The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
1974. Directed by Tobe Hooper.
Controversial. Appalling. Rebellious.
Tobe Hooper’s infamous masterpiece is a blue collar shocker that stalwartly remains one of the most seminal horror films ever conceived.
Five teenagers set out on a road trip across the blistering Texas back roads. They pick up a hitchhiker whose bizarre behaviors are a harbinger of the horrific events waiting to befall them. When they discover a decrepit farmhouse, the teens unwittingly come face to face with a taxidermic nightmare, a grotesque clan of backwoods killers who are looking for new additions to their congregation of flesh.
The combination of gruesome visuals and sweaty, screen door, Americana cover every inch of this slaughterhouse menagerie. Using a false premise, insinuating that the story actually occurred was a brilliant choice, evoking a lost America, steeped in esoteric pig’s blood and mud caked,work boots. Virtually every set could be plucked from a house the viewer has no doubt passed on an endless familial road trip as a child. The victims are realistically foolhardy and the violence is both brutal and unusually rapid, with most executions happening instantly. It’s the aftermath of the initial onslaught that garnered the film’s notorious reputation.
Daniel Pearl’s cinematography has a vintage quality that gives everything a secondhand feel, using psychedelic oranges to contrast the rustic blues and greens of the locale. The woods and surrounding environs of the farmhouse are captured with lush wide shots while the interior of the house is shot in a confusing procession of odd angles and extreme closeups. During the final act, everything switches to restrained voyeurism, including a wonderful long take of the family’s patriarch being brought downstairs for “dinner”. Robert Burns’s art direction has a repulsive quality that is the perfect accomplice. From the iconic skin mask of Leatherface to the otherworldly interiors of the house, the most frightening aspect of the film is the idea of what has already transpired, rather than the impending atrocities.
Almost every member of the cast was injured during production, Marilyn Burns as Sally and Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface display a torturous amount of body work. Budget constraints required that most of the cast do their own stunts, one of which involved a live chainsaw being perilously close an actor’s neck. Real blood was used in one of the film’s more dubious scenes and Burns’s costume was so saturated in theater blood that it had almost completely calcified when filming concluded.
The film was banned in several countries for its depiction of apathetic violence, and yet, for a horror film, the actual on screen bloodshed is remarkably tame when put against modern contemporaries in the genre. The combination of lighting effects and Larry Caroll and Sallye Richardson’s serrated film editing leave the bulk of the gore to the viewer’s subconscious. Hooper and Wayne Bell’s nails on chalkboard soundtrack is the final piece, using an industrial arsenal to mimic Leatherface’s primal savagery.
Available now on Amazon Prime and Huluplus, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an outstanding piece of terror that is essential viewing for any film fan. This is one of the horror titans, using a wonderful combination of independent film tactics to produce a blood slicked masterwork. On the surface, this is a legendary slasher film, but deeper examination reveals a thoughtful horror film that delivers unforgettable imagery and a thought provoking commentary on post Vietnam America’s specious grandeur.
Highly. Highly Recommend.