The Killer Who Inspired Three Classic Horror Movies

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You’ve likely heard of Ed Gein. His house of horrors made headlines for years after he was sent to a mental hospital for his actions. They were so memorable, in fact, that he inspired some of the most iconic thrillers of all time: Psycho, Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

First, a quick primer. People in Plainfield, Wisconsin, had talked about Ed Gein for years. They had witnessed strange things at his farm - shrunken heads that looked awfully real, for example. For the most part, people shrugged it off, even when citizens started going missing. It wasn’t until the deputy sheriff’s mother disappeared that anyone discovered the extent of the atrocities going on at the Gein Farm. Discovered among his possessions were four noses, nine masks made of human skin, numerous decapitated heads, lampshades and bowls made of skin, lips being used as a pull on a windowshade, and a belt made from nipples. Gein later admitted to only two murders (including the deputy’s mother, who was found gutted like a deer in Gein’s shed) and said most of the items had come from late-night cemetery raids.

If it sounds like something straight out of a horror movie, well, that's because it is. Three of them, in fact.

Before Hitchcock made Psycho into a movie, it was a very disturbing novel by writer Robert Bloch. Bloch happened to be living about 35 miles away from Gein’s farm when he was arrested and knew the vague story of what had happened. Picking up on a detail he had read - that psychiatrists suspected Gein’s clothing made of women’s skin was for the purpose of pretending that he was his recently deceased mother - Bloch wrote a story about a man obsessed with his mother. When sordid details of Gein’s past came to light, Bloch was surprised at how closely Norman Bates seemed to match.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I remember once scoffing at the “inspired by true events” tag that accompanied the movie - if a family of miscreants had abducted numerous passersby and tortured them, and had been caught, wouldn’t we have heard about it? Well, it turns out, we had. Though there was no character directly inspired by Ed Gein in the movie, some details showed up in the movie that also showed up at Gein’s farm - the body-part home decor, the possible cannibalism, the masks of skin.

The Silence of the Lambs
Buffalo Bill is actually a terrifying mash-up of at least four murderers - Gein, Ted Bundy, Gary Heidnik and Edmund Kemper. The woman suit, obviously, was inspired by Gein. Bundy lured women in a manner similar to Buffalo Bill’s - by pretending to be hurt and needing their help. Heidnik fashioned a well-like hole in his basement to keep his victims in. And Kemper started his killing spree with his grandparents, as did Jame Gumb.

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September 1, 2011 - 7:41pm
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