Truthfully, not a whole lot remains to be written about THE TEXAS
CHAINSAW MASSACRE, certainly one of the most iconic genre films of all
time. I’ll say my peace, though, as I, like quite a few other
commentators, feel it’s a deserved classic.
The most surprising thing about this 1974 film, a
favorite of gore hounds the world over, is that it isn’t very gory.
Believe it or not, director Tobe Hooper was hoping for a PG rating. He
ended up with an R, of course, and made history with one of the most
brutally intense films of all time.
Initially titled LEATHERFACE, the film was lensed on
location in South Texas under horrendous conditions. The delirious
climax was shot over a torturous 30 hours, in a sweltering house stuffed
with rotting animal flesh; cast and crewmembers were allowed outside
only for brief stretches--to vomit! Those conditions contributed
immeasurably to the madness and ugliness of the finished film.
Unfortunately Tobe Hooper’s post-CHAINSAW output has
been erratic at best. His immediate follow-ups EATEN ALIVE and THE
FUNHOUSE weren’t much. POLTERGEIST may have been Hooper’s biggest
moneymaker, but it also did his reputation irreparable damage due to
allegations that its producer Steven Spielberg directed most of the film
himself. LIFEFORCE and INVADERS FROM MARS did little to restore Hooper’s
declining stock, and nor did
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, although
it wasn’t all bad. From there Hooper’s career continued along the same
uninspiring path, with bummers like THE MANGLER and THE TOOLBOX MURDERS
doing nothing to help matters--and no, the 2003 Michael Bay produced TCM
remake didn’t either!
Some young people are driving through East Texas in a
van. There have been several killings in the area that have the
residents on edge.
The kids pay no heed to the reports of killings, at
least until they pick up a freaky hitchhiker outside a slaughterhouse.
The hitchhiker claims to be an employee of the slaughterhouse, and talks
graphically of some of the more unsavory killing methods practiced
there. He also slashes his hand, sets fire to a handful of gunpowder
and, worst of all, demands two bucks for a crummy picture he takes of
the gang. They pull over to let him out--and as a parting gift the
hitchhiker slashes the hand of the wheelchair-bound Franklin.
The van runs out of gas a little further down the road.
Kirk, the driver, heads for an old house in search of gas--and is bashed
over the head with a mallet wielded by a freaky dude wearing a human
Kirk’s girlfriend Pam comes in after him. Grabbed by “Leatherface,”
she’s killed by having a sharp hook stuck through her back. Next to
enter is Jerry, who also falls victim to Leatherface and his deadly
This leaves Franklin and his sister Sally. As the sun
sets and none of their friends return, they have no choice but to head
for the old house themselves. But Leatherface gets them on the way,
making fast work of Franklin with a noisy chainsaw. Sally manages to get
away, precipitating a lengthy chase that ends with her shut up in
Leatherface’s house with his ghoulish family members, whose ranks
include an old man who runs a nearby gas station, an ancient crone and
the hitchhiker we met earlier. The atmosphere in the place, which is
packed with furniture and sculptures made from human skin and bones, is
psychotic in the extreme, and only grows more so.
This film may be relatively bloodless, but that doesn’t
mean it’s in any way subtle or restrained. Tobe Hooper was clearly
striving for a grueling and unrelenting experience that puts viewers
squarely in the driver’s seat. This means an all-inclusive horrorfest
that gleefully rubs our noses in its sordid universe of decaying flesh,
soaring temperatures, and, in the unforgettably delirious climax,
bulging eyeballs rendered in lurid close-ups. While the camerawork and
editing aren’t always up to snuff (Hooper tends to favor multiple set
ups that don’t always cut together harmoniously), the low budget energy
of the project carries one along. This is particularly true of the final
scenes, which contain some of most potent examples of pure insanity ever
put on film.
Special mention must be made of the production design
by Robert Burns. The bone sculptures and skin lampshades that decorate
Leatherface’s residence are virtually without parallel in modern cinema.
So is the overall atmosphere of ghoulish dementia, which after three
sequels, a remake and countless imitations remains a unique and
unforgettable component of the original and still-definitive TEXAS
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Director: Tobe Hooper
Producer: Tobe Hooper, Lous Peraino
Screenplay: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Cinematography: Daniel Pearl
Editing: Larry Carroll, Sallye Richardson
Cast: Gunnar Hanson, Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain,
William Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, John Dugan, John