The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

texaschainsawposterDuring a recent trip to Seattle we hit up the EMP Museum, which offers exhibits exploring modern popular culture. There’s a pretty decent section of the museum dedicated to horror films, and it probably comes as no surprise that was my favorite part. While I don’t usually find myself interested in watching videos at museums, there were little nooks dedicated to particular films and their impact on the genre. One such nook was dedicated to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the talking heads did a good enough job lauding the film that Q, not being a fan at all of the film the first time he saw it, was convinced he should give it another go. When our local midnight movie venue played it last weekend, we cautiously bought our tickets.

Surely the story is not new to you: wheelchair-bound Franklin and his sister Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) travel to a small country town in Texas to make sure their grandfather’s corpse is intact after they hear news of a rash grave-robbings. Franklin and Sally brought a few friends along, because what’s more fun than going to a remote town in Texas in the sweltering summer heat to confirm your granddaddy’s corpse is where it should be? On their way back home, the group makes the mistake of picking up a very strange hitchhiker. After doing some creepy shit, dude cuts himself and freaks everyone out. They scramble to kick the guy out of their van and head towards a gas station so they can fuel up and get the hell out of Dodge.

But, oh no! The gas station manager informs the youthful group that he ain’t got no gas: his supply truck hasn’t arrived yet. He advises them they should gnaw on some of his delicious barbecue while waiting for the gas guy to show up. Franklin instead thinks it would be better to check out grandpa’s old place down the road, maybe hit up that watering hole and cool off while they’re waiting for the gas. The station manager doesn’t think it’s such a great idea for the kids to go out that way, especially not those pretty little ladies, but two spooky weirdos isn’t enough to scare these kids away from checking out a dilapidated old house down the road even though they’re running low on gas so they throw caution to the wind and head towards the old Hardesty place.

There is no escaping Leatherface.

There is no escaping Leatherface.

The old house doesn’t offer much entertainment; some animal skeletons, some peeling wallpaper but not much else, so the lovey-dovey couple Kirk & Pam head off to find this famed watering hole. Find it they do, but unfortunately it’s long dried up. In the distance, Kirk can see a house with a generator, maybe that’s a great place to ask if they have any gasoline to spare! Pam is not so hot on the idea, especially when Kirk finds a tooth on the front porch! But Kirk is insistent. Finally he just walks in the door, only to be greeted by a chainsaw-wielding, skin-mask-wearing maniac. It’s all downhill from here.

Holy shit, this is one effective mother-fuckin’ horror movie. Its impact on the genre probably can’t be overstated, and after seeing it again (and on the big screen, yowza) it’s obvious why. Pretty sure I walked out of the theater saying it is the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. I’m not just talking about pop-up, jumpy scares, I mean it is legitimately frightening. It is filmed on a very small budget, but it doesn’t suffer a lick from it – in fact, its cheapness only adds to the seedy, skeevy, sweaty, greasy feeling this movie leaves all over its audience. The thought of a guy wearing a skin mask chasing you with a chainsaw is pretty scary in itself, but the atmosphere Tobe Hooper manages to create with this film turns everything up to eleven.


This is pretty much how I felt when the movie was over, too.

On top of that, the acting is, somehow, totally believable. These characters do some really ridiculously stupid things, but never enough to really remove me from the action of the movie. Marilyn Burns screams her fucking head off probably for ten minutes straight, and it is totally convincing. Speaking of screams, the talking heads at EMP went on and on about how audio really helped make this movie successful in achieving its horrific goals, and I have to agree. The music is fucking creepy as all hell, screechy and unsettling. That coupled with the seemingly never-ending roar of Leatherface’s chainsaw was immensely unnerving.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is without a doubt one of the most unsettling and horrifying films I’ve ever seen. That being said, I think I actually really, really disliked it. There was a time in my life where Ienjoyed witnessing the power of horror film in action and relished being the victim of a horror director’s sick and twisted whims. It was this time in my life that I first saw this movie, which would explain my previous five-star rating of the film. But I think that time is now over, and instead of enjoying my time with Leatherface & Co., I felt terribly, uncomfortably implicated in a torture-session of epic proportions. That of course speaks volumes to the film’s success; it definitely achieved what it set out to do, I guess that is just a game I am far more wary of playing now than I was in my younger years.

On our way home, Q and I discussed whether or not The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a film either of us would recommend to the horror-curious. Being that the film laid the groundwork for many slasher flicks to come, I would feel like not having seen it would be a big, gaping hole in your horror-film merit badge collection. At the same time, I couldn’t rightly recommend it without fair warning. Proceed with extreme caution: watch only if you are prepared for an hour and a half of relentless sickness, torture, noise, horror and pain!


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