The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

My wife and I have gotten into the season and we’ve been watching scary movies. During these moods, she often gets curious about the “classics” that she hasn’t seen (or hasn’t seen since she was a kid.) So last night I suggested the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre which she had not seen before.

If you haven’t seen it, ‘tis the season so give it watch. I’ll try not to spoil anything but you’ve been warned.

I haven’t seen it since probably high school and boy-howdy does it land every time. What struck me this time was restrained it was in terms of characterization and gore. It’s really about atmospheric dread and forcing the audiences brain to go to truly nightmarish conclusions about upholstery and Texas chili. The same can be said about our protagonists/victims. Even if they’re pretty shallow, they’re as deep as they need to be. Especially Sally, our sole survivor. Because by the end of the movie, you may not know who that person was, but it doesn’t matter because that person will never be the same. When I think about Friday the 13th there’s not much to anyone, and relies more on the twist than getting into the head of the sole survivor.

It goes to show you that less can be more. There’s a reason why it’s in the Top 5 U.S. Horror Movies, though I would rank it higher. If you want spooks, this film delivers.

Even, my wife enjoyed it! I knew it left her with the right amount of chills when at that final flashbulb sound she gave an audible shudder.

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The story behind this movie is absolutely insane, and probably worthy of its own movie, especially all the food in the dinner scene rotting under the lights and making everyone hallucinate that they really were a bunch of hillbilly cannibals (and Vietnam vet Edwin Neal calling it worse than anything he went through in the war).

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The other thing about 'Saw is the tone, in comparison to the many slashers that followed it. It is not a fun movie, at all. Even with the restrained gore it is brutal and oppressive. The first kill (the hammer) has to be one of the greatest shocks to an unsuspecting audience, ever. And the dinner scene is nigh impossible to watch (knowing the story behind that shoot really makes it even worse!)

A true classic and a great example of horror made by someone who actually wanted the audience to be scared.

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@TheDoktor and @RyanLohner: you are exactly right about that final scene. It sounded terrible and - it shows. It makes for compelling madness but it clearly came at a cost. During that scene, when the laughing montage cuts to an extreme close up of Sally’s eye, my wife was a little shocked at the state of them peepers. I then informed of the conditions of that production and that scene in particular. Her response was: “well who’s idea was it for her to scream all the time!” Low budget as it was, a 27 hour day is inhuman. It serves the purpose for better or worse.

Yeah, it’s not a fun movie by any measure, but compared to even contemporary not-fun films like Midsommer - TCM is at least, brief.

Plus who can’t laugh a little bit at this?
image

I’m sure I’ve seen the sequel, but I don’t remember a thing about it and I know I’ve seen the Renée Zellweger movie on cable long ago. Haven’t bothered to see any of the remakes. Hard to imagine anything can reach this tier. It’s one of those ‘right place, right time’ kind of movies.

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Yeah, I agree totally, I think a big reason for that is that Tobe Hooper was really a solid working man’s filmmaker (that never got the respect he deserved) whereas Ari Aster in everything I’ve seen of him strikes me as someone who gets high off the smell of his own farts, quite frankly (“Elevated Horror.” Oh please.) I think that line of being truly horrifying without causing the audience to just be completely disgusted is really tough to walk. Hooper did it, whereas many can not… a good example for me would be the films from the New French Extremity movement, such as Inside or Martyrs… I’m a certified horror fanatic, but even I can’t get into those. The sheer nihilism just makes it actively unpleasant and I tune them out.

On a lighter note, haha, that very last scene reminds me of the 80’s Teen Comedy, Summer School (featuring Mark Harmon) with the two boys that were obsessed with this movie,
Chainsaw and Dave, when they got their teacher to do a showing of this in their class -

“Oh don’t worry, that’s not a real person, that’s a stuntman.”

Classic proto-riffing.

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Oh, I find this true even outside of horror. I love Cassavettes and Kubrick but I’ve got to be a certain mood to watch 2001 or Killing of a Chinese Bookie - namely hours in a day.

So, yeah, as much as I think TCM is brilliant and worth revisiting, can’t say this is gonna be a Halloween tradition. Maybe every other year. Maybe.

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I own the (excellent) Dark Sky blu-ray, but I maybe watch it once a year, tops. It’s more art appreciation than entertainment. Even when I’m hanging out with my one horror-fanatic friend and we’re in the mood to watch something just totally extreme, we’ll tend to something more “fun.” Like Re-Animator, for instance.

We actually kicked off our annual October Grindhouse month this past weekend with Jakob’s Wife, that was a fun one too.

