31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #3 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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Tagline: Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?

Director: Tobe Hooper

Writer(s): Tobe Hooper & Kim Henkel

Studio: Bryanston Pictures

Budget: $300,000

Box Office: $30.8m

Release Date: 1st October, 1974

IMDb Rating: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 

UK Blu Ray release? Yes

Cast

Marilyn Burns – Sally

Allen Danziger – Jerry

Paul A. Partain – Franklin

William Vail – Kirk

Teri McMinn – Pam

Gunnar Hansen – Leatherface

Trailer

Plot According to Google: When Sally hears that her grandfather’s grave may have been vandalised, she and her paraplegic brother Franklin set out with their friends to investigate. After a detour to their family’s old farmhouse, they discover a group of crazed, murderous outcasts living next door. As the group is attacked one by one by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, who wears a mask of human skin, the survivors must do everything they can to escape.

Inertia’s Insight: A film that is rife with political subtext and a reflection of its times is often capable of missing the mark completely, but with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – a film concept with characters that have been milked until its blood-filled udders have run bone dry – Tobe Hooper hit all the right notes, with the subtext being so subtle that it is, at first, difficult to see. Hooper stated that the ‘what you are about to see is true’ message at the beginning of the film was a response to the lies told by American politicians in the late 60’s and early 70’s. America was still reeling from Vietnam, Watergate and, as is perfectly reflected in this film, the rampage of the Manson Family.

Friends on a road trip to isolated areas being picked off one-by-one is not a new concept in the world of horror even back in 1974, but TCM sets the bar. If you’ve watched the trailer you can see that there’s no attempt to hide the fact that practically no-one survives, and even the opening monologue explains ‘the mad and the macabre’ events that we are about to see that practically confirms Sally as the sole survivor.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not just a kill-by-numbers horror flick. We sense from the beginning that this group of friends are headed into something sinister, but it’s not until they pick up the unkempt hitchhiker with a penchant for razor knives and cutting people. Their van is marked with blood and so they are too, picked off by an overwhelming presence wearing someone else’s face as a mask.

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There are polls and lists of the greatest introductions to characters in film, but for me you can’t get any better than Leatherface. The horrendous noise of a squealing pig (or is it?) echoes from a back room, peaking Kirk’s interest. When Leatherface appears, Hooper executes the execution perfectly: the jarring zoom on Leatherface as he raises his hammer cuts to a wider shot of him striking Kirk, the intercut with various tight shots of Kirk’s twitching, convulsing body. The way in which Leatherface slams the door, bringing about a sudden and abrupt ending to Kirk’s life is jarring and unsettling. It sets the tone for the movie – there’s no running, no hiding under floorboards watching the large boots cover ground in search of the victim; instead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre embraces true horror by showing how vulnerable the group are to the menacing family. As her friends are picked off with ease, Sally manages to escape, only to fall back into the clutches of the Sawyer’s for a family dinner.

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The dinner scene is excruciating to watch. Sally’s screams that are mimicked by the family, the quick cuts and tight shots of all their faces, the repeated attempts by the family for Grandpa to have one last kill. Sally’s eventual escape is mired in panic and terror right until the final moments where the iconic image of Gunnar Hansen’s imposing figure against a rising sun sets the film firmly in horror history. Leatherface is faceless whilst wearing a face, a brutal and unforgiving killer that wields a chainsaw with manic glee. History would go on to attempt to explain Leatherface in the slew of unnecessary sequels and remakes, but here Leatherface is all that he needs to be: a formidable entity caked in dried sweat and blood, doing what he does best – kill.

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The crew were subject to severe heat and exhaustion during the making of this film, and the results show. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a taut, gritty, visceral horror film that feels as relevant today as it did 42 years ago. There are horrors abroad, horrors in the halls of politics and horror in our own backyard. A film like this makes us escape these horrors whilst simultaneously facing them.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *

Trivia

  • Marilyn Burns, whose character was chased by Leatherface through the undergrowth, actually cut herself on the branches quite badly, so a lot of the blood on her body and clothes is real.
  • Voted second scariest movie ever made by Entertainment Weekly.
  • Alternative titles – Headcheese, Leatherface and Stalking Leatherface.
  • The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) banned the film, and only in 1999 was it awarded an ’18’ certificate.

Quotes

NARRATOR: 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 Chainsaw Massacre.

All images courtesy of Blu Shots: blushots.weebly.com


Tomorrow: Night #4 – Scream (1996)

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