The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Dir: Tobe Hooper, 1974. Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Gunnar Hansen. Horror.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
It turns out that the granddaddy of torture-porn and Slasher-poitation, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, isn’t as exploitive or graphic as its reputation would make you think. It’s actually just some good old fashioned psychological horror, much closer to the economically controlled thrills of Hitchcock than the splatter flicks of Herschell Gordon Lewis. The film is kinda-sorta based on the misdeeds of serial killer Ed Gain (also an inspiration behind the book Psycho), but perhaps more of a direct result of the graphic violence from the Vietnam War seen nightly on television news. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may have a set-up that now seems overly familiar, but where it goes was wholly original and how it gets there is utterly horrifying. Shot in a docudrama style, its ultra realistic feel makes it seem even more real; it’s like The Battle Of Algiers meets The Hills Have Eyes.

The ultra low budget flick opens with a somber voice-over narration (read by John Larroquette) announcing that the film is all true (and also giving the impression that it’s deeply important). Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her group of groovy twenty-something friends in their mystery-machine like van are on their way to visit her rural grandfather’s house. Stupidly they pick up a straight razor wielding loony (Edwin Neal) who should have been the first warning that this is one part of Texas you might be advised to stay out of. Eventually they each make their way to a creepy old farmhouse nearby where they are killed off, except for Sally; as the last survivor she’s in for a long night of terror.

The family that owns the house includes the hitchhiker from earlier and his brother known as Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), he’s a big, dumb mask-wearing brute who likes to play with chainsaws; their sadistic father (Jim Siedow) owns the gas station; and most creepy is Grandpa, a near catatonic who sucks blood. The boys try to help Grandpa kill Sally, but he proves too weak to hold a hammer. Eventually Sally escapes and in one of the great iconic images from '70s film, she is chased by Leatherface and his chainsaw as the sun rises on the desolate Texas landscape.

The plot may not inspire awe, like so many films in the genre; the acting from the heroes is weak and the main characters are completely dull. Nope, it’s the killers that prove fascinating. These are almost humorous cannibalistic monsters, from generations of slaughterhouse workers, they seem to be products of backwoods inbreeding utterly devoid of modern civilization. Their antics sometimes veer on cartoonish, which is welcomed by the audience to bring down the unbearable tension.

Only a few people are actually killed on screen, all realistically, not the creative ways that would come to dominate horror films in the future. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a product of its time, the '70s, even horror from the period can feel more like personal film than the get rich quick shams that seem to perpetuate most of the horror flicks of later decades. Director Tobe Hopper (Lifeforce, Poltergeist), working on a miniscule budget and a tight shooting schedule, was forced to create terror with atmosphere (as opposed to special effects) and with minimal gore. The realistic set design of the dilapidated farmhouse alone is more terrifying than most other horror films. The slow building mental anguish that Sally is put through as she is captured, escapes and is captured again, is one of the most grueling and terrifying experiences that had ever been put on film at that point. Forget the boring sequels that followed and the more recent inevitable remake, the original was truly original and still, to this date, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the scariest and most shocking films ever made.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Oct 26, 2011 11:46am
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