Edward Theodore Gein, also known as the Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul, was an American convicted murderer and body snatcher. His crimes, committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gathered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin.
Gein only admitted to killing two women: tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, in 1957. Gein was initially found unfit to stand trial and confined to a mental health facility. In 1968, Gein was found guilty but legally insane of the murder of Worden and was remanded to a psychiatric institution. In 1984 he died of cancer and respiratory problems at the age of 77. He was buried at his family plot in an unmarked grave.
The revelations of Gein’s demented compulsions changed America forever and inspired a slew of horror films — a few that have achieved icon status. Below you can read which 7 movies we think are based on Ed Gein and his crimes.
Gein’s haunting infatuation with his mother has now become a trope for many demented horror characters who kill — take Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) as a prime example. However, Bates wasn’t taken directly taken from Gein, but instead from the imagination of novelist Robert Bloch. Still, there was a creepy connection: Bloch was actually writing his novel just 35 miles from where Gein lived. It was only right before he finished his book that Gein’s murders came to light. Bloch was shocked at how closely Bates‘ actions and motivation resembled Gein’s.
‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974)
Very loosely inspired by Gein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre took the real-life body snatcher’s obsession with human skin and used it to build its character Leatherface, who hid behind face masks made out of human flesh. Although the film’s family of murderers had no relation to Gein, other more conspicuous inspirations from the troubled man include body parts used as home decoration, the hint of cannibalism and the mummified carcass of the family’s matriarch sitting in the house.
‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
The serial murderer Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs not only found origins in Gein but also from other famous serial murderers, such as Ted Bundy, Gary Heidnik and Ed Kemper. Buffalo Bill’s obsession with female human flesh and making suits out of his victims’ skin was a direct nod to Gein.
‘Three on a Meathook’ (1972)
The title basically gives a lot away. Directed by horror filmmaker William Girdler, Three on a Meathook tells the story of four young ladies whose car breaks down in a small town. A local farm boy helps them out and ultimately lures them to his family’s house where his killer father, Frank, waits to eat them. Like Gein, Frank has an obsession with his dead mother along with hanging his victims from meathooks, which Gein did to Worden’s body. Although it was never proven that Gein ate his corpses, it was widely assumed that he did.
Deranged is perhaps one of the closest films that depict the life of Gein. The slasher drama centers around a middle-aged Midwestern farmer whose overly religious mother dies. He keeps her corpse around, and to satiate his dark desires, begins to rob corpses from the graveyard so that they can keep his dead mother company. Eventually, he turns to murder and enjoys skinning his victim’s bodies and making face masks out of their flesh.
‘Ed and His Dead Mother’ (1993)
This 1993 dark comedy stars Steve Buscemi as Ed Chilton, whose hardware store owner mother dies, leaving him to inherit the business. A salesman offers to resurrect Ed’s mother from the dead, to which Ed agrees. However, once she returns, Ed’s mother isn’t the same and like a proper zombie, seeks out human flesh to eat. Ed decides that bringing his mother back to life has become more of a burden than he can bear, and in the end, he decides to destroy her by decapitating her head.
‘Child of God’ (2014)
A film co-directed by James Franco, Child of God was an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 1973 book by the same name. Although McCarthy’s book was inspired by a real-life murderer based in Tennessee, the character shared many similarities as Gein. In the film, the main character is a loner who lives in the middle of nowhere and whose necrophilia comes to life (and grows) after stumbling upon dead corpses in a car.
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