Real life truly is stranger (and in some cases more gory) than fiction. The crimes of Plainfield, Wisconsin’s Ed Gein were the inspiration behind characters and/or storylines for many popular horror and suspense movies, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and The Silence of the Lambs. In order to see how this real-life monster inspired these Hollywood treasures, you have to know about Gein’s crimes and the events in his life that may have played a role in his murderous behavior.
On November 17, 1957 police went to Gein’s farm to investigate the robbery of a store where the owner, Bernice Worden, was missing. Ed was the last person seen at the hardware store. The inside of the house was said to be filthy, cluttered, and had the strong odor of decomposition. The first body to be discovered was Bernice Worden’s, naked and hanging upside down from the ceiling. She had been decapitated and disemboweled. As the police searched, they found a real life farm of horrors. Human skin had been used to upholster armchairs and lampshades. A human skull was used as a bowl and other various body parts were used to decorate the home. They found a vest made from the upper torso of a woman as well as skinned female faces that Gein wore. Also included in Gein’s collection were a belt made of nipples and and a box containing female genitalia.
Born August 27, 1906, Ed was primarily raised by his mother, Augusta, as his father was an alcoholic. Augusta was strict and extremely religious. She made it a point to teach Ed and his brother Henry about how loose morals and women could send them to Hell. Ed idolized his mother and was very attached to her despite the verbal abuse she dealt out. He was effeminate and timid and he didn’t’t make friends easily because his mother scolded him for associating with other children. Henry, who was 7 years his senior and Ed led very sheltered lives into young adulthood but they were trusted enough to work odd jobs around town after the death of their father in 1940. After Henry’s mysterious death in 1944 from what coroner later said was asphyxiation, Ed and his mother lived alone, but only for a short time. August had several strokes and died on December 29, 1945. Ed boarded off the areas of the house used by his mother and immersed himself in reading books on anatomy, Nazis, headhunters, and the obituary section of the paper. He visited the cemetery on numerous occasions and later Ed admitted to stealing body parts from graves. He only admitted to two murders although the remains of ten women were found on his property, stating that the rest of the remains were from his graveyard visits. Psychiatrists claimed Gein was a schizophrenic and sexual psychopath, and because he was insane at the time of the murders, he was committed to a mental institution.
Knowing this information, it is obvious the elements used in the previously mentioned horror movies. In Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the house where Leatherface lived was filled with macabre items like those found in Gein’s, and the lead character wore a mask made of human skin. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Norman Bates’ character was very effeminate and attached to his domineering mother. The character of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs enjoyed skinning females and dancing around in outfits made of their skins.
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