Ed Gein is one of the most devilish real-life monsters in human history. In fact, he might be the most portrayed real-life villain in the world of horror cinema. He’s inspired a number of classic horror films, some of which you’ve probably seen if you’re a horror fan, and others of which you might not have. In honor of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper (who died at 74 over the weekend), here’s a list of nine films that the Butcher of Plainfield inspired.
1. Psycho (1960): Sure, it’s been remade, but the first is the best. Norman Bates, like Gein, had an unnatural and abnormally close relationship with his mother, going so far as wanting to be her. Gein confessed that he wanted to wear the skin of his victims in an attempt to become his mother. Much like Gein, Bates did not face prison, but rather was shunted off to a psychiatric institution, being deemed unfit to stand trial.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): When you think “wearing the skin of murder victims” you probably think of Leatherface before you think of Ed Gein. That’s pretty much where the similarities begin and end, though it’s a rather striking one. The sequel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, is a hilarious black comedy starring Dennis Hopper that you need to check out if you haven’t already.
3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Here we have another man trying to construct a suit out of human skin. But Buffalo Bill is obviously quite a bit different from Gein, and the similarities end once again with the skin suit. His modus operandi of feigning injury was inspired by another all-American bogeyman, Ted Bundy. Most of the sequels aren’t worth much, but the 1986 Manhunter (remade as Red Dragon) is an underappreciated gem.
4. Deranged (1974): Deranged, a gritty, low-budget flick from the golden age of grindhouse, is almost like a docudrama about Gein in everything but name only. Ezra Cobb, like Gein, lives with his woman-hating mother in the Midwest. He exhumes bodies and decorates his house with the parts, just like Gein. This was the only starring role of Roberts Blossom, perhaps best known as the scary old man from Home Alone.
5. Motel Hell (1980): Much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Motel Hell is a send up of horror cinema tropes. The story involves a hotelier whose famous smoked meats are, like Soylent Green, people. Gein never fed any of his victims to anyone else, let alone received awards for his meat curing, but horror fans will love Motel Hell, which led the box office in its opening weekend.
6. Child of God (2014): Child of God was originally a 1974 novel by Cormac McCarthy inspired by the Gein murders. It’s from the relentlessly bleak early period in McCarthy’s oeuvre. The setting moves from Wisconsin to Appalachia, but the basic themes of cruelty and isolation remain. The film adaptation is one of the more faithful recreations of a novel on record.
7. Ed Gein, The Musical (2010): Because why not? Fans of goofy genre benders should check out this 2010 musical adaptation of the Gein story. The musical numbers all take place inside of Gein’s head, which adds to the high weirdness within. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely worth at least giving 10 minutes to and seeing if it’s up your alley.
8. House of 1000 Corpses (2003): The decorative corpses that inspired the name were cribbed from Gein’s penchant for macabre interior design. Though critically panned, the film has a cult following, particularly among Rob Zombie’s fans. The sequel, The Devil’s Rejects, was likewise inspired by the Gein murders by proxy.
9. In the Light of the Moon AKA Ed Gein (2000): And here it is. The biopic no one was really asking for, In the Light of the Moon, billed simply as Ed Gein in the United States and Canada. Serious it’s not. A low-budget, shlocky affair, you’ll get the basic outline of Gein’s life story from this movie, but the presentation and aesthetics aren’t winning any awards… though it actually did win a couple awards for its acting on the festival circuit.