IN THE LIGHT OF THE MOON
There is a good deal of grisly potential to the Ed Gein story. Certainly, Ed Gein adheres closely to the historical details including little anecdotes like the children seeing the shrunken heads, his stealing the cash register from the store during the second killing and even deals with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Geins brother. Unfortunately, Ed Gein is stuck down around the B-budget level in trying to tell the story. This is most notable when it comes to the depiction of Geins home. In actuality, Geins house was described as filled with rotting filth and junk and it was discovered that he had covered chairs, lampshades and wastepaper baskets in human skin, had carved human skulls into bowls, had made a collection of severed vaginas and breasts, even a belt out of nipples. However, there is nothing of that in the film. This is particularly evident in contrast to the Gein-inspired The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and its charnel house of rotting bones at most, Ed Gein manages to have two shrunken heads on a wall that look exactly like they have been purchased from a Halloween novelty store. It seems too clean a film.
Ed Gein was directed by Chuck Parello, whose previous film was the disappointing Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Part II (1996). Chuck Parellos handling in the fantasy and flashback scenes is disappointingly shoddy. Nevertheless, Ed Gein does come to life intermittently. The character of Mary Hogan is effectively drawn and the unexpected shooting of her has some shock, as does the intensity Parello puts into the second killing. Steve Railsback (who also Executive Produces the film) does a fine job of bringing Gein to life with a slow, awkward presence and a dangerously gravely voice.
Alas, the film has a crucial lack of courage when it comes to portraying Ed Geins necrophile and ghoulish practices. There is a single whacked out scene where we see Steve Railsback dancing around wearing the murdered womans skinned breasts and banging a tin drum, but this scene is all too brief. There is one other short scene where we see him digging up a grave but almost nothing is shown of the mutilated bodies, and nothing at all is mentioned about his necrophile tendencies. Unfortunately, when you are making a film about Ed Gein, this represents a crucial tameness of spirit. If the film had explored these areas, it quite possibly would have been a classic; instead the film has barely even tiptoed up to the line of US censorship and in doing so has doomed itself to be quickly forgotten.
Chuck Parello later made a further true life serial killer film with the much superior The Hillside Strangler (2004).