Ed Gein was the kind of guy who liked to keep salt, pepper, and a cupful of human noses on his kitchen table at all times. In the (quite literal) dead of night, he often went tromping about his vast Wisconsin property, his cold breath releasing puffs of misshapen mini clouds from his mouth while the skins of the neighbor he’d recently murdered or dug up from the local cemetery flapped against his body. (I’m guessing those extra skins served to keep him slightly warm, much like that light nylon jacket I love, the one I try to keep wearing until I break out into the sort of shakes and shivers that remind me it’s about to be November in New York.) But back to Ed Gein. Allegedly, he was only able to recall killing a couple of his victims – like the lady from the hardware store he disemboweled in his kitchen – but he claimed that most of his other atrocities were committed while he was steeped in a heavy haze.
Many murders have occurred over the years, but few have settled into the collective unconsciousness with the same gritty resonance as Ed Gein’s bloody rampage. This, after all, is the murderous man who helped inspire the stories of Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs. And just as Gein enjoyed picking apart the different body parts of his victims, the writers and filmmakers who eventually crafted visceral stories of psychosis selected the pieces of the Ed Gein tale that would best bolster their scripted nightmarish narratives. In real life, Gein apparently liked to wear one set of human skins more than any other – and it turns out his favorite epidermis ensemble was crafted out of the skins of his own mother. Psycho eventually borrowed some of Norman Bates’ fashion predilections from that particular thread of the story. The creation of an outfit from the skins of victims is also used prominently in The Silence of the Lambs as Buffalo Bill crafts himself his very own “woman suit.” However, unlike both Ed Gein and Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill never found himself in a hazy stupor. No, he knew exactly what he was doing every single step of the way, including during the moments when he advised his trapped and terrified victims to slather themselves with lotion because that kind of conditioning would make their skins far easier to work with once the sewing portion of the horror got underway.
As for Leatherface and his cannibalistic clan, the décor of the stark house where most of the movie’s travesties take place is modeled after Ed Gein’s home. It wasn’t a sectional from Ikea or West Elm that furnished Gein’s living room; he upholstered his chairs with human skin and he kept the eviscerated faces of the tragically unfortunate stapled to one of his walls. Gein applied rouge and lipstick to those torn-off faces to make them look extra pretty. He had several pairs of human lips dangling from strings throughout his house. His bedposts were adorned with real skulls like an Ed Hardy creation gone berserk. In his closet was a belt with human nipples sewn upon it. He kept stacks of human organs inside his freezer, all carefully wrapped except for that one human heart found in a pot on the stove that was floating there when the police finally closed in.
One of the reasons his crimes hadn’t been found out earlier is because Ed Gein lived alone and nobody saw the mayhem as it unfolded. Before his mother died, Gein already lived an almost hermetic existence. He was allowed to attend school, but he was prohibited from socializing. His fanatically religious mother spouted daily decrees that girls were essentially instruments of Satan who existed to beckon pure boys like her son towards the Dark Side, so Gein turned away from society and came to rely on his mother almost totally. When she passed, he continued to keep her bedroom immaculate, even as the rest of the house fell into a dusty decline. Finally nabbed for one of his murders, Ed Gein was carted off to a psychiatric institution. He admitted early on that he was guilty, though he had a hard time remembering the details since much of his memory was cloaked in a heavy mental static. As for a motive, Gein’s was really quite simple: he liked to take things apart and see how things worked and he wasn’t satisfied doing such a thing with model airplanes or transistor radios, so he decided to use a local woman instead. He swore that not all the body parts decorating his home (in what I’m imagining was the foulest smelling feng shui imaginable) came from people he killed. He insisted that a lot of those skins and lips and nostrils were from his frequent grave-robbing excursions.
