Get ready to hit those Texas back roads in this week's Film Appreciation as Jay Burleson reminisces about Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre!
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Stars Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Jim Siedow,
Edwin Neal, and Gunnar Hansen
For added effect in this appreciation, I am uploading images from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre off a MEDIA VHS copy of the film that I've had for years. I remember the film in this quality--made more sinister by the fading VHS effects-- and hope that it resonates with some of you who grew up watching the film the same way I did.
After my mom introduced me to Friday the 13th and Halloween, she finally got around to showing me a movie that she described as one of the scariest of them all. While on vacation at my grandmother's, she rented me The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and even now I can still see the gritty images from that day in my head. It's strange how many of these horror movies left me with memories of my initial viewing. Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Texas Chain Saw all bring back vivid flashes of places and faces from many, many years ago.
My mom introduced Chain Saw to me as one of the scariest ever, and while attending a sold out screening of The Blair Witch Project a few years later, a woman warned my mother and I that it was the scariest film she'd ever seen-- since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. My mom would later say that the woman had been wrong to list Blair Witch in the same league as Chain Saw, but that's a different story.
Chain Saw has the reputation of being one of the scariest films ever, but more so than that, of being one of the most creepy and disgusting. This is interesting when you look at how little is actually shown in the film. It's all in the grit and grime of that Texas heat and the 16mm film stock that it's shot on. The worn down locations full of animal skin and bones scorching in the real summer heat also add their own touch to the mad and macabre. The interesting shot selection mixed with these other elements allow Chain Saw Massacre to openly crawl inside your head more freely than any horror film I know of, but it never feels pushy or as if it's trying to shock you.
The story is simple. We're told that the film is based on true events, and we then witness a group of 20-somethings enjoying an average afternoon in Texas. When they stumble upon a home occupied by crazy cannibal lunatics, things go downhill fast. Leading the way into the crazy is Edwin Neal in the role of the Hitchhiker. The film plays off the possibility of the hitchhiker you picked up actually being nuts, and the lingering fear that you're not far enough away from him if he actually decided to do something to you. Unfortunately for our group of kids, the Hitchhiker is the least of their worries when it comes down to it.
Marilyn Burns plays Sally Hardesty, our main heroine, and does a fantastic job. All of the main group of actors are great at being believable as normal, everyday people, and that lends a lot to the realism of the terror we witness. Marilyn is a cut above though, but this isn't anything along the lines of the final girls from Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street. Sally battles with her invalid brother Franklin as they are stranded once darkness falls and their actions are ugly and real to human nature. Marilyn does a great job at everything she's asked to do here, from playing sweet and innocent, to going batshit crazy by the end. It's a shame that she didn't do more film work throughout the years.
The main bad guy here is Leatherface, not a super tough killer, but an overweight man wearing real human skin as a mask and toting a really big chainsaw. We don't know why he wears the mask or why he doesn't speak, and one can dig into his mental state in any way they please. Gunnar Hansen plays him very effectively and makes Leatherface much more than just a stuntman running around with a chainsaw.
The characters that wind up victims here are treated no differently than cattle lined up for slaughter. Just more good meat for the next cooking. I know friends that have questioned their own love for hamburgers after viewing this film. I've also had numerous conversations with some of the same friends that revolve around us quoting Paul Partain's character as he wheels around in his wheelchair screaming out, "SALLY!! SALLY!"
Chainsaw Massacre is more than just a movie, like any great movie, it becomes part of our lives and integrates its way into our own dialogue and daily activity. My friends Joseph and Bart used to hang out and drink beer with me at an old abandoned house on my dad's property. We considered this house our "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" house as it felt like something out of the movie. We always talked about making our own movie there, but it was torn down before we got the chance. Chain Saw has both horrified and inspired me, and one day I hope to make that next great horror movie, to make the next film that people stop you as you usher into the theatre and say, "This one is the scariest I've seen since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre."