MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, William Vail, Allen Danziger, Teri McMinn, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow; Narrated by: John Larroquette/Runtime: 83 minutes
I think it should be said that, in the long and storied history of the horror genre in cinema, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from 1974 is easily one of the more ruthless, vicious, and quite barbaric films made. Yet, unlike many ruthless films that assault your sight with buckets of blood and gore, this one chooses to go a different route and assault every single sense a person has all at the same time. Indeed what I mean by that is whereas quite a few films in the horror genre love decorating and adorning their settings with buckets of blood and body parts a’plenty, Tobe Hooper instead has crafted a film that chooses instead to conjure up a spine-chilling world where horrific things happen, and he does showcase quite horrendously terrifying and bloodcurdling things yet he also chooses not to show these things in their horrific entirety, but instead just enough to scare the daylights out of you, and make your bones cold with fear and your soul drenched with terror. Suffice it to say this is a film which delights scraping away your nerves inch by inch like a razor to a thick and bushy beard and is best showcased by a final act consisting of quite a bit of screaming vocally and anguish internally. A feat that the poor leading actress may personify perfectly, but that every viewer will recognize as existing within themselves as well. Indeed this film will manage to claw its way to your very core and not allow you any chance of escape, and yet, in an odd manner, this will ensure that you will wish not to escape due to being oddly captivated by this living nightmare. Thus, before I go too far, I guess you could say that the main thing that this movie is truly known for, besides possessing a villain who has become a part of the horror hall of fame, is being able to showcase not just terror at its most pure form, but also of genuine innocence coming into conflict with something so wicked and vile yet so basically primitive that you will not be able to do much, but stare in shock and awe while your stomach clenches up and quickly ties itself into knots you will have difficulty untying. Thus, and in case you hadn’t figured out yet, this is a rare film because it manages to be a genuine embodiment for the properties of terror, and the ingredients of horror. It is also a film that is potent and unrelenting and, has for the past 45+ years, served as a film that time and time again has always managed to terrify nearly every person who has watched it.
The plot is as follows: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes us back to the long gone time of August 1974, and tragically introduces us to a quintet of teens comprised of Sally, her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin, and their friends Pam, Jerry, and Kirk. Our intrepid group is traveling through that hot, sweltering, horrendous phenomenon known as Texas in the summertime to a nearby cemetery to figure out if a recent string of grotesque and eerie grave robbing has affected the grave of Sally and Franklin’s grandfather. Upon discovering, much to their relief, that it has been left untouched they head out, and are in the midst of their journey when they, against their better judgement, give a ride to a hitchhiker, only to find that he is a little bit…..strange. By that I mean not only does he take a picture of Franklin, and then destroy it, but he also cuts open his own hand, and takes a swipe at Franklin before being promptly removed from the van. Thinking that the worst is behind them, the group decides to head to Sally and Franklin’s grandparents’ place when they find themselves critical on fuel and the nearby gas station is currently waiting for their shipment of fuel to come in. However, what starts out as a relaxing and brief rest stop quickly turns into a terrifying nightmare when Kirk and Pam decide to leave the house in search of a river to cool off and take a swim in, and instead come across a run-down and older-looking farm that, unbeknownst to them, is the home to an insane and dysfunctional to a t family of butchers, who….let’s just say enjoy a specific kind of meat more than others, and the family’s main provider; a psychopathic and unhinged behemoth known as Leatherface who, promptly and terrifyingly, begins hunting down our group one by one thus initiating a battle for survival that will chill you to the bone, and is the stuff that true terror and nightmares are made of…..
