A blog mostly dedicated to cinema (including both new and old film reviews; commentary; and as the URL suggests - movie lists, although it has been lacking in this area to be honest), but on occasion touching on other areas of personal interest to me.
Horror Classic Movie Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I'm not entirely sure this film belongs in this October series because it's not a film that was part of my childhood memories of scary movies. I don't think I saw this until I was in college. But the film was always something I was aware of. Everyone knew about Leatherface and how this was supposed to be one of the scariest movies. It actually scare me quite a lot when I did finally see it. Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.
A demented family portrait.
The most terrifying movies I’ve seen all come out of the
1970s, the time of the New Hollywood Golden Age, when studios were willing to
back risky projects because audiences were willing to lay down money for challenging
subject matter. Sometimes they just wanted visceral thrills. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre certainly
provided the latter, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a challenging
film or that it has anything of real importance to say. Its sole purpose is to
scare the shit out of whoever is daring enough to see it. Tobe Hooper and Kim
Henkel’s story is a depiction of a demented hick family in central Texas, where
they prey on helpless victims, offering them a sadistic nightmare of torture.
Five hippie youths traveling through Texas pick up a
hitchhiker who signals very bad omens for their future. He speaks cryptically,
behaves bizarrely and then laughs maniacally as he slices his own hand open.
They wisely dispose of him on the side of the road, but rest assured he’ll be
back. No surprise he turns out to be part of the cannibalistic family that
delights in grave robbery, human carvings and general nastiness. They make a
stop at an old farmhouse where two of them spent some of their childhood and in
a search for gasoline for their van, two of them wander off to a nearby home
where one, and then the other, disappears inside.
Up to this point, Tobe Hooper (who also directed the
film) builds the tension in slow steps. The soundtrack is comprised primarily
of the ambient sounds of nature and radio reports about a local grave robbery. Before
the first young man steps into the house and is suddenly confronted by Leatherface
(Gunnar Hansen), a bear of a man wearing a mask sewn from human skin, we have
no idea what to expect. Suddenly, in one abrupt swing of a small sledge hammer,
the movie transitions from high anxiety to sheer terror. We watch as the young
man’s body writhes on the floor, Leatherface drags him inside and slams a metal
sliding door shut. It’s a scene both farcical and horrifying at the same time.
To find yourself almost laughing at how it transpires reveals the subversive
nature of Hooper’s film.
From here on out all bets are off and things only get
worse. One victim winds up hoisted, still crying in agony, on a meat hook.
Another, confined to a wheelchair, is shredded by the woodcutter’s tool of the
film’s title. The final would-be victim, Sally (Marilyn Burns), becomes a dinner
guest in the family’s twisted ritual which has them trying to revive Grandpa by
suckling the blood from Sally’s finger. In an attempt to help Grandpa regain
his former glory as the greatest cattle slaughterer in Texas, they prop the
sledgehammer in his hand so that he may knock Sally on the head. Again, the
scene devolves into sick black comedy as he continually drops the hammer while
Sally awaits her imminent death again and again.
Hooper not only directs the film with the assured hand of
a seasoned pro (he actually wasn’t, but obviously possessed the natural
instincts of a great horror director), but also created a film with a
production design that is at once intensely realistic and completely over the
top. The demented family’s home is adorned with trinkets of chicken feathers
and bones, probably both animal and human. When the characters stumble into
this world their instincts tell them to run far, far away (just as you in the
audience may want to do), but alas, it’s too late for them.
You could read the film as being a commentary on the
effects of prolonged violence on the human soul. The murderous family was in
the business of slaughtering animals and Tobe Hooper was reportedly inspired to
make this movie by the political landscape in the early 70s which saw the
government concealing atrocities in Vietnam while the nightly news revealed
horrid sights for family viewing. Still, the primary purpose of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is purely to
frighten the wits out of those who watch it. It remains a classic because of
its audacity, its technical proficiency, and the nightmares it may instill in
you for many years.