The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Directed By - Tobe Hooper

Starring -
Marilyn Burns - Sally Hardesty
Paul A. Partain - Franklin Hardesty
Edwin Neal - Hitch-Hiker
Jim Siedow - Cook
Gunnar Hansen - Leatherface
Allen Danziger - Jerry
Teri McGinn - Pam
William Vail - Kirk
John Dugan - Grandfather

Year - 1974

Score - 4 Howls Outta 4

Why does Texas get such a bad rap? Maybe it's because of the Alamo. Maybe it's because the Bush family. Hell, it could be because of Jessica and Ashlee Simpson. Whatever the reason is, I don't think The Texas Chain Saw Massacre really helps create an idyllic portrait of the state. After watching this movie, I'm afraid to go there myself.

The movie takes place in 1973 in a small Texas town, where a group of five college students - Sally (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), Sally's boyfriend Jerry (Allen Danziger), and boyfriend-girlfriend pair Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn) - ride in their van to Sally's grandfather's grave [which was vandalized]. After they see the vandalized grave, they ride en route to their father's old home, where a disgusting odor alerts the group of a slaughterhouse nearby, which Franklin yaks and yaks about. They see a weird hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) on the road and since they're all intelligent human beings, they let the stranger inside the van. The hitchhiker, who works at the slaughterhouse [if you couldn't tell by the spots of blood all over his body], is a pretty wonky dude, cutting himself with a blade and then cutting Franklin when he refuses to buy a photo from him. They kick the hitchhiker out, who bizarrely marks the car with blood [which doesn't become so bizarre as the film goes on].

They stop by a gas station, where the Old Man (Jim Siedow) in charge tells them that the gas tanks are empty. When he's informed that the group is heading towards an old house nearby, the Old Man warns them not to go because the locals don't appreciate strangers intruding on their property. Franklin, probably the smartest one of the group, has a bad feeling about the whole thing. Yet, no one listens to him and heads over there anyway. They get there, looking through the run-down house, until Kirk and Pam decide to look for a swimming hole. They find it to be dry, but are intrigued by the sound of a generator at a nearby farmhouse. As Pam waits outside, Kirk heads inside the home asking for gas. As he enters deeper into the home, he's met by a huge man wearing human skin as a mask (our beloved Leatherface played by Gunnar Hansen). Leatherface slams Kirk in the head with a sledgehammer, dragging inside. One by one, all suffer similiar fates as they separate from the group and look for each other...leading to one of the most intense 40 minutes of cinema history.

There are only three movies today that still frighten me on different levels: The Exorcist [which I still can't watch alone or in the dark], Halloween [the music sends chills down my spine], and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That says alot for a movie that came out 32 years ago. Why is the movie still scary? There are multiple reasons.

One is the way the film is shot. It's grainy and looks shot by a cheap camcorder, giving it a documentary look. Tobe Hooper [who went on to direct another classic, Poltergeist] really lets the audience inside the world of this deranged Texas town. We see dead animals and corpses hung as decoration. The film isn't always in focus and it's sometimes overexposed. There's hardly any music - we're left to hear every bit of sound as if we were really there with the characters. The editing is jarring, adding to the film's use of insanity. The beginning where we see cattle ready to be slaughtered is edited in such a way that it's downright creepy as hell. The dinner sequence at the end with Sally uses over-the-top editing that goes from long shot, to close-up, to extreme close-up on Sally's horrified face that we don't normally see in today's films. It's very exaggerated and gratuitous, but that's pretty much the point. Our minds are caught up with the way the film's shot, and that makes us go crazy along with Sally as she's tormented and tortured by Leatherface and his family. The direction of this film succeeds on every level. For a low budget film, that's mighty impressive and inventive.

