This week we look at the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Horror, for better or for worse, in sickness and in stealth marketing, has never been the same.
Title: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty
Allen Danziger as Jerry
Paul A. Partain as Franklin Hardesty
William Vail as Kirk
Teri McMinn as Pam
Edwin Neal as Hitchhiker
Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface
John Dugan as Grandpa
John Larroquette as narrator
Available from Amazon.com
“There’s a light….”
A group of young people want to check on the fate of a dead relative’s gravesite, after unknown persons desecrate the cemetery and steal corpses. Auto trouble forces them to remain in the area for the night, where they wander into a nightmarish situation, and the most twisted family in horror since the Femms of The Old Dark House.
It’s difficult to forget the meathook scene, even if, (as in Psycho‘s shower), we actually see less than we imagine.
Many reviewers have commented on the effective use of grisly imagery, cheaply created, but realistic and horrific. Equally effective is the use of ambient sound and sparse music.
Some contemporary viewers, senses dulled by excessive gore, may find this film restrained. Those viewers aren’t looking for a horror movie, I would argue, but merely a gross movie. This film certainly has its repulsive and gorey moments, but it amounts to more than the sum of its dismembered parts.
Marilyn Burns’ screaming is realistic, but after a time, it becomes annoying.
Some will find the ending abrupt.
Originality: 4/6. The film features many elements familiar to horror fans even in 1974, but, along with such films as the dark Night of the Living Dead (reviewed on Halloween by Fiz) and the exploitive Last House on the Left, it broke new ground in how low-budget scares can be created– and marketed. It seems more familiar now because so many producers have bled its basic elements.
Effects 5/6. The film uses low-budget effects remarkably well. Real decaying animal parts, in the heat of the Texas summer, frequently made the cast ill.
Acting 5/6. The film features many natural-seeming performances that heighten the horror. For the most part, this characters feel real. Gunnar Hansen does an extraordinary job as Leatherface.
Production 5/6. Low budget has rarely looked this good. This is part of the film’s effect, and why it had such an impact in ’74. The better-funded sequels and remake cannot touch the original.
Emotional Response 5/6 This film tried to be weirdly scary and it succeeded. TCM established a template for low-budget horror, without the torture-porn excesses that have pervaded the genre in recent years.
In total, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre receives 33/42.
Despite claims that the film is based on a true story (and a rumor that may or may not have been started by the film’s marketers, to the effect that the movie contains actual crime scene footage), it is a fabrication very loosely inspired by the life and grisly doings of Ed Gein, who lived in Wisconsin, didn’t use a chainsaw, and took only two known victims (the other bodies in his home, where he lived alone after the death of his mentally unbalanced mother, appear to have been taken from the cemetery). However, The Wisconsin Chainsaw-free Killings and Grave-Robbings doesn’t have quite the same power.