This is a local reporter from Wisconsin, Tom Sims (Leslie Carlson), and he has a sorry tale to tell. The names have been changed, but he is not going to skimp on the details, so if you are of a nervous disposition be warned, for the story of Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) is not a pleasant one. Ezra was a farmer who lived alone with his mother (Cosette Lee) where he took care of her since she became bedridden, but she was very ill and eventually one night as he took her soup for dinner she complained of breathing difficulties. As she began to die, she warned her son of the evils of women and that he should never get mixed up with one, except maybe Maureen (Marian Waldman) because she was fat. As blood began to spurt from the old woman, things would never be the same for Ezra...
In 1974, there were two movies released which were based around the true life atrocities of the notorious ghoul Ed Gein, one was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the other was Deranged, though while the Tobe Hooper effort went on to be a sensation and regarded as a classic in the field, this Canadian work was more obscure, winning a few fans but nothing like on the scale of that other movie. At least the script by co-director Alan Ormsby could claim some adherence to the facts of the Gein case, unlike Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which was also inspired by it, and for a while until Steve Railsback played Gein in a muted biopic in 2000 this was the most accurate of the related films.
If accuracy was what you wanted in a very unnerving case, then you should be happy with this which with the low budget it was working with became far more creepy and authentic than a big budget horror movie would have thanks to its downbeat, impoverished atmosphere. It was still a professional production, this team had made two chillers before (original director Bob Clark was a producer here, albeit uncredited because he was disturbed by the subject matter), and the tone they found was somewhere between depressing, revolting and oddly humorous, as if the absurdity of Ezra - of Gein, really - was undeniable and would have been funny if it had been channelled into a healthier form of eccentricity. But Ezra is obsessed with corpses he digs up from the local graveyard.
He takes his mother first, certain she is still alive or talking to him at any rate, and reads up on taxidermy to preserve the body, but he needs spare parts and finally company, so he takes a few other cadavers and basically starts amusing himself with them. From there it's a matter of stopping Ezra before he can graduate to creating his own corpses, but one of the running themes is that the townsfolk believe him to be a shy, middle-aged country boy and when he starts rambling about precisely what he does at that farmhouse, they think he's joking. If this yarn wasn't weird enough, Ormsby and Jeff Gillen added such elements as an onscreen narrator (David Cronenberg favourite Carlson) who will be in the scene and we pan across to him as he tells us what is going on.
Deranged has many odd yet effective touches such as that, and with makeup expert Tom Savini providing the dead bodies (in dummy form, he wasn't that dedicated) this was a cut above many a cheapo seventies shocker. The famous tagline read "Pretty Sally Mae died a very unnatural death! ...But the worst hasn't happened to her yet!", which suggested a gloating approach, though actually there was a low key ambience which peaked with various setpieces such as Ezra's visit to Maureen where she holds a seance with him, then tries to seduce him under the subterfuge the spirits are ordering her to; if Ezra had just given in then he might have been far happier, but the corrosive influence of his mother has invaded his mind too far for him to recover. The last act saw the aforementioned Sally chased through the woods by Ezra as if the film were admitting it was really a stalk and slash flick, but what has gone before, with Blossom's careful, reserved yet unsettling performance, is really stronger. It's an odd work, but if it had to be made this is better than many. Music by Carl Zittrer (that organ!).