The man who inspired Hollywood nightmares

Ed Gein’s horrific crime wave was first discovered in 1957 and 60 plus years later his enduring influence is examined in the MGM+ true-crime series “Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein,” streaming Sunday.

Touted as America’s first known serial killer — even though it was decades before the term was coined by the FBI — Gein is notorious for his influential hallowed Hollywood trio. He inspired the demented mama’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” Leatherface, the killer with a human skin face mask, in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and Buffalo Bill, who also wore human skin, in “Silence of the Lambs.”

As Gein resurfaces as the subject of the 4-part series, there is ample opportunity to look and look again at the truly disturbing crime photos taken at Gein’s farm in Plainfield, WI, and hear, for the first time, the man himself.

“The tapes are recorded right after Ed Gein’s arrest by Judge Boyd Clark, who we show in the series,” said “Lost Tapes” director James Buddy Day, a true crime docs specialist (he was the last journalist to interview Charles Manson).

“What was so interesting,” Day said in a Zoom interview last week, “is that they arrested Ed and bring him to the local jail, which is this small building in the middle of town. They just basically pop him in the drunk tank and don’t know what to do with him. So the judge is called and he brings a little tape recorder as they’re asking questions.

“This is the same time as people” – police – “are in his house, discovering heads and all sorts of things. So you really get this window into this moment in history.”

How were the tapes “lost”?

“The judge took the tapes home, put them in a safe and then a safety deposit box. After he died, his family held on to them.”

Until they decided to sell them.

“They were definitely ‘lost’ when we got them,” Day said. “They had never been digitized. They were on a reel to reel recorder and the first time they were pulled out of the safety deposit box, no one knew what was on them, really.”

Gein had been robbing graves and doing unspeakable things to corpses for years before he graduated to murder. Why does he loom so large in our imagination?

“What’s unique about Ed Gein is that when his crimes were discovered, they became the first nationally recognized crimes of what we would now call a serial killer. That was in part because of how horrific they were. But it’s also because of the movie ‘Psycho.’ So Ed Gein really became the first like modern day serial killer.”

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