The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The 101 Horror Movies is really kicking into high gear as I come across films I’ve never heard of, like Deathdream, to classics I’ve seen a couple of times, like this film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from 1974.

Now say what you will about remakes and reboots, sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but I’ll tel you, having seen both versions of the film, I can’t recall anything from the remake, and yet the original continues to stay with me, unnerving in it’s rawness. It simply gets under your skin and stays with you.

And every time I’ve seen it, I’m left with this thought, amongst others at the end of the film… What happens to the driver of Black Maria, the 18-wheeler that pulls over to help Sally (Marilyn Burns) escape from Leatherface at the film’s climax?

Despite the claim of the film’s posters and the film’s introduction, it is not based on a true story, yes there were a few things lifted from serial killer Ed Gein, but the same thing is true of Psycho. It was merely the leaping off point for both films, and despite the words chainsaw massacre in the title, only one person is killed with the chainsaw, and you actually only see one person get cut with it (though the other is implied) and that’s Leatherface himself.

This was Tobe Hooper’s second film, and one could argue his best, though I’m a fan of his adaptation of Salem’s Lot and whether he directed all of it or not, I love Poltergeist (so glad that’s coming up on the 101 Horror Movies as well!).

The film has that 70s student documentary feel, and consequently, when things get rolling, and it doesn’t take long, it begins to bother you.

The opening credits are punctuated with disturbing pictures of decaying bodies all narrated over by a news report talking about death, dismemberment and the ghoulish art of grave-robbing, Whether you consciously listen to it or not, it undoubtedly has an effect on you, warning you, putting you on edge, that in case the title didn’t give it away, this is going to be a rough ride.

The film opens with five young twenty-somethings making their way across Texas to visit a grandfather’s old home. They meet trouble pretty quickly when they pick up a rather disturbing hitch-hiker.

After ejecting him from the van, they arrive at a gas station that has the requisite old man telling the young travelers that they don’t want to go messing around with some old house…

They ignore him, of course, and reach the old Jackson place, where, they promptly split up, of course.

They are hunted down, one at a time, by the pig-squealing, hulking beast that is Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen). The attacks are brutal, intense, and like Psycho before it, are more distressing in what you don’t see, letting your imagination fill in the cuts, the bludgeoning and the impalement, letting the performance of the actors and the cutting of the film, imply more than you see.

And you know what?

It still works. The hook scene is, of course, one of the best examples of that, the shot sets the hook up, you see Leatherface lift his victim, and she reaches back as she arches and screams, trying to get off the hook on which she appears to be impaled… and IT WORKS!

One by one each of them fall to Leatherface, and his deranged family, which includes the crazy hitchhiker, and a very dessicated grandfather, leaving only Sally, who is captured alive, and brought to the family table as the main course.

In a horrifying sequence, that seems to get dragged out intentionally, the family lets grandfather attempt to bludgeon the poor shocked and terrified Sally to death.

She finally escapes and makes for the road…

The film is still a powerful experience, in it’s rawness and simplicity. A cue that some of today’s horror films could follow. It’s not always about showing everything in all it’s gore and blood, sometimes, letting your imagination supply what you don’t see is still the best way.

What do you think?

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dave Enkosky says:

    Loved this review. This is still one of my five favorite horror movies.

    1. TD Rideout says:

      Thanks Dave! Not sure where this one ranks in my all time fave horrors, but I’m always surprised, always, when I watch it to find out how much it unnerves me, and for me that’s a good sign of a really well made horror film.

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