The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history…
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, Gunnar Hansen
Review by Jordan
I believe it was master storyteller John Carpenter who spoke of how audiences like to be scared; stating that historically we have trusted the respectable, somewhat predictable (though still often hugely suspenseful) style of the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, James Whale and perhaps more recently Sam Raimi who will terrify us, but not “too” much… the majority of us enjoy the fun-house horror film engineered for goose-bump inducing thrills, and though we may attest to bravely seeking out more than this, rare is the viewer that actively does.
In 1974, with his tale of five friends traveling cross country in a fuel-depleted, barren American landscape, Tobe Hooper scared audiences “too” much.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre crossed the boundaries of acceptability. There was no defined structure, hero or solution; no proper narrative of good vs. evil with a concrete ending. From the opening disclaimer (see above), to the narration of a radio announcer detailing a grave-robbing epidemic while corpses are lit up by the flash of a camera and especially once our group of hapless hippies regrettably pick up a crazed hitchhiker there is a sense of unease that just continues to grow, and grow, and grow… until Kirk (William Vail) ventures too far into a strangers farmhouse and past a sliding door where he is met by the leathery face of death itself.
When Kirk crosses this realm, has his neck horrifically cracked by the immense, quick force of a mallet coming down on his head and the door then slams shut from the inside, leaving us only being able to imagine the unspeakable human evil lurking on the other side, we realize (unsuspecting audiences at the time more so) that we are in the hands of a film-maker that we cannot trust at all.
The tagline for Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (released 2 years earlier in 1972) famously stated: To Avoid Fainting, Keep Repeating, It’s Only a Movie… but at what point does this no longer ring true? Is Salo (1975) only a movie? being a film for which it’s director, Pier Paolo Passolini was killed? What about The Exorcist (1973) with it’s strange cases of on-set interference and the nightmares it caused an entire generation of film-goers? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, born out of a country politically and socially at war with itself as well as Vietnam, is one of the first examples of a cinematic journey that was loathed by many for terrorizing audiences using unestablished methods and harnessing the unstable climate of it’s environment, thoroughly triggering those elements of our psyche’s that cause us great unease but render us unable to turn away, so it’s not just a movie at all. It’s a landmark, an event, and its lucky that the rest of the viewers realized that Mr Hooper was in fact onto something…
Dreamed up while it’s director was waiting in line at a hardware shop, contemplating that a chainsaw would be useful to stave off the bustling crowds swarming around him, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains to this day one of the scariest films ever made; not just overshadowing its imitators, but sawing them right in half. It’s ironic then, that perhaps its most hauntingly memorable moment is on with no violence at all, when “Grandfather,” with his frail body and lack of strength (he struggles to even hold the mallet let alone use it), tries to maim sole survivor Sally while his family of slaughterhouse workers cheer him on. Played almost for laughs, no other scene puts us in the victim’s state of mind quite like this one, showing us that to the deviated and the murderous occupants of this particular farmhouse there is a joke at play, and we’re certainly not in on it…