In 1984, Gein died in a hospital for the clinically insane. He was, by most accounts, seen as “harmless” by the hospital staff and his body was buried in an unmarked grave to keep the darkly curious at bay. But his staggering levels of depravity remain as part of our history and the imprint of his time spent constructing a loveseat out of an inner thigh can still be seen in horror movies today. As for the reasons that explain our enduring curiosity about a human being of this sort, I believe it’s because there’s perhaps nobody scarier than a person who appears somewhat normal on the outside but is so psychologically warped on the inside – and that brings me to O.C. Housewife Kelly Dodd. I cannot possibly be the only one wondering what psychological ailments might currently be ravaging Ms. Dodd. She looks relatively sane on the outside – as long as you don’t concentrate too hard on that ferocious way her eyes and teeth flash, animal-like, when she gets angry – but internally, this appears to be a woman who is in the process of losing her entire mind. She continually allows herself to believe that spouting out hellish comments in the throes of anger is a socially acceptable practice and that her momentary skyrocketing fury should serve as a valid excuse so the person who felt the wrath of her words will simply shrug and say, “Oh, Kelly didn’t really mean it when she called me ‘a dumbass twat.’ She was just angry! I totally forgive her for every heinous thing she has said to me. After all, we all get mad sometimes…”
Now listen, under no circumstances am I fully comparing Ed Gein’s psyche to that of Kelly Dodd’s. I do not think Kelly desecrates graves in the wee hours of the morning. I do not believe even one of her shot glasses is made out of human intestine. But I do believe that Kelly and her behavior are the stuff of waking nightmares and I think there might be a correlation worth exploring about what actually happens to Kelly both psychologically and physiologically when she feels rage overtake her synapses. The shit she verbally unloads is vicious and she often refuses to admit she meant a single word of any of it in the aftermath. And now – after already choosing to go on this show while her marriage was imploding and choosing The One Nobody Else Would Talk To as her life coach – she has followed up that madness by boarding a shuttlebus bound for hell. Along the way, she responds weakly to Shannon’s questions about her conduct by pointing out the hairs currently sprouting from Shannon’s chin. And yes, that was very rude of Kelly to do, but Ed Gein probably would have turned those hairs into the fringes on the end of a blanket, so I suppose things could always be worse.
We begin tonight still on that bus headed for the airport. Just to review, everyone hates Kelly for speaking harshly about Tamra’s custody issues. Vicki, Kelly’s life coach, is firmly keeping her mouth shut even as her newest dear friend and life apprentice is getting ripped apart because Vicki was born without real blonde hair or the ability to exhibit loyalty. Meghan is traumatized by everything she’s watching – and she’s the only fully sober one on that bus, so you can only imagine how hideous it must be to be Meghan in that moment. And Tamra and Vicki? They have officially reformed their fractured friendship the way they always do, which means both of them got stupendously drunk and then the alcohol shooting through the insides of their bodies whispered to their brains that they should love one another again – for now anyway. I mean, we’ve all seen the previews that show Tamra shrieking, “Fuck you!” directly into Vicki’s mouth, so just because they’re seemingly chummy right now, all bets are off once the buzz runs dry.
While I sit on my couch and chant prayers of hope that a production assistant crammed somewhere inside that bus remembers to tip the driver of this shitstorm on wheels handsomely when they finally make it to their destination, the women continue to brawl. Heather declares directly to Kelly’s face that she is “vulgar, vile trash,” to which Kelly responds that everyone knows how pretentious and fake Heather is. Meanwhile, all Meghan can think about is how can Vicki possibly be able to watch her wonderful friend get prodded and poked by a group of women who are out to get her for seemingly no reason other than apparently her name was picked from the hat randomly? I sort of get where Meghan is coming from, but let’s all remember that Kelly’s behavior has been nothing but overwhelmingly revolting; eventually some people who have to share her airspace will start reacting to the bullshit in their midst. Secondly, in what universe has Meghan suddenly found herself where she thinks Vicki Gunvalson will stand up for anybody except for some guy who claimed to have cancer? Vicki’s not about to say a fucking word here. She just sits quietly and prays that Kelly will keep talking about anything but Vicki abandoning her – and Vicki sort of gets lucky because Kelly doesn’t come right out and say that Vicki has betrayed her. No, Kelly goes a different route because she is a lunatic psycho and instead decides to announce that Vicki has told her all kinds of things about everyone on that bus, including the story about how David once beat the shit out of Shannon. Yup, Kelly just went there – and, quite predictably, all hell breaks loose:
Heather stands up, points her finger in Kelly’s face and screams, “That’s enough!”
Shannon denies every bit of the story while tears of anger and sadness stream down her cheeks.
Vicki calmly explains that she was afraid when David acted aggressively towards her because she was “afraid he’d hit her like he hit his wife.”
Shannon explodes that she and her husband have been working to put their relationship back together and he renewed his vows with her and she is done with Vicki forever.
Heather sits herself beside Vicki and berates her for announcing such a thing about Shannon’s life when Shannon has children, but the thing is, Vicki doesn’t feel all that badly. See, Shannon talked about her bullshit relationship with a conman on camera and that means Vicki can say whatever she wants about Shannon’s life. And the scary part of all of this is that Vicki really can do just that while she’s wearing a microphone and cameras are aimed at her face and I find myself wondering yet again why anyone with even an emaciated skeleton hanging in a closet somewhere would ever go on a fucking reality show.
