Stranger Than Fiction: One Very Real Killer Inspired Three Terrifying Horror Movies
10.23.15 by BJSprecher
After watching a truly frightening horror movie, we're often comforted by the knowledge that it was "only a movie," that the twisted, psychotic killer that kept us on the edge of our seats was only a creation of a screenwriter's active imagination. Sometimes, however, truth is stranger — and more terrifying — than fiction. After the demented fantasies of a quiet, unassuming man in rural Wisconsin were brought to light in the 1950s, his heinous crimes traumatized the country and he became the prototype for psycho killers for decades to come, ultimately inspiring three of the greatest horror movies of all time.
The Strange Truth
On November 17, 1957, police investigating the disappearance of hardware store owner Bernice Worden went to the farm of the last person known to have visited the store, Ed Gein, a reclusive sometimes-handyman who lived alone following the death of his mother more than a decade before. What they found was more horrible than they could have possibly imagined, a farm of death decorated with human skin and bones.
Gein, shy and effeminate as a youth, was very close to his mother, and whatever psychoses he might have had during her life blossomed into murderous obsession after her death. Though only convicted of one murder — and, therefore, not technically a serial killer — Gein was also guilty of robbing the graves of recently deceased women. He would exhume their bodies and cart their remains back to his farm, where he upholstered armchairs and lampshades with their skin and made bowls from their skulls. Obsessed with becoming a woman, Gein also attempted to make a "woman suit" out of parts of various corpses and fashioned numerous masks out of human skin.
After his arrest, his farm was destroyed by a mysterious fire before it could be turned into a sick tourist attraction and Gein spent the remainder of his life in the Mendota Mental Health Institute, dying of respiratory failure at the age of 77 in July 26, 1984.
Psycho (1960), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Silence of the Lambs (1988)
Various aspects of Gein's personality and crimes inspired three of the most terrifying killers in movie history: Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Psycho was effeminate and curiously close to his mother, whose dessicated corpse he kept at home; Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre lived in a house filled with human body parts and wore a mask made of human skin; and Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) in Silence of the Lambs skinned women in an attempt to make a woman suit.