(1974) dir. Tobe Hooper
The legendary, iconoclastic cult film. How long has it been since you have seen it? Have you ever seen it? It had been probably over fifteen years for me. So long that I felt my recollection of it was probably fairly off-kilter. I took the opportunity of this little mini-horror fest with my nephew Jordan to catch up on one of the “classics” of the genre.
It’s got to be said. This film really holds up. Almost 30 years since it was made, it still packs a punch. It’s not so much the gore and blood, since probably there have been so many films since that have far out-done it in those extremes. But The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues to have an impact because of its out-and-out weirdness and its black humor. It’s a cult film that well-deserves its notorious status.
This analogy has probably been made before, but this film is really like a cross between Psycho (1960) and Deliverance (1972). The tale is loosely based on the exploits of Ed Gein, the Wisconsin serial killer who was also the basis for Psycho, but Tobe Hooper really seems to give this the backwoods fear of “inbred” rednecks (that particular jaundiced perception of the people of the south or other rural areas). The characters display the kind of “weirdness” and otherness that is perhaps recognizable though far too jarring to be “familiar”.
The mostly nameless family of cannibals is an almost nuclear unit, though one made up of unlabeled relationships and is a family unit that is entirely male. Amusingly, even this motley, abusive family of killers and cannibals find time to sit down together for a family meal.
The film also features a lot of well-executed (no pun intended) low-budget cinematography and editing, creating some jarring effects. From the blunt, abrupt brutality of the first killing to the screeching soundtrack and intense close-ups on would-be victim Sally’s eye during the deranged sit-down dinner meal, the film incorporates a rough, raw mise en scene.
It seems no coincidence that some of the best American-made horror films of the last 40 years were produced outside of Hollywood. Like Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls(1962) and (even more so) like George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was produced independently in the American “heartland”, well away from the big machines of American film-making.
That said, yet another cliche can easily be applied to it: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was truly “ahead of its time.”