Texas Chain-Saw Massacre, The (1974)
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Written By: Kim Henkel
In the old days of horror, before we were being desensatized by the blatant sadism and on-screen gore of Hostel and Saw, it was what you didn’t see that made a film terrifying. And what could be more terrifying than the thought of roadtripping with your friends, only to wind up being relentlessly pursued and butchered by a man wearing a mask of sewn human flesh whose dismemberment tool of choice is a chainsaw.
The film, it’s plot, or it’s well-known psychopath lovingly termed “Leatherface” should certainly not be new to the public, especially with the more recent string of Michael Bay remakes. But for those who are only familiar with the remake, you should realize that you’re missing out. The original Tobe Hooper classic is far more terrifying for a number of reasons: the first, and possibly the biggest factor in the horror of the original, was the backstory. Or should I say, the lack of backstory. Here we were introduced to a small band of friends who are thrown into a terrifying ordeal in which they are hunted like animals by family that actively practices cannibalism. And worse yet, the butcher of the family is a hulking six-foot tall brute who chases them down while wearing a home-made mask of human skin. And the whole while the events are unfolding, we are left to wonder: “why does he wear the mask? is he disfigured underneath? how can a family live like this?” Additionally, the pseudo-documentary atmosphere caused by the grainy and scratched celluloid, added to the striking realism of the situation. They have released a newly restored print of the film, but much the same as Friday the 13th (and for that matter Evil Dead) I would still maintain that an old VHS copy is the way to properly enjoy the movie.
There was always a certain taboo surrounding the movie, especially when I was young. The film is marketed as being based on real life accounts — and to a degree, there is an element of truth in that. The actual murders by the infamous serial killer Ed Gein inspired the cannibalism and body-part furniture decorations that are prevalent throughout the film. But the horror of the film isn’t found in tacky jump-tactics or cheap scares. The horror is in the suspense that is masterfully built by Tobe Hooper; the believeable performances from the small cast; and certainly, in the concept itself. It is a vicious, severe portrayal of a vile family and their apparent killing spree spanning generations. In the end, we are left to wonder how intact our own sanity would be were we to find ourselves in an identical situation.
The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre is an American horror classic. It is responsible for a slew of extremely varied sequels, as well as countless imitators. Without a doubt, it impacted the course of American horror filmmaking, and for that it is completely deserving of the praise it receives.