(Tobe Hooper, 1974)
(essay by Robert)
Tobe Hooper’s film changed the genre. Perhaps what is most impressive about Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the myth and legend it has become and the impact it has had. So often imitated and so commonly misunderstood (or perhaps misremembered), the film was amazingly impactful. Everyone is moved by the film, even people who have not seen it.
A lot is written of Hooper’s motivations for the film, I will not focus these here as I would rather emphasize the on-camera aspects. These are important though (hopefully comments will be posted) and can be read about in multiple articles. I will say that I loved reading that he seemed to have been inspired (in part) by standing in a long line in a store and the idea that he could get the people to move if he had a chainsaw. This is not only humorous but also a perfect precise example of why this genre is so human and should be so much more embraced.
With all the reputation of the film, it is essentially bloodless. I was really struck by this as I re-watched it for this countdown. Instead of showing us the blood and carnage, Hooper relishes the opportunities to hide the gore. The screams and squeals seem to substitute while the utter bizarreness of the imagery and characters builds and builds your intrigue. The rawness of the camera is so important in the film. His faux-documentary style was effective, less because it reinforced the “true story” tagline, but mainly because it creates that awesome 3rd person POV. This is best noticed inside the house and on the porch. He also uses some impressive close-ups that wonderfully change things up and build suspense. The dinner seen is one of the greatest horror scenes on film mostly for this reason. Marilyn Burns’ eyes seem to see things that we can’t as the group taunts her and contemplates the best way to bring about her demise. Hooper wants us to make the violence in our minds, he shows us everything we need and he knows the rest will come from us.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my earliest (and favorite) horror moments, I was not alive when it was released but a copy was available in my house as a child and I can recall being impacted by the idea that this was a true story. As I think more about it now, knowing that it is not, I go back and forth on whether this is kind of a cheap trick (not so much with Texas Chainsaw Massacre but some of the other films that have used this) or whether it should be thought more as a stylistic choice. There is also the strange (guilty) humor that you can feel growing as the film goes on. This may be more in out own self defense but you almost can’t help chuckling at some of the outlandishness of the family.
I also wanted to comment on Leatherface as a villain. What an absolute spastic monster. His unknown story compliments his hidden face further fueling the sense of un-clarity. Why is this all happening? Him pummeling people with his sledge hammer is one of those classic rewind moments and Hooper gives you 2 or 3 chances to see it. He is completely brutal but also sad. The rest of the family are important of course however is Leatherface that you can’t take your eyes off- this strange massive killer.
In 80 some minutes, Hooper delivers a spectacle that is yes macabre and frightening but really it is just plain good. This is independent film- it is a fantastic example of maximizing what you have and doing it in a way that convinces us that funding restrictions are what truly allow brilliant minds to thrive.
(this film appeared on Jamie’s list at #32, Robert’s at #10, Kevin’s at #61, and Troy’s at #47)