I never liked horror very much, especially when I was young. I was a big wussie. I used to hide in the kitchen whenever Bill Bixby would start Hulking out. But I have to admit as much I was the kid hiding under his blanket, I did stay up to watch Friday Fright Night on CBS whenever my parents were out.
One year a friend had a sleepover near Halloween and we rented 4 VHS movies. We were going to be allowed to stay up all night to watch movies! Two were sci-fi movies, one of which I forget, the second was Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The other two were horror classics: Halloween and finally The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Parents were just happy we were out of their hair back then.
My memories of seeing that movie back when I was 12 was making sure I watched it with my friend and kept my bladder in check even though it was arguably the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. I didn’t watch again until well after it came out on DVD sometime in my 30s.
I watched it again of course for this review but I have basically the same reaction when I was in my 30s. This movie is much more than a simple splatter-fest. In fact the gore is minimal and that was a surprise. This isn’t a typical slasher movie, this is a full-on descent into madness.
It also has the balls to not only kill someone in a wheelchair but make that character one of the most unlikable characters ever and I was actually cheering Leatherface on when he got cut up. And what a title! It’s pretty clear what’s going to be happening here. And where!
It all starts with a radio news report on a cemetery that was desecrated. Bodies were propped up and all twisted up. A group of kids come to the cemetery where Sally and her wheelchair bound-brother Franklin check to make sure their Grandparent’s graves are ok.
Along the way back, they pick up a cautionary tale… I mean a hitchhiker from hell. He does all kinds of weird antics including cutting the crap out himself with a knife, taking Franklin’s picture and then setting it on fire, gets kicked out of the van which he then smears his own blood all over it.
Don’t ever pick up hitchhikers, kids.
After having some fun they go to gas up the van but the station is empty. They decide to go to Sally’s grandparent’s house, which at this point is abandoned, while waiting for the gas station to get a delivery. While waiting Kirk and Pam decide to scout around for an old swimming hole where they find an old house. They explore a bit, hoping to find someone that might have some gas when Leatherface pops out and kills Kirk. Moments later Pam is set upon by Leatherface, and put on a meat hook while she watches Kirk get cut to pieces.
Jerry goes to find them, runs across Pam in the meat freezer and is killed by Leatherface. It gets dark. Sally pushes her brother Franklin into the woods trying to find their friends when Leatherface jumps out and kills Franklin.
The rest of Texas Chainsaw Massacre is Sally trying desperately to get away while being pursued by Leatherface. She ends up at the gas station where the old man turns out to be one of them.
The entire family, the hitchhiker, the old man, and Leatherface are joined by their grandpa, a corpse that doesn’t seem to know he’s dead. She finally is able to get away by jumping out the window, flagging a truck on the highway and lauging maniacally in triumph while Leatherface swings his saw in frustration and defeat.
Tobe Hooper made Texas Chainsaw Massacre on $140,000 budget, which is only about 700k these days, accounting for inflation. There’s a lot of talk about themes of this movie which is amusing since I think he was just trying to get the damn thing made and most of the actors hated him after it was all over. There were a fair amount of injuries on the set and Marilyn Burns (Sally) actually had to cut her finger open during the bloodsucking scene.
Still sometimes these things are subconsciously there, even if the filmmaker wasn’t specifically aware of it. I would say that this movie spawned a lot of “hillbilly, rural psycho” type movies that are indelibly, and unfairly, burned into the American consciousness. Children of the Corn, Friday The 13th, Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, and probably a bunch more that made rural America look like a hell hole of psychopaths.
In truth, there are far more crazies and murders in any packed metropolitan area than any small town.
Still there are possible deeper meanings here. The rural way of life was decaying, small towns were vanishing. Representing a sort of “walking dead” of the America that probably was on its way out in the Thirties and completely subjugated by the Fifties for suburban and city life as modernization took hold, this type of life, and those left in it, could be seen as a sort of decay.
Then there’s the idea of vegetarianism. Much is alluded to the way we eat meat. The crazy clan all worked at slaughterhouses and seem to be twisted by it. Pam speaks a lot of vegetarianism and how repulsive and cruel the whole idea is. This family seems to have let meat eating (and meat killing) twist them to the point they see no difference between human and cow.
Then again, maybe it’s just a bad luck drive into a group of mental defectives and Sally’s ride into the gates of hell.
Whatever Hooper was attempting to put out, he succeeded. My only complaint is that this should’ve never become a franchise. The first film is a powerful exploration on how quickly things can fall apart and how crazy evil can be right next door and you might not ever know it. It stands just fine on its own and the rest is just shameless cash grabs.
Though I got to admit, this sequel poster for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was genius: