The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Bryanston Pictures presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

“My family’s always been in meat.”

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An idyllic Summer drive turns into a surreal nightmare for a brother and sister and a group of their friends when they cross paths with the Sawyer family; a backwoods bunch of psychopathic cannibals and serial killers.

Starring Marilyn Burns as Sally, Paul A. Partain as her paraplegic brother, Franklin, Edwin Neal as the shady hitchhiker, and Gunnar Hansen as the iconic Leatherface, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is directed by Tobe Hooper.

Bryanston Pictures presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an unadulterated gore-fest that, until recently, I had not been able to watch in its entirety.  This is mainly due to the amount of time cast members are being actively chased by Leatherface.  Which, terrifies me.  I mean, game over.  Tobe Hooper, you’ve got my number.  I mean, if someone starts after me, my first instinct is to turn around to face them and scream for them to stop.  And I’m talking hysteria, here, people.  Not some half-laughing, half-screaming thing that you might do during hide and seek when you know you’ve been found.

I’m talking tear-your-hair-out screaming.

And while I don’t believe there is yet an official term for this particular fear (please let me know if it does, indeed, have a name), it is intense enough to make the watching of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre difficult for me … in the extreme.  Add to this the incessant screaming in the second half of the film and I had to pause The Texas Chainsaw Massacre repeatedly in an effort to not get sick.

Bryanston Pictures presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

So, I feel somewhat vindicated when, in doing the research on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I find that not only was the film banned outright in several countries, but theaters eventually started pulling it due to complaints about the excessive violence [1].

I’m certainly not a fan of banning creative expression of any kind, and yes, I would certainly extend that to Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I highly doubt the cause for its coming under fire had anything to do with the characters being chased by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath.

National Posts killer TCM lineage infographic

Rather let’s look at the furniture made of bones, the facade worn by Leatherface which is (presumably) pieced together from human flesh, hanging people on meat hooks, beating them with broom handles and slaughterhouse mallets.  All of these elements, while deeply and profoundly disturbing, are more or less expected fodder in a horror film.  Yes?

What remains impressive about Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is how disturbing the film is today despite a general, cultural desensitization toward violence.  The film affected people in 1974 and it continues to affect people today, nearly 40 years later.  Because of this, we could argue that, had the film been about anything else, we might call it a culturally significant event.  Many of you may still.

Bryanston Pictures presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Analytically, I think what helps to make Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre so sinister is the way he restricts the light and gradually confines (and not so gradually reduces) its cast of protagonists.  We begin on a beautiful Summer day with a group of attractive young adults out to have a good time, maybe go swimming.  And as the film builds to its gritty, almost unbelievably tense climax, many of the scenes are shot with one point of light and most of the composition hidden in the shadows.  Until finally…

The Shining: spoiler alert

…victoriously, Sally emerges from the Sawyer farmhouse.  It’s light out.  Everything is bathed in a welcoming, warm light.  With Leatherface on her trail, she beats feet to the road and is picked up by a passerby.  Frustrated the girl has escaped his grasp, Leatherface shakes his chainsaw in the air in what is probably one of the most memorable moments in the film.

That’s right.  You’ve survived The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I don’t know about you, but I had my doubts.

Bryanston Pictures presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

You see, the fact that at any given time a character may be screaming at the top of their lungs, or Leatherface is running his chainsaw, makes no difference except to further unravel the audience’s nerves.  It tells us something very important.  No one is listening and no one is coming to help.  Even the gas station manager, who Sally manages to find after initially evading Leatherface, turns out to be another cog in the cruel machinations of the Sawyer family.

Beyond Leatherface, and the rest of the Sawyers, it is the house – with its bizarre trappings, its labyrinthine layout, its secrets – that is possibly the most frightening element of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  The idea that so much darkness could exist behind the walls of a house, any house, is enough to make you stop and think the next time you go out for a drive down the back roads.

Bryanston Pictures presents The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

There are major themes and theories at play behind the face (if you will) of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre including those which call into focus ideas of disenfranchisement (the Sawyers had always been “in meat” and had lost work due to advances in technology).  Even the Sawyer family’s perverse cannibalism can be seen as a form of rebellion against a system that has betrayed them.  By extension, then, the Sawyer clan becomes the ultimate dysfunctional family.

Make no mistake, however.  Those damn Sawyers will get no sympathy from me, especially if they’re going to get up and start chasing me around, chainsaws or no.  An all too familiar gripe, again echoed when I recently caught a screening of the latest in the epic franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a one hell of an intense ride that unmercifully shoves its audience down a rabbit hole of violence and terror.  It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, those with weak stomachs, fears of being chased, or those confined to wheelchairs.

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Did Boston.com get it right?

1.) Yes.  Don’t go knockin’ on farmhouse doors unless you know what lurks beyond.

2.) Yes.  The Sawyer house.  Leatherface.  Enough said.

3.) Yes.  Gore, shocks, and scares lurk around every corner after the first half of the film.  Be ready.

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Trailer:

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Fun Facts

Out-take footage & interviews:

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Tobe Hooper interview at FrightFest 2010:

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Chainsaw Documentary, pt. 1

Chainsaw Documentary, pt. 2

Chainsaw Documentary, pt. 3

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The truth behind the events depicted in the film?

there's more to explore

Official Site: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Wiki facts: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre rotten or fresh?

How did The Texas Chainsaw Massacre do at the box office?

Watch or buy The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Amazon

Or, watch online now, full-length no youtube: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Related: National Post looks at the graphic history of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (with infographic)

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REFERENCES:

[1] ”The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 17 Feb. 2013. Web.  19 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Texas_Chain_Saw_Massacre>

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One response to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

  1. Pingback: The List to End All Horror Film Lists | c.taylor·

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