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November 8, 2013

Deranged

by Franz Patrick


Deranged (1974)
★★ / ★★★★

Ezra (Roberts Blossom) has lived with his mother (Cosette Lee) his entire life. He is unmarried and without a girlfriend to keep him company. He does not have very many friends either. He has one, Harlon (Robert Earner), who makes Ezra feel welcome every time he visits. Ezra keeps to himself unless he has to go to town to buy supplies.

When Ezra’s mother dies, he misses her so terribly, he starts writing letters to her as if she were only on a trip abroad. After a year of grieving, he finally decides to dig up her body and take her home. But after a year of being in the ground, it is natural that she has decomposed. His memory of Ma does not reflect actuality so he searches for relatively fresh corpses, excises their limbs, and attaches the pieces to his mother’s rotting body.

Based on the Ed Gein murders, “Deranged,” written by Alan Ormsby, avoids portraying Ezra as a necrophiliac serial killer of the week. After his loved one’s death—even though the manner in which she dies is somewhat ridiculous and darkly funny—Ezra’s lamentation is allowed a level of sincerity. Because his grief is given weight, we have a chance to sympathize with him before his way of thinking takes a turn for the abnormal.

Ezra’s path of serial murders roots from wanting to be loved by another woman. When it comes to Ezra meeting a member of the opposite sex, their interactions often end up badly which are then accompanied by flashes of Ma making him feel guilty for wanting to feel good physically.

The screenplay takes a risk with each woman that Ezra encounters. Instead of showing us barely clothed women running in the woods, the majority of the victims are given personalities. They are not forgotten from the moment they are killed. For instance, there is one amusing and creative scene involving Ezra and Maureen (Marian Waldman), the only woman Ezra’s mother ever trusted. The two hold a séance in order to communicate with those who passed. Soon enough, Maureen is supposedly possessed by her husband’s spirit. The “spirit,” or Maureen’s desperation incarnate, asks Ezra to make Maureen feel like a woman again by caressing her breasts, kissing her lips, and putting her to bed.

It is a risk because the sequence does not have anything to do with the murders. The way it could have happened was Ezra knocking on Maureen’s door, the woman letting a stranger inside her apartment because he claimed to need some sort of help—like needing to use the telephone—and then Ezra attacking when she least expected it. But that is formulaic. The séance scene is included in the picture because it is simply fun to watch.

Similar deviations from the main plot, though never meandering, add charm to Ezra’s twisted extracurricular activity. In a way, it works since it allows us to get inside the lead character’s head. The off the beaten track sense of humor suggests that perhaps Ezra does not take the act of taking another person’s life all that seriously. However, “Deranged,” directed by Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby, could have benefited from having a more defined final act. The ending is too abrupt. An extra five minutes might have given us a chance to really absorb and appreciate Ezra’s meltdown.

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