Breaking news, everyone: Humanity makes definitive contact with the dead in Ed Gein: The Real Psycho, when paranormal investigator and documentary filmmaker Steve Shippy successfully converses with the spirit of Ed Gein, the infamous killer who served as the inspiration for Psycho’s Norman Bates, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface, and The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill. Throughout the course of this two-hour Discovery+ special (April 9), Shippy asks both Gein and his mother Augusta numerous questions about their relationship, and they answer him in back-and-forth fashion, to the point that Gein even remarks, “Put on the suit.” When Shippy follows up by inquiring if the killer means the skin suit he crafted from the corpses he exhumed from a local cemetery, Gein replies, like any demonic specter might, “Yeah.”
“This kind of evidence is unheard of,” exclaims Shippy after a lengthy convo with the notorious fiend. What’s also unheard of is a non-fiction program going to these lengths to pretend that such make-believe nonsense is authentic. Part of Discovery+’s “Shock Docs” franchise, Ed Gein: The Real Psycho concerns Shippy and “renowned psychic medium” Cindy Kaza visiting various locales in Plainfield, Wisconsin, related to Gein in order to determine if his spirit still haunts the area, and to find out if perhaps Gein committed his crimes under the possessed spell of his domineering mother Augusta. What they find is nothing except a bunch of run-down buildings and abandoned outdoor spaces where they talk about feeling Gein’s presence, and employ a variety of electronic devices—whose purpose and operation is left vague because they’re useless beeping-buzzing contraptions—to commune with him in the hereafter. And yet at every turn, Shippy and Kaza pronounce that they’ve struck gold, thereby turning this entire affair into an absurd bit of gaslighting.
According to its hosts, definitive proof abounds in Ed Gein: The Real Psycho. The former hardware store building where Gein killed Bernice Worden in 1957? “Definitely haunted.” The old jail where Gein was kept? “Definitely haunted.” After hearing static-y noise on one of Shippy’s ghost-detecting gizmos? “We definitely made contact with the spirit of Ed Gein.” Following additional interference clatter on his machine? “Something is definitely here.” When they find a knife that supposedly belonged to Gein? “He definitely wants his knife back.” In the show’s closing moments, Shippy concludes, “Plainfield is definitely haunted.” Shippy utters the word “definitely” so many times—while finding absolutely zilch that’s “definitely” paranormal—that it almost feels as if he’s taunting us, throwing his bogus ruse in our faces.
This does not engender much investment in the pair’s quest, which itself is predicated on the fact that “some say” Augusta’s ghost told Gein to kill Worden and, in 1954, tavern owner Mary Hogan, as well as to raid graves for body parts fit for making skull bowls, dead-skin masks, bone furniture, a nipple belt, and his pièce de résistance: a full-body skin suit. Shippy and Kaza seem to have concocted this theory because it sounds scary, and because it further legitimizes their thesis that ghosts are roaming around Plainfield, interacting with the living. A couple of residents briefly appear to relay their own encounters with Gein, including a man who claims to have purchased two knives at auction that he believes were once owned by Gein. Why does he think this? Because after acquiring them, literally everything around him died: his pet birds, his animals, his mother, his father, and his wife. Shippy asks him if he blames the blades for his tragedies, and wouldn’t you know it, the guy’s response is, “Most definitely.”
In case you didn’t realize that Ed Gein: The Real Psycho was a descent into dangerous paranormal terrain, Kaza repeatedly tells Shippy that they have to “be careful” because they’re in peril. Dear reader: they most certainly are not. All of this is presented with a straight face, and begs a more serious question: do any viewers actually buy this transparently ridiculous action as valid? Despite their on-camera behavior, it’s doubtful the show’s hosts or producers do, which means that this is a deliberate joke being pulled on an audience that either finds it amusing, or is too blind to recognize an obvious hoax.
Given that there’s nothing real about Ed Gein: The Real Psycho, it tracks that the show leans not on archival material (which is scant) but, instead, on cheesy third-rate dramatic recreations and loud noises that mimic Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These are embarrassingly done and parallel Shippy and Kaza’s discoveries in hilarious one-to-one fashion. Taking a page from The Dead Files, Shippy does his initial site investigations without Kaza, so that her later psychic-energy readings will be untainted by prior knowledge. Suffice it to say, that strategy would only be worthwhile if this resembled a serious scientific study in any way, shape or form, and if her revelations—like those proffered by Shippy—weren’t confined to information found on Gein’s Wikipedia page.
Like so many of its TV brethren, Ed Gein: The Real Psycho is defined by the disconnect between what we’re seeing (i.e. charlatans in dark, empty buildings and fields) and what we’re told we’re seeing (conclusive confirmation that ghosts are real, interact with us, and are evil!). The result is like a test of one’s basic analytic ability to parse truth from fiction. Can you tell that an archival photo is really of an actress pretending to be Augusta Gein? Do you recognize that weird blips and buzzing on a glorified walkie-talkie are not “proof” of anything except its owner’s untrustworthiness (or delusion)? Do you realize that Shippy and Kaza are being filmed by a cinematographer, which makes Shippy’s habit of filming Kaza with his camcorder completely unnecessary, and just a vain attempt to make himself look more “active?”
Ed Gein: The Real Psycho is simultaneously disrespectful to the dead (and viewers’ intelligence) and comical in its shameless deceptiveness. By the time the duo are chit-chatting with Mary Worden herself, the show has long since gone off the rails into abject inanity, scored to Shippy and Kaza’s incessantly triumphant proclamations. “This is crazy. It’s real,” says Shippy. “This is not safe,” responds Kaza. “It’s evil. It’s not good.” That last part is true, anyway.