpse of insight into Gein's twisted psyche. The best way to do that is through the actor. Ed Gein was not a large man, probably under 5'6", and has been described as effeminate. He is portrayed here by Kane Hodder, whose claim to fame is playing Jason Voorhies in most of the recent Friday the 13th movies. Hmm...short, possibly gay man...hulking football-player-sized man that regularly plays an unstoppable zombie killing machine...I have to admit, I would not have thought to make that casting call.
Aside from the many annoying factual errors in this movie that clearly bother me, how was this as a not-at-all-documentary-type-horror movie? Still terrible. As a gory movie, yes, this has a little bit of grossness, but it is a very dull movie, given all the bodies thrown around in this script. The camera follows a local police deputy as he romances his girlfriend, hangs out with his mom, and later investigates some of Gein's crime scenes. That might sound decent (if boring), but consider this: the rest of the time, the movie follows Gein around and you see him kill people. That means that half of the movie thinks this is a weird mystery thriller, where the viewer is in suspense as to the fate of the missing characters, and the other half treats the viewer as a voyeur as they watch Gein kill the those same characters. That's just incompetent filmmaking on the part of writer/director Michael Feifer. I will give credit where it is due, though; as a hulking, monosyllabic murder machine, Kane Hodder was perfectly acceptable in a rare speaking role for him.
Ed Gein was not a nice guy. He is the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, and many others. I'm not suggesting that this movie failed to do his memory justice. I'm just frustrated with how bad this movie is. There is nothing redeeming here (save for one mediocre performance), even for weird gore-hounds or kids trying to skip out on a book report by watching the movie. There is an awesome, frightening, and disturbing movie that can be made from this subject matter. This is about as far away from that as possible. There are many ways to sum this movie up, so I'll just list a few...
- F minus
- The 47th best movie in which Kane Hodder has a credited acting role
- Missing its "Works Cited" page
- Cinematic gonorrhea: sure, it's curable, but you still don't want your friends to know you had it
- Still better than The Doom Generation