Ed Gein, born August 27, 1906, is perhaps one of the most notoriously deranged maniacs in American history.
While we all recognize the household names of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, and John Wayne Gacy Jr., their legacies have a shorter reach. Gein’s crimes were so horrific that they went on to inspire some of the most recognizable villains in pop culture.
Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)
While the film is marketed as a true story, I’m sorry to say that there was no real Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The “real events” are actually referring to Ed Gein’s farmhouse of horrors in rural Wisconsin.
Gein confessed to killing two women, but his reputation grew from his disturbing fascination with human taxidermy. When he was taken by authorities, his house was decorated with human skulls on the bedposts and carved into bowls. Lampshades, a wastebasket, and chair coverings were made from human skin, and it doesn’t end there. Leatherface’s mask was inspired by Gein’s own choice of adornments.
While Leatherface is seen as the main antagonist of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, he does take a lot of influence and direction from his family. If we can get any indication from the trailer, we should see more of this in the upcoming 2017 film. Leatherface’s dependent relationship with his toxic family could have been inspired by Gein’s own challenges with his mother.
What challenges, you ask? Well, I’m glad you brought it up.
Norman Bates (Psycho)
Prior to his crimes, Gein had an unhealthy relationship with his domineering mother, Augusta. She raised her two sons – Ed and his older brother, Henry – mostly in isolation, punishing them when they attempted to make friends at school. The boys were often abused by their mother, who was convinced that they were destined to become failures like their alcoholic father.
Augusta vehemently preached to Ed and Henry about the innate immorality of the world – she believed that all women (herself excluded) were prostitutes and instruments of the devil. Every day Augusta would read to the boys from the Old Testament – her usual selections were graphic stories about death, murder, and divine retribution.
Naturally, these lessons had a great effect on young Ed. After all, a boy’s best friend is his mother.
Horror writer Robert Bloch drew inspiration from Gein’s maternal obsession to build the prototype for the modern-day slasher. Norman Bates “transformed” into his mother to carry out his violent acts, much in the way that Gein wanted to create a woman suit to become his mother – to “crawl into her skin”.
Which brings me to our next character.
Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs)
Jame Gumb (aka Buffalo Bill) was inspired by a few different serial killers, including Ted Bundy’s modus operandi (he would pretend to be injured to seek assistance from his victims) and Edmund Kemper (who killed his grandparents as a teen, “just to see what it felt like”).
Gein obtained “trophies” from the bodies of recently deceased middle-aged women who he thought resembled his mother, probably in an attempt to remain close to her. It’s said that shortly after his mother’s death, Gein wanted a sex change, not just to become a woman, but to become his mother.
Like Gein, Gumb made a “woman suit” for himself using human skin. He, too, wanted to take the identity of a woman, but as an extremely misguided reaction to his perceived gender dysphoria, misattributed due to his intense self-hatred. In the book The Silence of the Lambs, Jack Crawford explains that Gumb is “not in fact transsexual but merely believes himself to be”. Gumb didn’t just want to change his gender, he wanted a transformative rebirth.
Although there are numerous elements that contribute to the unnerving terror of Buffalo Bill, the number one thing that stands out in everyone’s memory is the woman suit. Ed Gein pioneered that look, and it’s not a good one, but the pure horror of it effectively crawls under your skin (so to speak).
It’s a terrifying thought, but sometimes the worst things we can imagine have already been done.
If you’re not creeped out yet, check out these Ed Gein inspired creations