Classics Revisited: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

In order to wash the taste of Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) out of my mouth (which, is a fairly upsetting way to phrase that considering the focus of yesterday’s film) I decided to revisit a classic… a movie I’ve seen over a dozen times… a movie that informs all horror movies (at the very least, all slasher movies)… The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is probably one of the best horror movie pallet cleansers. I have to keep this in mind next time I run into a string of back luck with Netflix Roulette.

The plot is deceptively simple. A group of teenagers get stranded in rural TEXAS… they go to a nearby house to get gas where a maniac with a CHAINSAW commences to MASSACRE said teenagers. Okay… there is a bit more to the plot… but, really not that much… just watch it… seriously… if you consider yourself a fan of horror movies this is a much watch… seriously, this is considered the Godfather of horror movies. Yes, there were slasher films before this (i.e. Psycho and Peeping Tom in particular), but this film led to the modern definition/understanding of what a slasher film is. There are better analyses of this movie than anything I could come up with (too numerous to count)… so, I thought I would just share a few of my thoughts/observations during this particular viewing.

  • The first five minutes of this film is all about establishing realism. The opening crawl read by someone who sounds like a newscaster tells you what’s going to happen. Between this and the title there is no room for misunderstanding what type of film you walked into. Then there’s the use of the newscaster reading stories about the local area (some of which is tied into the plot of the film, some of which isn’t). It reminds me of the use of televised news Night of the Living Dead (and Dawn of the Dead… and… well, pretty much every Romero zombie film). This is an affective gimmick (though, it wasn’t a gimmick at the time) of modern horror movies. And, to be fair, it gets me every time. It ups the realism which ups the creep factor.
  • The opening stays with me. So much so that I’ve borrowed liberally and unconsciously from it in my own writing (I’m choosing to use the word borrow over steal…, I am admitting to it after all, and doesn’t that relieve me of some of the guilt). The pitch-black screen with unidentified sounds… clearly something horrific is happening… the sudden light from a camera’s flash… a whining sound… quick pictures of a decaying corpse. It is extremely effective… you feel equal parts revulsion, fear, and bleakness.
  • Leatherface (pictured above) is portrayed in such a unique way for a slasher film. Specifically, there is no buildup of tension… he just appears and immediately kills a character… there is no warning… there is no theme music (like Jason’s *chi-chi-chi*). Just hey-here-I-am-and-boom-there’s-my-mallet. It’s not scream-run-scream-run-scream-dead like we’re all used to now… it’s walking-dying-screaming. Sometimes the event is so brutally fast that the character didn’t even know he was in danger or what was happening (see Kirk’s demise for a perfect (and upsetting) example).
  • I don’t know if there’s any validity to the story that the director (Tobe Hooper… of Poltergeist fame) was aiming for a PG rating… but if so it would explain the (relative) lack of gore (though, I always figured it was budgetary constraints). Either way and similar to the lack of showing the shark in Jaws, it is a happy accident. This movie demonstrates that sometimes is not what you show, but what you don’t show (and the sound you use to indicate what’s happening) that causes an emotional reaction. Tarantino borrowed from this in his infamous ear-cutting torture scene in Reservoir Dogs but it goes to show that often the human imagination (in its filling-in-the-blanks way) can often come up with stuff that is much more disturbing and gory than any filmmaker can.
  • There’s only two years between this and Deliverance (that movie came first), but there’s definitely some tonally similar overtones. While the latter is technically not a horror film (more of an adventure-thriller) there is this overarching theme of wandering upon the last uncivilized segments of America… and paying for it. I’m sure someone has made this observation, and I should read up on it, but the coffee shop I’m working at has some serious filters on their internet (all I can check out if Gmail and Facebook)… yay

That’s all for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on my Insidious marathon (wish me luck)

me

Also…this was a thing that happened:

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