“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” directed by Tobe Hooper, is a landmark film in the annals of American horror cinema. In its portrayal of Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding lunatic, it is a precursor to the slasher sub-genre inhabited by numerous other fringe-dwellers wielding a cornucopia of sharp-edged objects, including the legendary Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. The film’s cinema verite style gives it a frighteningly gritty realism, the influence of which can be seen in the infamous “Cannibal Holocaust” and the controversial “Blair Witch Project”.
The film follows the exploits of a group of young adults cruising through the barren wastelands of rural Texas in a dilapidated van. The group includes Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), and her disabled brother Franklyn (Paul Partain), who want to investigate their grandfather’s possibly vandalized grave. They pick up a bizarre hitchhiker who sets fire to a photograph of the group before he is kicked out of the van. Little do they know that they are now marked for a grisly end. After stopping at a gas station run by a peculiar old man (Jim Siedow), they decide to stop at the Hardesty siblings’ grandfather’s abandoned farmhouse. As the group partakes in the requisite foolish investigation of the surrounding property, they run afoul of the hitchhiker, the old man, and the aforementioned Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen). Needless to say, carnage ensues.
One of the most effectively unsettling aspects of the film is its sense of realism. Director Hooper filmed on location in Texas, and hired unknowns to play all of the roles. The film stock itself has a grainy washed out look, evoking a ‘found footage’ feel. As a friend of mine and son of the Lone Star state informed me, the movie “feels like Texas”; something sorely lacking in the film’s 2003 remake (among other things). Those who have not seen “TCM” might be surprised to know that it relies more on suggestion than actual gore to frighten the audience. The kills in the movie, while undoubtedly brutal, happen very swiftly. The camera does not linger on the action after the fact. Instead of viscera flying around the room, the film utilizes the pervasive dread inherent in the isolated locations. The gradual narrative further provokes the anxiety, as a relatively benign opening slowly transforms into an inescapable nightmare.
This movie has received a more positive reception from the mainstream critical establishment than most horror films. It was selected for the 1975 Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight, and the Museum of Modern Art acquired a print of the movie for its permanent film collection. These accolades are well deserved, as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is not just a great horror movie; it is a great piece of cinema in general terms.
©2010 – 2011 Cinematic Horror Archive, Dave J. Wilson – All work is the property of the credited author(s) and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.