Transcript for Dan Davies on "Ed Gein: The Musical"

Jim Fleming: If there’s ever been a man who captured the dark heart of Hollywood, it’s Ed Gein.  He was a notorious Wisconsin killer and graverobber in the late 1950's who made keepsakes and furniture out of women’s body parts.  Many films have been inspired by Ed Gein including “Psycho,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “Silence of the Lambs,” but there’s never been a film quite like this one, “Ed Gein, The Musical.”  Yes, The Musical.  Steve Paulson sat down with Dan Davies who wrote the film and plays the role of Ed Gein.

Steve Paulson: There’s a very basic question in here.  Why make a musical about the serial killer, Ed Gein? 

Dan Davies:  Well, you know, Steve, why not?  That’s my response, but you know...

Paulson: Because it’s an offensive subject?

Davies: Well, you know, for so many years the genre of musicals have been about matchmakers and young love and state fairs and all these beautiful transcendent things, and then you get “Sweeney Todd,” which is obviously loosely based on a serial killer from London in the 1880's, and you get “The Producers,” which is originally entitled “Springtime for Hitler,” so for me, I thought this isn’t a sacred cow, this genre.  This genre should be pushed to the limit and I thought, why not do a musical on someone who was inherently depraved, like Gein was.  Another thing too, in a lot of his interviews, he talked about dancing in the light of the moon with these dead corpses, so in order to dance, you have to have music, so “Ed Gein, The Musical.”

[musical excerpt from “Ed Gein, The Musical” here]

Paulson: Let’s get to this question of exploitation because I think a lot of people would say that’s precisely what you did, is you exploited the story.  I mean we should talk a little bit about how you did the movie.  I mean it’s, it’s a portrait of Ed Gein, this incredibly famous killer, but it’s a musical, it’s a musical comedy in fact.

Davies: Yeah, and I’ll be honest with you Steve, it is somewhat exploitative, but when people see our film, we try to make it as a psychological treatise and I know a lot of times when people can’t deal with the strangeness or the macabre things, they use darker gallows humor, so I thought let’s put gallows or dark humor into it, and also too, I thought this is, it is exploitative.  I mean I obviously could have called it something else.

Paulson: Well sure, I mean calling a movie “Ed Gein, The Musical,” I mean right there, that’s going to get people’s attention.

Davies: Well the weirdest thing about this, Steve, was when the AP picked it up, it literally ended up being in over 1000 publications worldwide via internet and newspaper and magazines.   We literally got death threats and threats of mutilation from almost all 50 states, from as far as London and Hong Kong.  They hated us for doing this. 

Paulson: What kinds of things did people say?

Davies: The best one, Steve, was directed towards our Director, Steve Russell.  It said,  ˜Dear Mr. Director, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.  You are disgusting.  How in the world could you do a musical about this disgusting, depraved maniac?  You know what I’d like to do to you, Mr. Director?  I’d like to cut your arms off, and then I’d like to cut your legs off, and then I’d like to put a hook in your lifeless, legless body and then I’d like to drag you around through the mud behind my four by four, and then I’d like to hose you off...

Paulson: Hopefully he meant with a garden hose.

Davies: ...and then I’d like to take your armless, legless, lifeless body and feed it to my dogs,’ and this is how he ended it.  He said,  ˜Have a nice day and God bless.’ 

[musical excerpt from “Ed Gein, The Musical” here]

When we’re traveling with the film, especially in Wisconsin, we get the best [inaudible] stories.  Now most of them are apocryphal.  Most of them are just myth-laden because if we had a dollar for every time someone said,  ˜he dug up my grandma, you know.  Hey, why are you guys doing this film?  He dug up my grandma and then he fed my grandma to my cousins,’ It’s like, come on, and in reality he had given a list of eight names to the sheriff who was my grandfather’s friend, and they dug up two of those graves and found out that the graves were empty and they didn’t have to do anything further.  Now nobody knows, for obvious reasons, the names on that list.  Now my grandfather’s friend, the sheriff, knew, and maybe a few of the deputies, but they took that to their grave.  It’s a lose/lose situation.  It’s like you’re in Plainfield and you come up to one of your buddies and like,  ˜hey Bob, how you doing, oh good.  Bob, I got good news and bad news.’  ˜Well, what’s the good news?’   ˜Your grandma made a hell of a chili.’   ˜Well, thank you, now what’s the bad news?’   ˜She was in it.’  I mean that’s the thing.  I mean this is one of the stories about Ed Gein.  He apparently served chili to some of his friends with the victims in the chili.  In fact, there’s a story that he may have even won a chili cook-off.  That’s a little apocryphal, although his venison sausages were close to award winning, and he would give them to people.  Now venison is deer, you know, meat, but later on when he was at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wisconsin, he said he never shot a deer, so you have to make the inference, well if he didn’t get this from deer, where did he get it from, but that’s another one of those things and they said his venison sausage was great, his chili was awesome and then he would always it’s venison chili, it’s venison chili, and then they’d ask,  ˜well, where’s your deer?  Oh, I didn’t get one this year, I’ve never gotten one.’ 

[musical excerpt from “Ed Gein, The Musical” here]

Paulson: When you were making this film, when you were writing the film, did you worry about being too offensive, going too far?

Davies: You know, in film, I think if you start doing that from the get go, you’ve lost.  You have to push the envelope right from the beginning and then you can always recede it a little bit.  Our movie is a little bit different too.  We made a movie that is not gratuitously violent.  There is some violence, most of it is implied.  There’s not a swear word in it and there is no nudity so, I mean, when’s the last time you went to a horror film and didn’t see a combination of all three, or you know, all three? 

Paulson: Let’s talk for a moment about what can make a film offensive, because I mean it’s interesting to think about this and to draw some comparisons.  For instance, a lot of people obviously say your film is gratuitous, salacious, you know, it has gone too far.  Let’s think about some of the other films that have been based on the Ed Gein story, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Psycho,” “Motel Hell.”  Can we compare degrees of offensiveness here?

Davies: I think nowadays the only thing that could be construed as offensive, we’re so inured to the gratuitous, the violence and the arms getting chopped off, the head getting blown up, you know, all the saw movies.  We’re kind of inured to that and that’s not offensive to us anymore.  There are a couple of lines though that I don’t think you ever cross.  Number one, you don’t hurt little kids, you don’t hurt little puppies, little dogs.  Thirdly, we can’t be racist or bigoted, that’s another thing, and fourthly, I think our religious sensibilities, you don’t want to hurt people’s faith in the things that literally make them who they are, so there are limits.

Paulson: But you’re also making, I don’t know if making fun is the right word, making humor out of this horror that still directly, presumably affects people who live in a certain part of Wisconsin.

Davies: Yeah, I’ve, that’s true.  I guess there aren’t that, and I hate to say this.  I mean if I offend five people in Plainville, that’s still five too many, but I’ll be honest with you, if there are five people 55 years later that are still affected by it, I feel bad for them and I feel sad for them, but it is a minority, very small amount of people, not to say I’m not excusing myself.  We’ve got to do that.  “Springtime for Hitler” was literally only 25 years after, and you know, it was done by Mel Brooks, a solid Jewish American who was..., you know, I know we have to make fun of these things, we have to poke fun at these things.  That’s the only way sometimes we can wrap our heads around these things, and for me, that’s the way that I think, it has to be Cathartic I think somehow, unless Plainfield can have the next Oprah or the next president being born there, they are always going to be the home of Ed Gein, and to misquote an ex-president,  ˜I feel your pain Plainfield.’ 

[musical excerpt from “Ed Gein, The Musical” here]

Fleming: Dan Davies is the writer and lead actor of “Ed Gein, The Musical.”  Steve Paulson spoke with him.


Comments for this interview

Ed Gein, The Musical (Kelly, 09/04/2012 - 10:29am)

I saw this film and yes I got to laugh. The people who made this told the story of an abused man, a sick man a killer. Why is this wrong but texas chainsaw and silence of lambs ok? The movies about Ed that made it big never told the true story. This film told a sad story about abuse and sickness with a bit of humor. The men that wrote, produced, acted and filmed this movie had knowledge of Ed. Yes its a strange idea and a stange movie and i would see it again. Its not Texas Chainsaw, its not Silence of the Lambs. You don't close your eyes because you don't want to see what happens next. Most of what those movies showed did not happen, they just made a lot of money. As for the musical... good job. There was also a question and and answer session after the film and the people who made the film had relatives who knew Ed. So truth be told I find it highly irresponsibale to judge something you have not seen.

No it never is the killers' (Betsy, 09/03/2012 - 8:05pm)

No it never is the killers' fault...the idea of responsibility has become relegated to and blamed on the media, or to their familial upbringing, or to their "bad seed" societal connections/friends or to a chemical imbalance...we live in a society where self-responsibility has become extinct...sad.
A Serial killer or mass-murderer becomes one because he consciously chooses to be one. He or she overtly chooses evil. Period.

Ed Gein, The Musical (Esteeb, 08/08/2012 - 3:12am)

I'd bet real money a very high percentage of mass murderers have seen this and/or other similar media. The people that do this sort of nonsense are the people who are responsible for the spread of the phenomenon of mass murder. That it occured before is undoubtedly true. That it occurs now more frequently now is true as well. Provide an ethicomorally challenged histrionic or pathological narcisist with an outlet fo rfame and further acts acts of this sort will continu eto be the result. This is is irresponsibility in it's highest form.

"Ed Gein, The MusicaL" (Michael, 04/02/2012 - 7:27pm)

Dear Anonymous,

The show was called "Pushing the Limit in Film" ...enough said.

ugh (Anonymous, 04/01/2012 - 10:31pm)

I had to turn of the radio during the songs. It's horrible that these things happened but I'd never want to see or hear a musical about it. TTBOOK is usually thoughtful and insightful, but this was just vulgar. I'm sure there's some radio show where this would be appropriate, but this ain't it.

Granted, this is all personal preference culminating in one star.