Tuesday, March 26, 2013

RIP: David Early

David Early, as "Mr. Berman" in Dawn of the Dead is likely the first thing a lot of fans remember about that film.     

It's with a heavy heart here at Constriction Pictures HQ that I'm reporting the passing of Pittsburgh area actor David Early. 

Horror fans, of course, know and love him as "Mr. Berman" in the original Dawn of the Dead, where he attempted to hold things together on a "dog gone news television show" in the wake of a living dead outbreak.

Early was also featured in the George Romero films Knightriders and Creepshow, as well as Silence of the Lambs.

He will be greatly missed by fans all over. 


When I was a kid, I had an issue of 'Cracked' magazine and there were a bunch of silly photos in it; most notably one of an old guy holding a femur bone above his head as if he was preparing to whack someone with it.  I had no idea where this pic was from or what it was really of, but the crazed expression on that man's face never left. 

Years later, as I fell deeper into the Horror genre, I discovered the classics like Texas Chain Saw Massacre and, from there of course, read up on the true story that inspired Tobe Hooper to tell the tale of Leatherface . . . 

Ed Gein.  

For those of you who aren't familiar with the true story, Gein was a farmer cum handyman in Plainfield, WI.  On the surface, he was a loveable neighbor and good friend, if not just a little "off", but no one around him seemed to think much of it.  Gein was your basic mama's boy, holding a deep devotion to his fanatical mother and caring for her as she grew ill, right up until the time of her death.  What Gein's friends and neighbors didn't know was that he later dug up his mother's corpse and kept it in a sealed off, preserved, area of his farmhouse.  This, of course, is only the beginning of Ed Gein's story...

He was the first true American Psycho, if you will.  In fact, Robert Bloch based his original novel, Psycho, on the events that unfolded surrounding Gein's 1957 arrest for grave-robbery and murder.

When Psycho was released in 1960, it became a huge hit, yet there were still elements that glossed over some of the more grizzly facts of the Gein case.  In 1974, that all changed when co-directors Jeff Gillen and Alan Ormsby (both of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things fame) unleashed Deranged from American International.

Deranged is the story of Ezra Cobb, a farmer cum handyman in an unnamed area of the North American midwest (think Wisconsin).  Cobb lives with his invalid mother who has a very twisted sense of life, offering advice to her well-meaning and bedside caring only son.  Upon finally losing his mother, Ezra Cobb goes from loveable neighbor and good friend who might seem a little "off" to a pure monster.

Following the Gein story very closely, Ezra eventually digs up his mother's corpse, bringing it back to her bed, where he continues every day life with it as if she never died.  Eventually, he realizes she's decomposing and in need of repairs, which sets him off on grave-robbing and, soon in need of something a little more fresh, murder.

In the role of Ezra Cobb, character actor Roberts Blossom (he's probably most famously known as "Old Man Marley" in the first Home Alone movie) IS his character.  Everything about him feels real, if not not slightly comic bookish.  He perfectly plays up the friendly simpleton angle of the character in the first half of the film before slipping into the more monstrous places the character goes by the film's end.  

 The other standout from the film is the early special effects work by the legendary Tom Savini; this was his second collaboration with Alan Ormsby (Deathdream being the first in 1972, with Savini as Ormsby’s assistant).  Savini handles the various blood-spilling with an expertise that paved the way for his success and stature in the 80s.  Whether it’s buckets of blood, recently exhumed corpses, a drum made from a belly button, or even a dead skin mask, Savini delivers the goods here!

I first saw Deranged via a bootleg VHS tape I purchased at a Chiller Theatre show in the late 90s and, despite the shady quality, the film delivered.  In fact, as with most of these types of films, the quality added to its charm.  Finally getting it in a digital format some years later only strengthened the film’s impact, as it’s plain to see that more people need to discover this film! 

Deranged is pure drive-in pulp at heart; it would have been right at home in the pages of EC Comics; disturbing, darkly humorous at times, and all manners of gory.  Directors Gillen and Ormsby handle the gruesome material with that same comic book sense of humor, but still things are ultimately played straight.  Right at the beginning, the film introduces a narrator who appears in person in the form of an investigative reporter, recounting the tale in a pseudo-documentary style as the events unfold.  Though Deranged has a few shocking standout moments, it’s obvious that its main overall goal is to entertain the viewer. 

MGM finally released Deranged on DVD in 2002 as part of their Midnight Movies series.  Here, the film looks the best it ever has and probably ever will, with the only downside being that it’s not the fully uncut version; it’s missing a brief scene of Ezra removing a brain from a skull with an ice cream scooper.  Packaged as a double feature along with Motel Hell, this set is unfortunately now out of print, though I still see it from time to time at Barnes & Noble and FYE.  If you can find it, get it!  Check it out!