The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
the texas chain saw massacre | the texas chainsaw massacre | tobe hooper | kim henkel | marilyn burns | edwin neal | allen danziger | exploitation | hixploitation | united states | paul a. partain | teri mcminn | jim siedow | gunnar hansen | john larroquette
Film: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writer: Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal and Allen Danziger
This was a film that I remember watching as a child. My mother showed it to me and I believe to my sister as well. My parents had a bootleg VHS from when they recorded it off television, from what I remember. I was terrified the first time I saw it. I’ve probably only seen this a handful of times total. I tend to go long stretches without viewing this for some reason. I did get the chance at the Gateway Film Center, on film. I’ve now shown it to Jaime as well. The synopsis is five friends head out to rural Texas to visit the grave of a grandfather. On the way they stumble across what appears to be a deserted house, only to discover something sinister within. Something armed with a chainsaw.
The film kicks off with narration from John Larroquette. He is giving us background on the events we are going to see. It is hinting at this being a true story, which it does have some aspects that are taken from real life events. We then get a creepy scene of an old camera’s bulb charging up. We see quick images of a dead body. It then is revealed through a news report that someone is robbing graves. This sparks a widespread investigation.
A van then pulls up and it is holding six friends. Inside is Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) as well as her brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain). He is wheelchair bound. Her boyfriend is driving, Jerry (Allen Danziger). Also with them is another couple of Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn). They pull up to the cemetery and Sally goes to check on her grandfather’s grave. They find that it hasn’t been disturbed.
They get back on the road to find the house that their grandfather owned. They pick up a hitchhiker on the way, played by Edwin Neal. He is a very odd guy. He tells the people in the van about the slaughterhouse and how good head cheese is. Aside from this, he takes a knife that Franklin has and cuts himself. He then takes a picture of Franklin and when he refuses to pay for it, the hitchhiker sets it on fire. He then produces a straight razor and cuts Franklin’s arm. They kick him out of the van and wipes blood on the side of it.
The group then stops to get gas and ask about the house. They meet an old man who runs it, played by Jim Siedow. He tries to steer them away, but instead ends up giving them directions as they persist. They can’t go too far though, as this station is out of gas until the replenishment truck arrives. They end up finding the old house and explore. Kirk and Pam go off to find a waterhole but end up at the neighboring farm. Things take quite the turn when they are introduced to its terrifying occupant, Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen).
Others go searching for them and meet a terrifying experience themselves. Leatherface also doesn’t live there alone.
I decided to go a bit vague in my recap, but let’s be honest here, most everyone who is a horror fan has seen this at least once before. It truly is a classic in the genre. The film was made on a very small budget, by a group of relatively unknown cast of people, but for whatever reason, the grittiness works. It still holds up to this day.
To really delve into this, I think the setting is perfect. First off, I’ve been to Texas once for a week. I went in the spring and it was hot. This film takes place in the summer, so I couldn’t even imagine. There are some famous stories I’ve heard about the nightmare that aspect of the film was. Being that this takes place in the 1970’s as well, technology isn’t what it is today so I’m sure that makes it even worse. It is also in the middle of nowhere.
Going from there, I want to delve into the idea of progress. The hitchhiker complains that the new way of killing cows at the slaughterhouse is faster, but it also took away jobs from people. He thinks the old way is better. This is an issue we run into today that automation is taking away jobs. Having relativity unskilled workers doesn’t help either. I do like this old way of killing animals does come full circle though. I must give credit to the writing to introduce that concept here.
Now I should point out, I grew up in the country. Not as deep country as this film, but I did go to school with some people that were quite weird. It does make sense isolating them would make them even worse like we see in the film. I do think though that Leatherface is somewhat of a sympathetic character. He was played as being mentally handicapped and he doesn’t talk. He does make animal noises though. When we first meet him, he just is defending his house. The deeper we go, he also doing just what he is told. He is still a villain. After my last couple viewings, I somewhat felt sorry for him. Killing people isn’t good, but I think there’s something more there.
To move next to the pacing of the film, which I think is amazing. The film runs under 90 minutes and I think that is perfect. We get right into this and it doesn’t take long to pick up. I think the tension builds from the opening images all the way to the ending. We do slow down a bit in a few places, but I think that helps the film in my opinion. There is such a creepy atmosphere. Something I also noticed is that we don’t need introductions to characters. Even Jaime could describe people with what little information we get. I think that is something else that works here.
I’ll now move to the acting, which despite being amateur, I think is good as well. Burns is wonderful as Sally. The things she goes through was terrifying and she really beat herself up for the role. She can really scream as well. She also was quite attractive before things take a turn. Her portrayal by the end of the movie is fitting for what she’s endured. I thought the rest of her friends were also good. McMinn was quite attractive was well. I must give credit to Neal, who was creepy and it gets worse. Siedow is someone else I thought was good. His turn I didn’t see the first time around, but it is well played. Hansen was amazing for not really having any lines. The way he plays the role was realistic and I could see the research he did before taking on the role. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed as well.
As for the effects of the film, if you asked me the first time I saw it, I’d tell you it was violent and bloody, which isn’t the case. This film does very well at hiding a lot of these things and there’s virtually no blood in. I think that is strategic. If you can’t make it look good, I’d rather you hide it. My imagination can run wild if you can make what you do look good. I do think the effects we get are good. They are done practically of course and there’s some interesting things inside of that farmhouse.
Next, I’ll move to the soundtrack of the film, which I think is good as well. I love that it starts off with the eerie sound of a slowed down charging of the flash on a camera. The songs that are used in the film also helped to amplify the tension. On top of that, the sound of the chainsaw is also scary. When you’re being chased and that is what you are hearing, it is unnerving. This is simple, but effective.
Now with that said, this film is a classic. This is a movie that I don’t come back to a lot, but when I do, I marvel at it. We get a simple story, but I do believe there are some deeper issues it is exploring under it. I thought the setting and how it is paced amplify the tension. Despite being nobodies, the acting was good. The effects aren’t what you remember them being but are used well. They also look good. The soundtrack is effective. This is a classic and would recommend giving it a viewing at least once. This is a great movie for sure. I would even say that horror or non-horror fans should see this one.
My Rating: 10 out of 10