But since they’re all still stuck on that bus and the secrets are flowing like the vodka did just a short while ago, Tamra takes the opportunity to pump Kelly for the secrets Vicki shared about her. Yes, I too am shocked beyond words that Vicki yammered away to the only person in California who would listen to her speak for a time that Tamra’s husband cheats on her and might be gay. I am also going to pretend to be surprised that the reconciliation between Tamra and Vicki didn’t last longer than a car ride and probably only happened in the first place because Tamra felt guilty that she almost killed Vicki on a sand dune. It’s right about here when Tamra bellows her profanity straight down Vicki’s esophagus and I have been on bus rides to sleepaway camp with forty-four children where half of them puked from motion sickness that were far more enjoyable than it’s been to watch this televised journey.
Back in Orange County, Shannon’s got her anger firmly directed at Vicki and she invites Tamra over to discuss just how much she hates her. Since Tamra hates Vicki now too, this is the perfect pairing. Eddie made Tamra see that Vicki is just jealous of her and therefore wants to make it seem like Tamra is in a bad marriage. As for the woman they are ripping into, she’s over at her house with her daughter, the only person willing to be in the same room as her at the moment. Wearing a shirt that actually says “Peace & Love,” this idiot explains that she and Tamra had the best drunken time ever in Ireland until the last two hours when something Vicki might have mentioned casually once to Kelly was revealed – you know, that Eddie fucks around on his wife and really likes cock? Just random gossip. Vicki’s daughter sees right through her mother’s nonsensical claims that she did nothing wrong by declaring her a dirty fighter and Briana is correct. Her mother cannot take criticism without lashing out and she is incapable of ever apologizing and I suppose it’s a good thing Vicki has no desire to try out her first ever apology on Shannon because Shannon is done with Vicki for fucking all of eternity and she will turn and look the other way whenever she sees her from this point forth and that of course means Andy Cohen is going to make sure they are seated directly across from one another at the eventual Reunion just so things can get even uglier.
The man knows what he’s doing, people.
I’m guessing Kelly will be the biggest focus at that Reunion because Terry Dubrow’s reluctance to shrug off work for family time isn’t gonna be much of a draw. But since Kelly is a fucking imbecile, there’s lots to cover during that upcoming three-night event. Maybe Andy can start by asking Kelly to imitate Heather’s speaking voice once again because Kelly is so charming when she pretends to be a human being who’s got some class. Or perhaps Andy can ask Kelly if she has spent her entire fucking life believing that every single person she has ever met has been out to get her, because I’m willing to bet she’s been screaming this complaint since her first days of middle school. As he’s yet to move out and divorce her, her husband has to sit there and listen to Kelly absolve herself of all blame, even about how she let that teensy and inconsequential item drop from her flapping lips that David once beat up Shannon. “Is that true?” Kelly’s husband asks her, horrified. “I don’t know if it’s true,” Kelly whines back. “It’s none of my business.” You guys, can it be considered actual assault if I punch the hell out of this woman by bashing my own television screen? I mean, I’m not the sort who usually throws down, but I hate the Kelly demon even more than I hate that one guy who I really hate.
Now that it’s almost time for her fitness competition, Tamra meets up with her trainer/spiritual advisor to try on tiny spangled outfits while simultaneously getting in a quick confession. She tells her guru she drank while she was in Ireland – she’s trying to ease into her cauldron of sin – and then explains what happened with both Kelly and Vicki and how she allowed her rather justified anger to get the best of her. The trainer’s advice, of course, is to forgive Vicki yet again because that’s what Jesus would do and while I very much believe each individual should carve her own religious path freely, I’m pretty close to sending Tamra a pamphlet about atheism through the mail.
Over at some restaurant, Meghan gets together with Kelly because she has decided that, though Kelly’s behavior has continuously been terrible, Meghan does not want to be a fair-weather friend. And because she is such a dear friend, Meghan gets to sit there and listen as Kelly says once again that she never did a single thing to any of those women and there’s simply no reason why they all attacked her because Kelly is fucking crazy and sometimes crazy people like to say sentences to their pregnant friends while they sit together in restaurants. Meghan tries to get her to understand that the delivery of her statements was a major part of the problem, just as her below-the-nipple-embroidered-belt jabs were seriously out of line. Just to be clear, Meghan is speaking to Kelly as though this bonkers woman will actually internalize any of the words coming out of her mouth, but then a miracle happens. As Kelly shovels chips and salsa down her throat, she then announces that Meghan is correct and she is going to make amends with Tamra, who will be her first stop on the Apology Tour.
But before Kelly can grovel to Tamra, she decides to begin with Vicki. She invites her over and says some things that are true: that she has always had Vicki’s back – even when doing so was not all that beneficial – and she would like to know why Vicki did not therefore come to her aid when she so needed it in Ireland. Vicki’s simpering excuse is that all of this is really Shannon’s fault because Shannon was trying to get Kelly drunk and she drops that little factoid in Kelly’s lap so Kelly will concentrate on that instead of her anger at Vicki. The plan isn’t really working, though. Kelly wants answers and she’d also like to maybe go back in time so Vicki can defend her. That time travel thing seems like a good idea. Maybe if she hops in one of those machines real quick, she can also whizz back in time and remember to put on a shirt for this scene because I’m pretty sure that this entire conversation is happening while Kelly is topless and wearing an open denim shirt and some pearls.
