Sunday, October 12, 2008
#89: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper
Released October 1, 1974
I have a hard time deciding what the best Horror movie of all time is, but that's only because I consider it to be a tie between Tobe Hooper's 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. While Kubrick's film is a masterpiece of mood and composition, Hooper's classic is even more frightening because its low budget and cast of unknowns makes it feels so much more real.
The film plays on that realism with an opening text crawl that falsely claims that what you are about to see is based on true events. From there, the harsh, stabbing soundtrack jumps out as us in between flashbulb-lit imagery of of an unearthed corpse. After a creepy retracting shot of a morbid graveyard "sculpture" left rotting out in the Texas sun, we meet our unlucky cast of victims, a group of young adults traveling in a van. Among the characters are the completely annoying wheelchair bound Franklin Hardesty and his sister Sally.
The group makes the ill advised choice to pick up a hitchhiker, a complete freak of a man played by Edwin Neal. Neal's character, who talks with awe about how cattle are slaughtered before threatening the people in the van with a razor, serves as a warning to the others that they should rethink their journey and head back the way they came, and he plays this weirdo so believably that you wind up amazed to find out he's an actor and not just some extra that Hooper thought would make a good character.
It doesn't take long after the group pulls over for some rest that a few of the other young adults stumble upon the character who would become the basis of the Chainsaw franchise: a mentally handicapped butcher/serial killer who wears a dead skin mask. He would come to be known as Leatherface. His first appearance in the film is as iconic of an entrance as any bad guy could ever get, and if you don't know what's coming, will absolutely scare the bejesus out of you.
Within those same few minutes, we are also introduced to some of Chainsaw's incredible art direction within Leatherface's house, a mess of skulls, feathers and hair, with pieces of furniture fashioned out of flesh and animal bones. You know you're watching a great fright-fest of a movie when a living room can give you chills. Don't worry though, because if you find yourself too tough to get spooked by that, there's a scene with a meat hook around the corner that will make your toes curl.
While Leatherface makes short work of the majority of the cast, it's the final half hour where the real twisted, terrifying shit goes down. Marilyn Burns, in the role of Sally, pretty much spends the remainder of the movie screaming her damn head off. It's really a remarkable performance, and she gets her ass kicked over and over again. She gets put through the ringer so much that you have to wonder if she wasn't permanently disturbed by what she had to go through.
One of the most epic horror setpieces comes at the Leatherface family dinner table. While there is maybe a drop or two of blood shed in this entire sequence, it is probably one of the most batshit crazy sequences in film history. As scary as it might be, you still can't help but laugh at the intentionally dark comedy of scenes like Leatherface's older brother chastising him, "YOU BROKE THE DOOR!"
One of the strangest pieces of trivia about Chain Saw is the fact that the movie uses very little fake blood or gore because Hooper had been trying to score a PG rating. He still wound up with an R rating, and really, thank God for that because I can't imagine people taking their kids to see this thing. The dinner scene alone would pretty much disturb them for life.
I have to add that people should really avoid the sequels to this movie, and especially the remake from a few years back, which is so disgustingly soulless and violent that it is totally without value.
For more on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- The house in the movie is now a restaurant
- Buy the DVD.
The trailer for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: