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Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 233: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
And who will clean up when they're done?

As I've said before, the biggest reason for doing 365 Days of Horror is to watch movies I've always wanted to see, but for one reason or another, never had the chance to. This list includes a lot of classics, some of which may actually shock some people. One of these movies is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's not like it's on television all that often and when it is, it's edited for time and content. I don't want to spend two and a half hours watching a movie that isn't even complete. Another possible reason for my hesitation in watching this movie is due to the large amount of poorly made sequels. These sequels are almost universally terrible and unintentionally funny, so that put me off from watching where it all started. It was time to put aside my hesitation and dive head first into this horror classic.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a 1974 exploitation horror movie written and directed by Tobe Hooper (Salem's Lot, Poltergeist). Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns, Eaten Alive, Helter Skelter) her wheel-chair bound brother Franklin (Paul Partain, Rolling Thunder, Race With The Devil), and three friends, Kirk, Pam, and Jerry, take a road trip to check on their grandather's grave after reports of grave-robbing in the area surfaced. While in the area, they decide to visit their old home. Along the way, they decide to pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal, JFK, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers). The hitchhiker is clearly insane, talking and laughing frantically and cutting his own hand with a knife. When the group refuses to give him money, he takes out a razor and cuts Franklin's arm. They throw the hitchhiker out of the van and drive off. They get to a gas station to refuel, but the worker informs them that the pumps are empty, so the group drives on to the house. Kirk and Pam go off to find a water hole when they discover a nearby house. When no one appears home, Kirk goes inside and is bashed in the skull with a hammer by Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen, Campfire Tales, Brutal Massacre: A Comedy), a giant of a man that wears human skin as a mask. When Pam goes to check on Kirk, she discovers the house if full of both animal and human bones. She tries to flee, but Leatherface grabs her and impales her on a giant meat hook. When it gets dark, Jerry goes looking for Kirk and Pam and wanders into the house. He opens a freezer, revealing a barely-alive Pam inside. Before he can run, Leatherface kills him and stuffs Pam back inside the freezer. Sally and Franklin go to find their friends and as they approach the house, Leatherface brutally kills Franklin with a chainsaw. He chases Sally into the house where she discovers the rotting bodies of an elderly couple. In order to escape Leatherface, Sally jumps out a window and runs to the gas station. The worker promises to help her, but beats her with a broom and drives her back to the house where he picks up the hitchhiker from before. When Sally awakens, she is bound to a chair at a dinner table surrounded by the worker, the hitchhiker, Leatherface and their “Grandpa”. They torment Sally and want Grandpa to kill her. How will Sally escape?

Free hugs!

It's important to note that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out during the exploitation era of American movies. There has been a small revival of exploitation films in recent years, with films like Hostel and The Human Centipede, but I am a relative novice in that area. At first, I was a bit surprised that there wasn't much of a story involved with the movie. Essentially, these young people go to a house and are killed. That's about it. I thought there were be more of a back-story and was originally disappointed in the lack of a plot. Eventually, I realized that the purpose of the movie isn't to have anything beyond the brutal murders and the scary, deranged family. Admittedly, the movie is a bit slow up until the killings begin with the last 20 minutes being the real payoff. For being an exploitation horror movie, there is actually not that much blood and gore. You probably see worse in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in all honesty. What makes the movie so scary is not blood and guts, but the brutal frankness of the violence. There is no remorse from Leatherface and the family and no amount of begging will stop them. They are monsters in the truest sense, taking pleasure in their sickness.

The movie is ugly and twisted and I mean that as a compliment. It is well-made, far better than what one would expect from a movie like this. Tobe Hooper uses multiple camera angles and extreme closeups to convey the horror of certain situations and fear from the characters. One interesting thing I noticed during the movie is the lack of music. There is some percussion sporadically placed throughout the movie, but not much more. This allows for every hit of a hammer, slice of a chainsaw, and scream from Sally to be heard. It certainly adds to the overall “realness” of the movie, making it all the scarier. The screams started to wear on me towards the end, but I suppose that's the only real reaction to a situation like the one Sally was in. There is some social commentary in the movie with “man” being the monster, but it is subtle enough where the audience may not even notice it. The acting is believable throughout the movie which helps give the movie a realistic feel. Basing some of the characters of the real-life killer Ed Gein helped bring this feeling to life. I have read that the movie is supposed to have a documentary-type feel, but I didn't pick up on that notion.

Just take a little off the top

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a simple, brutal film. The story is extremely basic which may surprise some people who may be expecting something more complex than just “young people are killed by maniacs because they happen to be there.” Once you realize that that is the purpose of the movie, it's frees the audience to become enveloped by the horror. The movie is a little slow until the killing starts and the last quarter of the movie is full of violence and excitement. There isn't as much gore as I expected, which is fine, because the movie is still plenty scary. Tobe Hooper is able to capture the horror well with his creative camera work and real-world setting. Though the sequels are questionable and some downright terrible, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is well worth your time.



  1. I think that the low budget also works for this movie. You feel like you're watching a home movie, not a horror film.

    While I hate most of the sequels I gotta tell you to check out Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It's intentionally funny due to Tobe Hooper having NO desire to make a sequel. When he was begged to do it (over a decade later during the Slasher Sequel craze) he went as over the top as possible in hopes of not getting asked to make a part 3. I fucking love how much of a fuck you that movie is (plus Dennis Hopper is NUTS in it). Hooper also says that the original has dark comedy in it that gets over looked by the hyper realism of it, hence this one focusing more on the ridiculous. I still love the original TCM

    1. Yeah that's a good point. A lot of the exploitation films of that time were done on the cheap, but it made them more effective. I'll have to check out #2 because over-the-top Dennis Hopper is always fun.