It’s a story so horrible, it just had to be set to music. La Crosse’s very own mass murderer is being remembered in a musical written by and starring University of Wisconsin-La Crosse graduate Dan Davies.
And according to Davies, to know about Ed Gein is to want to, well, memorialize him in a musical that treads the line between whimsy and poor taste and manages to do it with a song in its heart.
“Ed Gein, The Musical” is a 92-minute musical/comedy/horror movie filmed in Wisconsin and based on the notorious killer and grave robber from Plainfield, Wis. Though he conducted his gory crime spree while living in Plainfield, Gein was born in La Crosse.
Gein was arrested in 1957, and his macabre uses for the dead prompted international coverage. He has been the subject of numerous books and films including, “Psycho,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Silence of The Lambs.”
But Davies and Steve Russell, partners in DavisRussell Studios of Appleton, Wis., felt their variation of this oft-told tale would add something new to the mix.
“Our story does not glorify Ed or his actions or demean his victims,” Russell said. “But we use the music and dark comedy as a vehicle to tell the story with truth and a fair amount of accuracy.”
Davies, who wrote the film and stars as Ed, said he has an inside track on the story.
“I grew up in Waupaca, Wis., about 20 miles from Plainfield. My grandpa and the arresting sheriff were, at one time, best friends,”. he said. “My grandma knew and bought school supplies from Bernice Worden, the lady (Gein) murdered just before his arrest. I’m not some outsider from L.A. or New York doing an exploitative film on this horrible man.”
No, he’s an insider who spent $9,000 on pizza, cheese and beer to feed his cast.
“We paid them in Wisconsin currency.”
He and Russell already had $100,000 invested in high-end video equipment for their business and couldn’t afford to spend anymore.
Davies is finding out, even after the movie is in the can, that there are stories that just keep surfacing about Gein.
When the movie was shown in Madison, a nurse who worked at Mendota at the same time Gein was incarcerated there told Davies that Gein always chose her as his dance partner at the Friday night socials.
“Sadly, I think I looked like his mother,” she told Davies.
The movie will receive its national premiere on “Off Beat Cinema” on RTV at midnight tonight. But it will be more widely available to Wisconsin viewers Halloween weekend on the Wisconsin PBS show “Director’s Cut.”
Davies is sure some will find the humor and pathos in the movie — and others will be offended. When he described the idea to a friend, he was told, “That’s not funny. That’s just wrong.”
And Davies thought, “Hmm, it could be funny, and it could be very wrong.”
The movie was made in central and northeastern Wisconsin, using eight locations, but not the actual killing field where Gein operated.
“Obviously, we couldn’t do it in Plainfield,” Davies said. “Even 55 years later there’s still hard feelings.”
Aware of that, Davies said the filmmakers tried to get to the truth of the story while making an entertaining movie.
“We try to tell a truthful tale. There’s a modicum of truth, but in a lighthearted vein,” Davies said. “We didn’t want to glorify Ed or his actions. We made him a tragic, pathetic character who was abused by his dad and emotionally abused by his mom. He was a man who was a recipe for a monster.”