First published back in November of 1992 in the US, Paul Anthony Woods’ book ‘Psycho!’ was a look at the infamous serial killer Ed Gein and the cultural impact that the gruesome discovery of Gein’s life had on the world. In September of 2001 the book was rereleased in a UK edition which included an additional chapter on the recent release of the film Ed Gein (2001).
Born in Wisconsin on the 27th August 1906, at the age of eight Edward Gein, together with his parents and brother, relocated to a small farm on the outskirts of Plainfield in Wisconsin to prevent others from influencing the two young and impressionable boys.
Once they had set up their new family home on the farm, Edward’s dominating mother, Augusta Gein, lay down strict ruling, only allowing Ed to leave their home for school alone. At home Augusta preached the word of the Luheran bible to her two boys, instilling her belief that all women are born prostitutes and are mere instruments of the devil sent to tempt man.
With only his brother, Henry Gein, for company, Edward Gein’s young life was a miserable one – having a tough time in school, whilst on the farm he was made to feel worthless by his constantly dissatisfied mother. And then in April 1940 his alcoholic father died from heart failure, leaving the Gein family’s income in trouble.
In order to compensate for the family’s loss in income, Edward and Henry were sent out to do odd handyman jobs or babysit for their neighbours. However, in May of 1944, whilst the two boys were trying to tackle a bushfire that had flared-up from the underbrush around their property, Henry Gein ran into some difficulties which would ultimately end his life. However, when Sheriff Frank Engle, together with the Gein’s neighbours, Lester and Cliff, found Henry, there were no signs of him having been burnt or otherwise caught by the fire.
It was now just mother and son left on the Gein farm. However, shortly after Henry’s death, Augusta suffered a stroke which left her paralysed and needing constant care. Care and attention that her remaining son, Ed Gein, was only too happy to provide to the one woman in his life he doted on. But her health continued to deteriorate and in December of 1945 Augusta died leaving her loving son alone in the world.
However, Gein remained on the family farm following his mother’s death; preserving a number of the rooms as they had been when she had been alive, boarded-up and unused. And here Gein lived out a quiet and isolated existence, providing handyman services to the locals and hiding away in the gradually deteriorating farm.
And then on the 16th November 1957, hardware shop owner, Bernice Worden, disappeared. Gein was noted as being the last customer before Worden shut up for the night, and so officers duly went to the Gein farm to question him. What they found there would go down in history as one of the most depraved discoveries in criminal history. Away from prying eyes, Ed Gein had been up to some very disturbing activities. As it was revealed when the officers turned up at the farm, Edward Gein was a very troubled and psychologically unhinged man…
Well, that loosely describes the events that ran up to the unveiling of what Edward Gein had been up to and the tragic fate of Bernice Worden. And for the most part, that’s what the first 104 pages (Part One) of the book details (s well as his trial and subsequent incarceration at the Mendota Mental Health Institute). To provide these details in a reasonably chronological order, author Paul Anthony Woods inserts quotes and transcripts following Gein’s arrest, as well as elaborating on the story in a very ‘storytelling’ manner (i.e. guessing possible speech between those involved etc).
And to be fair, Woods does a fairly good job in providing a good solid outline of Gein’s life and the events that surrounded his arrest and coming to justice. Indeed, Woods doesn’t concern himself with getting too involved with the nitty-gritty facts, but rather provides more of a story. And the end result is a good number of chapters that hold the reader’s attention – even those who are reasonably familiar with the story.
At this point, Woods embarks upon his second half of the book – what he names as ‘Ed’s Children’. Here he details the affect that Gein’s crimes had on the world, the cultural response, and in particular a fairly significant portion of this latter section is given over to the films that were inspired by Gein’s crimes.
For the most part Woods has clearly done his research. The story of Gein has (quite understandably) had quite an influence on current culture – most notably within the medium of film. As such Woods has had quite a substantial amount of material to explore in his book – an opportunity he seems to relish with absolute gusto.
From films such as ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991), ‘Deranged’ (1974), ‘Psycho’ (1960), ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) ‘Three On A Meathook’ (1973) and finally ‘Ed Gein’ (2001), Woods supplies a brief overview of the plots of each, paying particular attention to the aspects involving Gein-influence. Unfortunately, for a horror veteran this simplistic walkthrough could quite quickly become a tad irritating – akin to teaching your grandmother to suck eggs. Similarly, for those purely with an interest in the ‘true crime’ side of Ed Gein, such chapters will be almost wholly uninteresting. As such, those who will garner any enjoyment out of these chapters will be of a reasonably select grouping – which in itself could be seen as quite a substantial oversight.
But this is sadly not the only problem with the book. Firstly (and perhaps foremostly) Woods’ near-admiration of Gein can leave somewhat of a distasteful aftertaste for the reader. Woods appears to not only enjoy his subject matter, but quite worryingly shows an abhorrent fondness for the man. Although perhaps I’m putting a little too much weight on the general impression that Woods gives off whilst reading into his chirpy remarks about ‘our boy’ (as he delights in referring to Gein as).
The broad spectrum of resources that Woods utilises in his cultural look at Gein’s influence (and macabre popularity) is indisputably top-notch. From the Ed Gein-Zine, to Cormac McCarthy’s ‘In Child Of God’ (1973), to John Wayne Gacy’s portrait of Gein, to the Weird Tales special on Gein, to the album artwork of ‘The Meteors’ and ‘Macabre’ and then to Slayer’s classic track ‘Dead Skin Mask’…to name but a few. Woods has done his homework. He’s enjoyed it, collected much of what is out there, and now he’s probably had just as much fun sharing it with everyone else.
Furthermore, alongside the text and throughout much of the book Woods has inserted quite a respectable number of black & white photos and the like that help illustrate what is being detailed. The original edition of ‘Psycho!’ includes a full-page photograph showing the eviscerated body of Bernice Worden. The inclusion of this particularly graphic photograph (which I personally do not object to it being included) could be construed by some as shocking for shocking’s sake. And indeed, it’s hard to see exactly what extra benefit the inclusion of the picture brings. However, I for one do not object to its inclusion, and am a little disappointed that it is not present in the updated UK edition (although if you want to see what all the fuss is about then just type ‘Bernice Worden’ into Google Images).
The book runs for a total of 176 pages.
© DLS Reviews