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“LOOK WHAT YOUR BROTHER DID TO THE DOOR!”

It’s like murderous John Waters movie. More murderous, anyways.

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You know, this is probably one of the few violent horror movies of great renown/fame that I haven’t seen.

But this comment puts it over the edge: I WILL see it!

I must! John Waters+murder+insider-intrigue? No question can be had!

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There really isn’t that much onscreen violence. The movie’s real magic is that all the worst gore is just in your mind, extrapolating from what’s onscreen.

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Well, around here we tried to enjoy Hellraiser last night as part of the October Scare-O-Rama. I gave it a miss when it opened (despite loving horror movies) and no one in this household felt it had anything going for it. I would be interested in anyone’s take on why it spawned three sequels.

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@Winchesters oh, it sparked more than three.

I haven’t seen the Hellraiser films in some time but I remember liking Hellraiser II better and Hellraiser: Inferno was a lot better than it had any right to be. But time and drugs have wilted any strong memories I have of the canon.

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Oh, it spawned WAY more than 3… but really only the first two are really good (along with parts of Bloodline and Inferno. Hollywood kind of missed the point of what Clive Barker was doing with that story.

(Also there are a remake movie AND TV series in the works… who knows how they’ll turn out.)

But for me, the first two are truly great. However, they def aren’t for everyone, between the extreme gore and the S&M inspired themes. I think what I like about them is the real sense of an almost Lovecraftian mythos behind it all, with the Cenobites being these strange “priests” of a religion that explores the outer reaches of pain… it’s almost abstract. Plus the design and FX work are iconic.

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Not to mention that Resident Evil 7 intentionally threw down some serious Massacre vibes to set the stage:


Edit: Im ignoring the Evil Dead references for the sake of this post, but to me RE7 is a delicious Evil Dead and Texas Chainsaw Sandwich

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A seminal watershed of 70s filmmaking, Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece and a drive into madness is difficult to top. Launching on a black screen, we then voyage to space and land staring at a corpse. The John Larroquette intro sets the stage and we dread what’s ahead.

A hot uncomfortable trip grinds on us increasing with every mile. Horoscopes, no gas, and a strange hitchhiker throw fuel on the fire as we are glued to the screen. Authenticity and filmmaking were never better married. The whole of 80s slashers practically copies its form. Inquisitive visitors knocking on strange doors and bad stuff happening would be cliche in another decade.

Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen inhabit iconic roles and bleed reaity into their every move. Her screaming meltdown and his chainsaw dance are cherries on a terrifying recipe. The slow shift into madness feels complete and hasn’t been matched by anything since.

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The first movie is messed up, and has a grit and effectiveness and conveys the feeling of insanity on a hot day more than anything I’ve ever seen. It really feels like a document of madness. It succeeds in being authentic Texas horror in a way that say, Manos, doesn’t.

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I love this movie to pieces. It conveys an all-consuming sense of dread and menace that most horror films WISH they could deliver. It plays on your senses to the point where you can feel the mugginess and smell the rancidness of it all (although you really wish you couldn’t).

It doesn’t resort to buckets of blood and instead launches a psychological barrage against the viewer. THAT’S KEY. As was noted earlier, it lets stuff play out in your head, and THAT’S monstrous. Case in point, Leatherface’s entrance, the way he makes his impression felt. YOWZA.

And that buildup. MY GOD, the buildup. Just a perfectly toned and conducted escalation of horror all throughout, how we go from unease to full-on anxiety attack by the time we get to that masterful closing scene.

There’s only one horror movie I hold higher in my esteem, and that’s Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead.

Modern horror can make/take a lot of missteps. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre feels like it could serve as a tutorial to aspiring filmmakers, saying, “Hey… dig how this is done. You don’t need that terrible crazy editing and gallons upon gallons of fake blood to get in your viewer’s head.” Granted, no modern horror movie should ever have a behind-the-scenes story that’s as purely chaotic as TCM’s, but still, the point stands.

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Films that are similar I hold the same esteem for? Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962), William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) [Theatrical Cut], Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), and Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Varying work yet each given an unbridled intensity distinctive to itself and unique to the genre.

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The fact that it has so little gore but is remembered as a “splatter” film provides evidence for one of my central theses about horror films: Effective ones are doomed to be excoriated by “decent members of society”.

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Same with Frankenstein (1931), Freaks (1932), Psycho (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), and Halloween (1978) when they released. The commentary and buzz reflected the impact of the films much more than what appeared onscreen.