The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Rated: R :: Released: 01 October 1974
Director: Tobe Hooper :: Starring: Gunnar Hansen and Marilyn Burns
By Cash Melville
13 December 2004 — I love horror films, and I have always wanted to review them, I've just never had a place that I wanted to review them for. Finally, Earth-2 popped up and now I have a place that I would love to put in the effort of reviewing these for! The plan that I have set up is to review the six horror movies that I think have had the greatest influence on how the genre is run today: The Amityville Horror, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Halloween.
Note: One glaring omission is Poltergeist, but I've seen it about twenty-five times, and I don't think I can sit through it again for another three years.
Each movie brings something different to the table, and that's what I am going to cover in each review. These reviews are going to be as spoiler-free as possible, with the hope of inspiring people to go and check the movies out. For the people who have seen them, I'm hoping that maybe you can learn a little bit more than you knew before. That sounds like a good enough explanation on how this will work, onto the first movie!
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The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Pretty ominous beginning to a movie, don't you think? It's not nearly as bad as what was to follow: the snapshots of decomposing body parts, and the picture of two decomposed bodies on top of a tombstone. What was to come later on in the movie was even more disturbing than anything that was shown in the beginning.
The The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is, and always will be, considered one of the greatest and most influential horror films of all time. I thought it fitting to do this one for my first review as it was the earliest (outside of the last movie I review, but that will be explained when I do that one) to be released.
If you've seen the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you are probably wondering what in the world it could be based off of. If you haven't seen it yet, you might think twice about seeing it after you hear the basis. My advice? Find a copy and see it anyway, no matter how gross or demented it sounds. The story is based off of the life of Ed Gein, a man who is famous for exhuming dead bodies and converting the parts into furniture — not to mention his whole fetish with cannibalism. Gein would take skin and make lamp shades, skulls were converted to bowls, and fingers could be sharpened into knives. Most importantly though, Gein would also fashion masks out of the skin of human beings, thus inspiring Leatherface, whom we will get to later. I believe that Tobe Hooper, the writer, was not aware that he had based Leatherface on Gein until after the fact. From my research, he heard stories about Gein as a child and they stuck in the back of his mind, giving him a subconscious inspiration. Beware though, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not a true story. It is only inspired by the practices of Ed Gein. If you want to see another film that was inspired by Gein, go watch Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.
What this movie really brings to the table is not it's scare factor, although for it's time period, it was extremely scary. The effect that this movie had on the way movies would be shot in the future is amazing — and not just horror movies either. When you watched, you could almost see yourself as being a member in the group. You felt like you were walking around with them. You were surprised when something happened to them. You almost empathized with them when they were... removed from the land of the living. Before this, people always thought they were just watching stuff happen to people on a screen, not really having it happen close to home. The film has over the shoulder shots that really were not all that common in cinema at that time. (The most famous over the shoulder shot in cinema history was to occur later in a movie by Stanly Kubrick called The Shining). All of the classic horror movie shots are there as well.
1. The girl runs away and looks behind her — camera looks like it's from the killer's perspective.
2. The camera jumps around, only showing a minimum amount of frames, causing the viewers' heart rate to increase due to trying to follow, and thus making them more susceptible to being frightened.
These two shot types would become a staple of horror movies for years to come.
This movie already brings more than enough influence to the table for one movie, but there is actually even more! This is the first horror movie, to my knowledge, that uses the classic format of having a group of teenagers go to a place in search of fun times, only to have their fun ruined by a killer. This cast has some of the characters that always seem to pop up in horror movies. One of them, and the one that should warrant the most sympathy, is Franklin — the invalid brother of Sally. The difference in this movie is that Franklin is annoying as hell. I'm not going to get into that a whole lot though because I don't want to spoil the movie for people who haven't seen it.
The last thing that this movie has is one of the greatest horror villains of all time: Leatherface. He comes out of nowhere as an introduction, and isn't on the screen for more than ten seconds before he disappears again — leaving the audience in suspense on what the heck his part in the movie is. There really aren't any super innovative deaths in this film, but I will say that one of the coolest moments involves a butcher shop meat hook. Villains in this movie are not so scary as they are disturbing, like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs (conveniently, another Gein depiction).
If you're wanting to find out the origins of classic disturbing horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the way to go. This movie has never scared me, even when I saw it for the first time at age twelve. But that's not something that I can really be judged by as only one horror movie has ever scared me. What this movie does have, and of this I am certain, is a huge disturbing factor. Each time I see it, I leave it feeling like I've just seen something that could almost happen, thus leaving me with a lingering feeling of disturbance. Don't let that stop you though. The knowledge of where the horror genre began is more valuable than you can possibly imagine. Just remember: if you hear a pig squealing... and there isn't a pig around... maybe you should avoid the area.
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