Now even if you should choose to cast aside the mythos this film creates, turn your back on the film’s infamous legacy, or just have nothing to do it with the hype that smothers this film like a warm blanket on a winter’s day, the fact still remains that each person is able to see what they wish to see in this film because the film is unique in its approach to completely annihilating your senses of who you are as an individual, direction, how normal things are, and how safe you feel. Indeed this film is considered to be brutal and ruthless because it flat out it albeit it is a brutality that is more visceral than a lot of the blood and gore of quite a few of today’s horror films. Heck the film’s title in and out of itself is just as potent as anything seen on screen yet even that is more morbid due to the picture it conjures up in your head than what you actually witness unfold. Indeed right from the get-go the film pushes on audiences a horrible feeling of dread, intense Texas heat, being rundown, and terrifying oddity. In fact, I would say that it is, of all things, that the film’s graphic and quite long concentration on the removed, ruthless, yet oddly tolerated butchering of cattle that manages to be the definition of the whole movie right down to the molding of the antagonists. I say this because the antagonists in this film are a group of individuals who choose to hang on to some absurd yet romantic idea of what the old way was, a way that is so ingrained into their very person that they can no longer tell the difference between an animal and a person. Yet even if they could, it is their own long-since dissolved soul and all the time that they spent engaging in a life of horrific violence at the slaughterhouse that is to blame for who they have become. Make no mistake however, the antagonists in this are horrible, and insane, but, when they are in their home, they are considered normal thus it is this off-their-rocker manner of accepting and being complacent with who they are as well as their clinical, remorseless, almost inhuman manner of just butchering people that is one of the main contributing factors of how scary the film is. Indeed even though a person could not conjure up, let alone come to terms, with a way of live that is this detached and this indifferent to the lives of everyone else, yet here it is in front of your eyes and choosing to stay there especially when it comes to the film’s final act where only primitive screams, and humane loathing may be the only things which could oppose the nauseating activities of a family that has horrifyingly become completely separated psychologically from the way the world really is all around them.
Now it should also be noted that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre also manages to triumph in draining the emotion out of its audience due to the fact that this doesn’t look like some polished up Hollywood film of today, but rather like raw footage shot on a handheld of someone actually watching these crimes go down when they did. Indeed the potency of how this film was shot and photographed manage to exude a raw yet also grimy and gritty vibe that manages to lock in all the reprehensible developments that occur within the film. It should also be noted that there are no thought-provoking concepts at play in this film; rather this is a pure, through and through narrative which focuses on carnage and one person’s desperate fight for survival. Indeed this is a film meant to horrify and unnerve the daylights out of its audience while also negating them any kind of joy or hope and it most certainly does not want to give you a chance to catch your breath from the horror. Indeed from the terrifying screeching and shrieking flash bulb from a camera sounds at the beginning all the way to Leatherface’s eerie yet iconic tribal dance with a chainsaw at the end this is a film that honestly goes all-in and doesn’t let up for one single second. Coincidentally however, if you are the kind of person who wants your movie to teach something this film at least will teach you not to pick up hitchhikers, run out of gas on back roads in Texas, or leave home without some kind of weapon, preferably a firearm so at least it has that going for it in some people’s eyes. Yet in my opinion, I don’t think this film is designed to tell us a narrative, but rather to showcase a horror, and it also doesn’t choose to explain this horror, but merely to depict it as it is. I say this because this film is, most likely, one of the most potent, at least that is known in the mainstream, mixtures of sight-wise, vibe-wise, and mood/pathos-wise monstrosities ever put to celluloid. Yet even though it is one of the hardest-to-sit-through viewing experiences you may ever find yourself having, I also think that this is why this film is as effective as it turns out to be. That is because this film manages to strip away all superficiality, and showcase to us the very soul of what the Horror genre can be and truly is. Indeed the reality, as shown by this film, is that the Horror genre can be absolutely anything that those who partake in it want it to consist of plus allowing for the human psyche to actually place themselves in the middle of the terror and carnage. Not to imagine or see the horror that is occurring mind you, but rather to almost, in some weird way, experience it for ourselves, to know the spine-tingling and the overwhelming horror, and to come into contact with that thing within ourselves that not only signals when we are closer to death than ever before, but that also is the thing that lets us know that we are, somehow someway, still alive and well.
All in all it’s not much of a stretch to say that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is truly a wicked and quite brutal and animalistic-style film…..and it is for that reason that this film manages to be listed amongst the most potent films in the Horror genre ever made for audience consumption. Indeed while, to be fair, there are quite a few other films that have more style and polish not to mention a larger bankroll, the 2003 remake for this very film ironically among them, but I feel that few if any of those polished-up films is as potent, merciless, and nightmare-inducing as this one tends to be. Yet perhaps the most astonishing thing is that the director of the film, a Mr. Tobe Hooper, actually managed to accomplish this, like John Carpenter did with Halloween in 1978, not with buckets of blood and body parts. Rather these 2 celebrated titans of the horror genre choose to conjure up a petrifying atmosphere that manages to showcase pure, spine-tingling horror like few films have before and since. Indeed this is a film which literally drains the emotions and energy from an audience like the werecats in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island by how perilously close to death and peril that it chooses to take them on this madcap living nightmare. Indeed I think it is a genuine ode to the real value and just how potent the horror genre can be when utilized right that even though there may be some that are just as potent, I feel that few if any will be able to best. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Texas Chainsaw Massacre “74” a solid 4.5 out of 5.