DIRECTOR: Tobe Hooper
Paul A. Partain
When a sister, her wheelchair-bound brother and three of her friends visit the sibling's grandfather's grave in Texas. Their trip soon turns into an unimaginable horror when they come upon an old farmhouse that houses a family of cannibalistic psychopaths. The group of friends will need to fight for their lives as they are hunted down one by one by a madman who brandishes a chainsaw.
When I began working in my local video shop. I still remember the VHS cover for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre so vividly. The VHS cover featured the scene with Pam on the meat hook. The cover also had several warnings that said it was not to be viewed by children and an R18+ rating. So being fourteen years of age when I started work and seeing that cover, it felt illegal that I was able to witness such horrors. It terrified me. I think for the first couple of years of seeing that cover, I had hyped up the movie to be more horrific and gruesome than it turned out to be. The film while an exercise in terror was actually not gory.
As I've mentioned in several previous reviews. I really didn't start to love horror until my late teens. It wasn't until the 2003 remake was announced that I mustered up the courage to watch the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I went into the original film expecting something far more sickening just based on what my mind had conjured up over the years. With a title like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I went in expecting an absolute bloodbath. The success of a great title and marketing campaign.
On my first viewing of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I was surprised to find that I had watched the film without reaching for a bucket. When I first started getting into horror movies, I had a weak stomach, so to speak. What I found after watching the movie was that it had very little blood and gore in it. What I did enjoy though was that the movie actually genuinely made me uncomfortable. It was able to get under my skin and stay there. The movie on repeated viewings soon became one of my all-time favourite horror films. I found that I could return to it over and over again and it never lost any of that spark.
Rewatching it this weekend for the first time in several years. The movie has become a movie that I hold in such high regard. I now think it rests firmly in my top five films of all time. From the very first moments that John Larroquette's narration beings and we get that jarring and horrifying flashbulb sound effects against quick-cut images of decomposing corpses. It sets the mood immediately. It has the audience already on the edge of their seats, and it gets under your skin. This is a movie that repeatedly does that over the next hour and a half. A testament to Tobe Hooper's vision.
It's well known by now that the shooting conditions on the set were rough. The heat in Texas drove the cast insane. The cast was put through the ringer, and Tobe Hooper wasn't very well liked once shooting had wrapped. Location and mood are everything to a horror movie, and they get the most out of both here in the original. Watching the film, it feels like you are suffering with these characters as the summer sun and heat bears down on them. The rotting corpses and skeletal remains all through the house. You can only imagine what this smelt like for the cast and crew when that heat hit. Both elements really do play a big part in this film and are successful.
I'm not a person who notices scores for film that much. I failed Music in High School. Next to Law Studies, it was my worst subject. So when I listen to a score for a movie that really hits home, it is something that I need to talk about. Drive-In Horror Show recently tweeted me and said that the score for Texas Chain Saw Massacre sounds as if it was recorded in Hell. They are absolutely right. The score for this film is chilling. It has an industrial quality to it. The closest thing I can think is it almost sounds like the score for Silent Hill. I love the use of a lot of homemade sounds thrown into the mix. It makes it even more unsettling.
The cinematography for this film is brilliant. When I originally watched this movie as a teenager, I didn't pick up on a lot of the camera setups or cinematography by Daniel Pearl. I thought it was just low-budget filmmaking. Rewatching it and listening to a lot of tributes talk about it recently. I really began to notice the camera work in the film. The tracking shot that leads up to the Sawyer house that begins maneuvering under a bench swing is proof of sheer creativity. I loved the juxtaposition of wide open Texan landscapes in one moment which is followed by close-up shots of roadkill or eyeballs. I really feel ashamed that I never noticed that before.
The acting in the film is excellent. I think Marilyn Burns as Sally is outstanding. The final moments where she is hysterically crying which turns into an insane laughter as she escapes alone is enough to cement her in the horror hall of fame. The scene at the dining table is also fantastic. My only real gripe with the cast is Paul A. Partain as Franklin. He really is one of the most annoying characters ever put in a horror film. I thought he acted well, but his constant complaining makes his death fantastic. I love that Gunner Hansen also made Leatherface, a sympathetic villain. You almost feel sorry for him. An unstoppable force who doesn't know why people keep entering his domain. I loved that about his performance.
When it comes to scares and tension, I think the original is a success in delivering on both. The first time that Leatherface is revealed, and he slams that giant metal door shut. That's the moment you know shit has hit the fan. The scene is intense. From that point on. The movie never stops delivering on the suspense. The dining room table scene is incredibly uncomfortable viewing. The ending is easily one of the most intense scenes in the history of cinema. Sally running down that driveway to safety is incredibly effective.
Lastly, when it comes to all of the gore and bloodshed. Texas Chain Saw Massacre is pretty light fare. We have moments that involve both death and violence, but most of what happens on the screen is all implied. It's a case of less is more here. The most gruesome moment is the mallet to the head. Pam on the meat hook scene which is also featured prominently on the poster is one of the least gruesome scenes. As the movie goes on, the more blood is used, but I've seen worse stuff on today's TV. By today's standard, this could have easily gotten an M rating here in Australia.
DEATH TOLL: 5
BLOOD AND GORE:
- We see a decomposing corpse placed on a gravestone.
- A hitchhiker cuts his own hand with a pocket knife.
- A woman is repeatedly hit in the head with a hammer.
- The Hitchhiker slices a mans arm with a straight razor.
- A man is hit in the head with a mallet twice.
- Human skeletal remains are found all over the house.
- A woman is hung on a meat hook.
- Leatherface uses a chainsaw to slice into someone's arm.
- A chainsaw falls onto a man's leg, cutting into it.
- A man is run over by a semi-trailer.
- A man in a wheelchair is sliced across the chest with a chainsaw.
- We see a woman have her finger cut open.
- A rotting corpse is found in a room.
- A woman is repeatedly hit with a stick.
- An elderly man drinks blood.
- A woman is repeatedly slashed across the back with a straight razor.
Most of the violence is implied.
Straight up, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of my favourite horror movies of all time. What I think it successfully achieved was the right amount of fear. It showed us that just as the whole Vietnam War was coming to an end and tensions were high. It showed true horror on America's back doorstep. While citizens were scared of what was happening overseas, this showed there was just as much to fear next door. With an incredibly jarring score, fantastic cinematography and an iconic villain. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has rightfully become one of the most classic pieces of horror cinema. A true masterwork that doesn't need buckets of blood or gore but can still remain incredibly scary.