The team makes contact with the world of the dead everywhere they go. The love finding hornets nests to kick. This special marks the first time cameras have been allowed on the Gein property, and the cinematographers do a wonderful job matching contemporary shots against existing photographs. The series also does a very good job mixing the archival media with the recreations.
The documentary special opens with a quick and lurid overview of Gein’s crimes, starting with the discoveries made in his house of horrors. In November of 1957, Bernice Worden, a hardware store owner, went missing. Gein had visited the store the night before. When the police went to call on the possible witness, they came upon one of the most sickening crime scenes in American history. They found skulls on his bedposts; peeled faces in boxes; organs and bones arranged ornamentally; chairs, trash cans and leggings made of human skin; and a corset made from a female torso.
The recreations are appealing. While the actress playing Ed’s mother August may be too enthusiastic about slaughtering a pig to render it edible, seeing the lead investigator at the Gein residence jump back six rooms after seeing a body part in a cardboard box is a wonderful introduction. To be fair, this wasn’t what was usually uncovered in routine missing persons cases. Gein robbed graves, and escalated to killing. Much of what is assumed in this documentary is actually part of the mythology of the infamous Ed Gein. Like his “masterwork,” as the documentary calls his human skin suit, we’ve seen bits of Gein in thousands of horror films. His DNA is all over the slasher and serial killer genres. He inspired the Buffalo Bill killer from The Silence of the Lambs, Norman Bates from Psycho and Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, and Bloody Face in American Horror Story: Asylum owe him a great debt.
So, we can forgive Kaza when she occasionally appears to be channeling Alfred Hitchcock rather than any of the Bates family. She almost seems stung when Gein’s mother calls her a witch in a telepathic communique. Kaza is fascinating to watch as she takes in a room, and more so when she needs a time out. She shivers internally as unseen stick figures push down the fur on her coat. The most interesting thing Kaza sees, however, comes early and the documentary doesn’t follow up on it. She says there are more remains on the property. She even brings us there in a visualization. But no one goes digging. It is a good guess, in general, whether she is channeling the earth, making inner connections or historic calculations. If they’d actually found body parts on the property, it would have been quite the scoop.
But don’t fear. This is not the empty Al Capone-hidden-vault reveal which still haunts Geraldo Rivera. The special ends just as it hits its most interesting point: The property itself is possessive. Kaza and Shippy exit the scene before their minds get twisted. Sixty years after Gein’s arrest, Ed Gein: The Real Psycho brings closure. Ed gets his knife back, his mother is very proud, and Alfred Hitchcock makes an uncredited cameo in the photographic evidence the investigators bring to the table.
Ed Gein: The Real Psycho begins streaming Friday, April 9 on discovery+.