The disclaimers at the beginning of most true crime documentaries have become standardized in recent years, written in legalese that is cold, distant and without a unique voice. Though the same can’t be said for Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein, a new MGM+ docuseries. The show is about the crimes and impact of the serial killer and grave-robber whose offenses influenced all-time great horror movies like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's a compelling piece of programming and, apparently, its warnings received some inspiration from TikTok.
Before a single image of Ed Gein’s crimes or unearthed interviews from shortly before his 1957 arrest are shown, audiences are greeted with a unique warning card. Each one has a candor and macabre sensibility that sets the tone for this entry on the 2023 TV schedule. It was director and executive producer James Buddy Day who revealed to CinemaBlend that these warning cards were actually influenced by the explosion of true crime on social media, specifically TikTok:
We spent hours watching all these true crime TikToks and how they’re engaging with the audience, and what is it that’s making them so engaging? And we just really felt like if you’re more transparent with the audience, if you just kind of tell them what they’re in store for, what you’re going for, if you tell them that up front, it just enables your audience to just engage with your content on such a better level. You’re letting them into the tent right away.
The card in the opening episode, which is now streaming on MGM+, ends with a straightforward and rather morbidly hilarious line of “Don’t say we didn’t warn you,” and it just gets wilder from there. Each of the subsequent episodes, which will be released weekly through October 1st, welcome viewers to get on the ride opposed to just being some kind of legal disclaimer. It's interesting to hear that the creative team took cues from social media when constructing these messages. During our interview, James Buddy Day shared more about why he took such a quirky approach with the disclaimers:
The warning cards in true crime have become very standardized. They’re very legal, it’s like a legal disclaimer. I think if someone’s clicking on a show that’s called Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein, they kind of know what they’re in for. And this is a way of kind of inviting them along for the ride. Like helping them get on the roller coaster.
And what a roller coaster it is. The documentary tells the story of how Ed Gein went from being viewed as an odd yet seemingly harmless man to an infamous killer and bodysnatcher also known as the “Butcher of Plainfield” or the “Plainfield Ghoul.” The production features interviews with everyone, from criminal psychologists to horror movie experts to the hosts of the comedy-centric true crime show The Last Podcast on the Left. There are also never-before-heard recordings of Gein describing his crimes. Additionally, viewers can expect to see disturbing photos of his house, where authorities found seat cushions, lampshades, and masks made from human flesh. In short, all of these elements help piece together one of the most sensationalistic and unforgettable true crime stories of all time.
On top of that, Psycho also dives into how the man behind the shocking crimes influenced decades of true-story horror movies. In the process, it provides great insight into the secrets behind some of the most terrifying films of the past 60+ years. James Buddy Day and his team deserve credit for crafting such a compelling piece of work and managing to keenly utilize some social media sensibilities for its warning cards.
Those with an interest in true crime, especially those with a strong stomach, can start watching and streaming Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein when the first episode premieres at 10 p.m. tonight, September 17, on MGM+. All subsequent episodes will be made available each Sunday for the next three weeks. And while you're watching, don't forget to pay keen attention to the opening disclaimers.