Over at Tamra’s house, she’s practicing her competition walk while wearing clear high heels and pretending she’s hoisting a surfboard above her head. She breaks this rigorous activity to answer a phone call from Vicki who is calling to reiterate that everyone feels hurt and to make sure Tamra still wants to gaze upon Vicki’s proud face from the stage during the fitness show. At this point, even though Tamra’s sort of had it with this moron, she relents and allows Vicki to come to her show to cheer her on. And once that she’s done pretending that everything is fine with Vicki, it’s time for Tamra to sit down with Kelly. They meet for a drink and Tamra is open to moving on, but first she’d like to know where Kelly’s heart is. My guess is Kelly’s heart is terrified and currently hiding behind the six brain cells she’s got working, but Kelly is determined to be invited to the next Housewives backyard barbeque that will be held soon for no good reason at all so she apologizes immediately. Tamra apologizes also and she blames her own behavior on having been drunk and then allows Kelly to smother her in compliments like, “You’re a bigger person.” But Tamra does not respond to Kelly’s question about why Shannon is still so annoyed with her that she just announced publicly that there are allegations of domestic violence within Shannon’s marriage by grabbing her by the chin and screaming, “Seriously?!” Instead, she calmly implores Kelly to call Shannon and apologize. “Apologize for what?” this simpleton with the terrible clothing asks, and Tamra summons every piece of Godlike strength she’s got running through her body and simply responds, “For repeating it.” Kelly, however, is torn. Should she be the bigger person and apologize to Shannon? Whatever decision she ends up making, Kelly does know two very important things: that there is nobody on the planet more horrible than Heather Dubrow, puppet master extraordinaire, and that it’s very important that she constantly informs her daughter that coming in any place other than first place means she just placed last. I’m quite sure there’s a joke to be made here, but to do so just seems cruel.
Later that day as she’s between getting basted with spray tans, Tamra calls Shannon to tell her that Vicki called and just wants everybody to drop their anger – especially if it’s at her – and just move on. And as for the claims that Shannon feels very hurt that Vicki announced David’s alleged abuse to a relative stranger, Vicki’s only response is that they all feel hurt. This is all Shannon needs to hear. She wants some fucking closure, dammit, and she will confront Vicki alongside Tamra and demand to know why Vicki keeps spreading nasty lies about the people she claims to love. Um, ladies? The answer to that question is that Vicki Gunvalson is a miserable shrew who cannot witness joy in others without wondering, “Why am I not feeling that exact same joy right this instant?” C’mon. She’s proven exactly who she is over a full decade spent on this show and who she is happens to be is a lying asshole with envy and vodka running through her veins.
The fitness competition has finally arrived and Tamra is ready to be judged in the bikini contest. Though she’s nervous before walking onstage in one of the smallest outfits known to man, her trainer calms her down by reminding her that Jesus is always right there to give her strength. As Tamra nods at all the comforting words, the rest of the women arrive and settle down in the auditorium. Kelly and Vicki sit beside one another and then Heather arrives. She briefly kisses both Vicki and Meghan hello and then dismissively waves in Kelly’s direction. Look, this bitch will do whatever is the very least she can get away with doing when it comes to interacting with Kelly and I completely applaud Heather for being nothing but blandly polite because Kelly deserves not a thing more than that. As for Shannon, she arrives and pretends that Vicki and Kelly don’t even exist – which means I applaud Shannon even more.
The show begins and Tamra struts onto the stage. She’s all in sparkly pink and she doesn’t seem to have a belly button because Jesus never thought she needed one. Her body is sick and her friends are proud of her, but not just because her abs are fantastic. They’re proud because Tamra has transformed herself into a far calmer and kinder person over the last few years. Maybe it’s the good karma she tossed into the universe that’s coming back to reward her now – or maybe it’s because the judges think crowning her victorious will get them tickets to a taping of Watch What Happens – but Tamra wins the competition. She’s thrilled to have accomplished something and her friends surround her so they can all take some pictures and Shannon wanders away once Vicki shoves her body into the frame. Because let’s be honest here – the only way Shannon will ever have anything resembling a picture of herself with Vicki ever again will be if Shannon chops off Vicki’s hair, weaves hunks of it into a picture frame, and then sticks a picture of herself from her vow renewal ceremony that Vicki was not invited to inside of it.
I think even Ed Gein would approve.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Also be sure to check out her website at nellkalter.com Her Twitter is @nell_kalter