Some people don't like the acting in this film, but I love it. It doesn't seem rehearsed at all and it's like these people weren't acting period. Marilyn Burns as Sally was brilliant, in my opinion. She seems like a sweet girl who loves her boyfriend, but is annoyed by the fact that she has to take care of her invalid brother all the time. When she's the only one left, we really get involved with her character as she tries to escape Leatherface and his family for the last 40 minutes of the movie. It never lets up AT ALL, and it sucks us in, hoping she manages to escape as if OUR lives depended on it. Her terrifying screaming absolutely creeped me out, because she was not faking the terror. This woman was genuinely afraid for her life and she was getting hurt for real [she really got roughed up filming this film]. You feel for her and you can't believe something this bizarre is happening to her, and that makes the movie terrifying. Screw Jamie Lee Curtis - Ms. Burns is the original Scream Queen.

I also have to give credit to Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface. He was definitely intimidating with that damn chainsaw, but at the same time, we see that he's also human too [and deformed under that mask]. We never understand his motives or his past history, which makes him scary. Keeping his story under wraps was definitely a plus.

The other characters were okay too. Paul A. Partain as Franklin really annoyed the hell out of me because the guy would NOT shut up! "Sally?" "Sally!!" Ugh...I wanted Leatherface to hit him with that sledgehammer MULTIPLE TIMES. Just because he was in a wheelchair and couldn't do much of what the others could do didn't excuse him of being a pain in the ass. I heard Marilyn Burns was really annoyed with the actor because he stayed in character during the entire shoot. I couldn't stand him for the first half of the movie. I can't imagine 4 to 5 weeks of shooting. No wonder she went nuts at the end. The other three friends were decent, but were really lambs to the slaughter. They didn't add much to the film, but I liked them more than Franklin, so they did a good job.

Leatherface's family was hilarious though. Jim Siedow as the Old Man of the family cracked me up when he kept beating Sally with that stick as he drove her to the farmhouse. I know it's not something to laugh at, but the way it was done was so perverse that you couldn't help it. He pretty much abused Leatherface and his other son, the Hitchhiker, but it was done in a humorous way. Edwin Neal as the Hitchhiker was a crazy fuck if I ever saw one. I swore he wasn't acting and that dude creeped me out. I'll never pick up a hitchhiker for as long as I live if I have to go through the things those five kids did. And a shoutout goes to Grandpa (John Dugan). He didn't speak, but the guy looked like a living corpse who loved sucking on Sally's blood and clumsily hitting Sally with a small hammer. He cracked me up.

I really liked how there was hardly any blood in this movie. Yeah, people get hooked, sawed, and cut...but it's done with camera angles that makes it looked implied rather than actually seen. I believe that makes the situation scarier because it allows the imagination to run wild. My imagination also ran wild as to why Leatherface and his family did what they did to these people. Does Leatherface kill all the time, or only those who trespass on his property? Does the family consider this a fun activity in their sick minds? Why are they cannibals? Where did Leatherface get that exquisitive make-up and where can my female friends buy some? I liked not knowing much about this crazy family. Make the situation more realistic and frightening.

This movie creeps me the fuck out. Especially during the last half, which always keeps me on the edge of my seat, squirming, and terrified. I can't imagine how I'd come out of Sally's ordeal. Her so-called happy ending wasn't really too happy since she lost her damn mind. That's probably what would happen to me. This film comes close to a living nightmare as any other film could possibly come. This movie seriously wants to drive you nuts, and it comes close to succeeding, especially if you watch this in utter silence and darkness. Definitely one of the most horrifying films I have ever seen. Everything is fantastic [from the John Larroquette narration at the beginning to Leatherface's crazy dance at the end] and I definitely recommend this film to anyone who appreciates a TRUE horror movie. I think I put would this after the Exorcist as one of the scariest films of all time. I'm sticking to big cities, thank you very much.

1 comment:

  1. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobJune 8, 2009 at 8:42 PM

    i would have loved to have been on the set of this movie in `73, maybe i could have persuaded marilyn burns to let me bugger her.


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