Blu-ray Review: Deranged (1974)

Deranged BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 18

Directors: Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby

Starring: Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson, Robert Warner, Marcia Diamond, Brian Smeagle

1974 saw the release of two films that took inspiration from the real life case of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, one being a certain popular film involving a tree-felling power tool and a massacre and the other being Deranged, a film that has remained a genuine cult horror despite not being officially released fully uncut anywhere… until Arrow Films stepped in.

Having grown up devoted to his religious fanatic mother and their rural farm, Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom – Christine/Home Alone) turns to grave robbing and murder in order to preserve her body after her death. As time goes on Ezra’s mental state deteriorates to the point where he ends up killing several local women in order to satisfy his obsession with death, but once they’re dead that doesn’t mean he’s finished with them…

Deranged is one of those titles that often gets mentioned in the context of ‘true’ horror films but for some reason it never quite got the recognition that other notorious shockers of the era like The Last House on the Left, The Exorcist or its spiritual cousin The Texas Chain Saw Massacre received, which is a shame as in many ways Deranged is just as strong as those films, possibly even stronger; it’s certainly a better produced film than The Last House on the Left and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and it manages to create as creepy an atmosphere as The Exorcist, and its influence can be felt in more modern films like The Devil’s Rejects (Rob Zombie must have had the scene where Ezra appears wearing the flayed skin of one of his victims in mind when shooting the motel scene – check the trailer below at around the 0:15 mark for proof).

Coming in at a tight 83 minutes, Deranged has an odd feel straight from the off – the use of an on-screen narrator introducing most of the key scenes gives the film the look of a documentary, for example – but despite the subject matter and the almost Troma-esque delivery of Ma Cobb’s death scene the film stays fairly grounded, helped mostly by a decent script and a brilliant performance by Roberts Blossom. Managing to garner our sympathies despite his despicable acts, Ezra Cobb isn’t a monster in the same way as, say, Freddy Krueger or even Leatherface – despite them both having child-like qualities – in that he really believes his mother isn’t dead and he’s just doing all of these things out of love, and it’s the little tics and mannerisms that Blossom gives the character that makes him so believable – just look at the maniacal glee in his eye as he takes delight in mutilating his final victim for a real chill. In a similar way to Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in Psycho, Ezra isn’t so much a villain but a victim of mental illness and you cannot help but feel for him as his mind unravels and he sinks into madness, although as far as outward appearances go he’s a little more obviously unhinged than Bates, who was set up to be a clean-cut boy-next-door type.

If you have never seen Deranged but are aware of it, or have seen one of the hacked-to-pieces VHS releases from the 1990s, then seeing this Blu-ray edition for the first time is going to be something pretty special, as the infamous scene where Ezra scoops out his dead mother’s eyeball and brain has been fully restored. In any other film it’s a scene that may induce comical howls of laughter but here it just adds to the ghoulish atmosphere and overall sense of madness without tipping it into Evil Dead II territory. The film itself looks wonderful, with the colours of Tom Savini’s make-up effects looking quite striking against the grainy browns of the 1970’s rural backdrop, and for fans of proper cult cinema this is one of the most essential Blu-ray packages on the market. Highly recommended.

Deranged

Special Features: Audio commentary with special effects artist Tom Savini, introduction to the film by Savini, A Blossoming Brilliance: Scott Spiegel speaks about Deranged star Roberts Blossom and the lasting legacy of the film, Ed Gein: From Murder to Movies featurette, The Wages of Sin featurette comprising newly transferred 16mm production footage plus an archive interview with co-director Jeff Gillen, original trailer, still gallery, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower and an archive interview with producer Bob Clark by Calum Waddell, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

UK Release Date: 19th August 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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