I can’t remember the first time I saw this flick but it was a while ago, and I was far too young. I remember liking it but one scene really got to me and it would haunt my childhood for years to come. Our heroine of the tale is trying to make it out of the house of horrors alive and I think she’s close. but then we see down a hallway and a large and heavy door is torn open, behind it stands Leatherface. He runs down the hall, grabs the girl and drags her back into his room to play with some more. It’s brutal, effective, and still makes me shudder, just a little, in the dark, when I’m alone watching this flick. Now, the reason this scene got me was because it seemed like every house I’ve ever lived in since has had a long hallway with a door at the end of it and my cinematic brain can’t see that hallway without knowing Leatherface is at the end of it waiting to run at me and drag me away for untold pain. That’s what this movie is to me.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was made in 1974 by a promising young man named Tobe Hooper. He was inspired by the terrible cannibalistic killer case of Ed Gein and wrote a script about a cannibal family in Texas who terrorise passing young things. Hooper even presents the film as being a true account of what had actually occurred for real. This was years before Fargo, or the internet, so I can only imagine the stir this caused. We follow a van full of the usual horror fare as they travel to a cemetery to investigate some vandalism. It’s a simple set-up but executed well before this was the trope. Hooper pioneers many of the slasher tropes as he has his young squad ready to die, a hulking killer whose identity is secret, and he even uses a machine for the killing, in the eponymous chainsaw, well before Driller Killer and the like took to garden sheds everywhere looking for the next iconic death dealing weapon.
The kids need gas and this leads them to hanging around, asking strangers for gas, and having no viable means of escape. Simple and brilliant. From there Hooper introduces the madness. They make their way to a homestead in which our crazed family live. They are then picked off one by one but it’s more than just a slasher flick, this is a tense situation presented in such muted tones that you feel like you’re watching an education reel from a school. It’s gritty, sun bleached, and you just can’t escape it.
Our antagonist, Leatherface, is an interesting creation because he is so damn scary. He’s a large man, or man-child, and he wears a dirty butcher’s apron. He doesn’t speak but clearly conveys emotions. He takes a pride in his work of killing people but not some absent glee. This is just a man good at his job. He also wears the skins of previous victims on his face, hence the name, and it makes for a distinctly creepy look. Leatherface has lived on as a slasher icon ever since but originally he was just a character and a surprisingly well played one.
The house itself is an interesting character for the piece because upon entry our leads find all sorts of batshit crazy accoutrements. Furniture made out of bones, that sort of thing, and plenty of spare chicken feathers. The house is almost like a character, or at least it is inside the minds of these gruesome characters. We find Leatherface’s family and they’re no better than their progeny. The patriarchal grandfather is wheeled out to make a sacrificial kill but his frail hands can’t hold the hammer anymore. Yeah, the family want him to bludgeon one of the girls to death with a hammer and drain her into a bucket. This family is all shades of messed up.
The atmosphere of the flick is pretty constant, it’s graphically shocking. Audiences at the time were known to faint and need to leave the cinema due to the graphic nature of what they were seeing, which is interesting indeed. There were buttons handed out stating ‘I Survived The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. One man, upon walking out of the cinema, was asked what the most gruesome part was, he cited the moment where the girl gets hoisted up and loaded onto a butcher’s hook. He describes how we see the hook pierce into her flesh and how bloody it was. Now this is interesting if you’ve ever actually seen the flick because your memory may vary. The girl does indeed get picked up by Leatherface and stuck off the ground on a butcher’s hook, but we don’t really see anything of it. In fact, with all of the killing and chainsaw hacking going on it might surprise many to know that there’s only really one scene of explicit violence, and that comes at the end when Leatherface glances his own thigh with his own blade. We see the chainsaw cut into flesh and muscle (an interesting effect created by placing a metal place on the actor’s leg and putting some steak over it to be cut into, simple but highly effective). The people claiming to have seen so much more are either two things; 1, they have a very good imagination and have been sucked in by the power of film to make you fill in the gaps yourself, or 2, they are fantastic promoters of the film who wanted to spread word that it was gorier than it truly was but still drum up support so it became the success that it was. Either way, it’s interesting.
I’d rate this flick as being possibly the scariest horror film I could think to show anyone, and certainly the only one I’d describe as gut-wrenching. This flick drips tension and the image of Leatherface is something that can only live on in nightmares and probably should have been left to its single movie as the rest of the flicks never did him justice. The sequel is worth a look, if you’re into perverse 80’s headcheese, but otherwise stick with the classic, you’ll never go wrong.
Check out this flick if you want to freeze-frame pin point exactly when budget horror stopped being Cormanesque schlock and started being underground brilliance. This flick is scary today, imagine what it did to audiences back then. The panic on the screen practically drips and all of the actors do a damn fine job. And there’ll always be something about that little dance Leatherface does at the end that’ll grab me. It’s certainly something.
I give The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 9.5 headcheeses out of a possible 10.
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