I grew up in Hancock, the town located just to the south of Plainfield where Ed Gein created his own world of madness. My dad knew Ed Gein in the same way that ‘everybody knows everybody’ in small communities. My mom would tell how all house doors were locked at all times as the events unfolded in Plainfield, and how she often went to her parents so as not to be at home alone when my dad was at work. I attended Tri-County Area High School with a granddaughter of one of Gein’s victims. Like all boys from the area who grew up many years afterwards there was always the attempt on dark nights to try and scare those around with tales of ‘the monster of Plainfield.’
I understand the human desire to read of the macabre, and know the ‘thrill’ of being scared on those nights when the creepy parts of Gein’s tales were retold. But I also know there is a great distance from the childhood antics of boys, and the projects undertaken for profit and fame as adults. It is for that reason that I find it rather disturbing that anyone would try create a musical about Ed Gein. When one sees an image from the film with Ed Gein dancing with an unearthed victim I am not sure if I should be feeling sorry for the victim, for Gein and his illness, or for the creators and their attempt at trying to be ‘artistic’.
Before anyone tries to label me with wanting to limit the rights of others to watch the film, or be made more aware of this horrid slice of Wisconsin history, let me state that is not the case. As a young writer of a letter to the editor of the Waushara Argus in 1981, it was my view that former Judge Robert Gollmar who presided over the Ed Gein case had every right to author a book about Gein and the trial. There were great misgivings around Plainfield at the time about the judge detailing more about the gruesome crime, and the man behind it. But I felt there was nothing wrong with providing facts on what was already well-known, and possibly allowing for some of the more fanciful and wrong stories to be debunked. In the area at the time my position was not a popular one.
But there is a deep chasm between a fact based book on the Gein case, and the dance number in a graveyard set to a musical about the killer slated for its premiere this weekend. Happy Holidays!
The creators of this film obviously have some talents and skills, along with a love for the big screen. I do however question their level of understanding about the ways that stories and themes can be presented for audiences. If they are hoping to be in the business of film and play a part in creating lasting images that tell our stories they may think about the following. Just as there is a difference between being a painter of portraits and a painter of houses, there is a difference between creating a sensation in the press with a putrid film about Gein, and being distinguished for making a memorable moment on the big screen that passes the test of time. Finally, the creators need to be reminded that all PR is rarely all good PR.
Playing to the lowest denominator in the world of film (as this one does) is a one way ticket to needing a real full-time job.