Texas. Chain saw. Massacre. Every word intimidates, but when placed together, they become evocative poetry, an unforgettable incantation of cheap and dirty horror. As soon as advertisements for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre an unlikely masterpiece about a family of cannibals directed by a pacifist and distributed by the company behind Deep Throat starting appearing across the country in 1974, the lexicon of fear forever changed.
The deathin August of Tobe Hooper, 74, who co-wrote and directed this movie in Central Texas, came only one month after that of George A. Romero, a peer who also grew up reading EC comics and the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, the common core curriculum of a dwindling class of auteurs who revolutionized genre movies in the 1960s and 70s. As with so many aspiring artists who saw the 1968 independent Night of the Living Dead, that movies director, Romero, was an inspiration for Hooper, proving that a few friends on a shoestring budget far from Hollywood could turn a visceral little movie into a reputation-making hit.
Both Living Deadand Chain Sawearned moralizing reviews that likened their violence to pornography (Harpers Magazine called the latter a vile little piece of sick crap). They also earned decades of passionate devotion from fans. Just as Romero breathed life into the lurching zombie, Hooper created the first great masked serial killer in modern American horror. Anticipating the slasher boom that would begin four years later with Halloween, Leatherface (played with hulking abandon by Gunnar Hansen, who died in 2015) hunted his prey with ferocity and panache, using a hammer, a meat hook and, of course, a chain saw. Living Deademboldened a generation of horror masters, but Chain Sawterrified them the most.
Wes Craven, who died two years ago, said it was so intense that it felt like a snuff film. John Waters and John Landis both cited it as the scariest movie they had ever seen. Ridley Scott watched a screening of it before filming Alien, to help him ratchet up the terror of his movie. Romero said he avoided Chain Sawwhen it came out because the title seemed too tawdry, which is like Prince finding the sexuality of your music a bit much.
TobeHooper directed ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, anticipating the the slasher boom that would begin four years later with Halloween (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
And yet, that is where the reputation of Chain Sawobscures some of its greatness. What really distinguishes it is not its brutality and ruthlessness, but its stunningly realized aesthetic. Its characterizations contain as much empathy as evil, and its finest moments mix the beautiful with the vicious. Its the most persuasive proof captured on film that the tools of exploitation can make transcendent art.
As is usually the case with grindhouse marketing, the title is deceptive. By the standards of horror, theres no massacre. Only five people die, much fewer than in the sequels and remakes. Hooper relied on suspense more than gore, staging the kills with nary a drop of blood. He didnt show, for instance, a womans back impaled on a hook, but the bucket below her, letting viewers make the connection to this containers gruesome purpose.
Typically, when horror fans try to make you take a scary movie seriously, they resort to politics. And while Chain Sawhas often been explained as a brief for vegetarianism, it could just as easily be used as a metaphor for our current moment: It focuses on anxious red-state family members whose jobs at a slaughterhouse are made obsolete by technological innovation (the air gun) and who lash out at dismissive outsiders. If you want to explore the theme of white working-class resentment, it wouldnt be difficult.
Edwin Neal as Hitchhiker and Marilyn Burns as Sally in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’
But Hooper made an intimate movie that has always seemed more personal than ideological. Its last act is essentially a single set piece about a severely dysfunctional family at dinner, with battling brothers fighting for the approval of a damaged patriarch. Those family dinners can go very wrong, Hooper told me in an interview, recalling that his parents constantly fought before getting divorced when he was 8. I saw some things growing up that were bizarre and wrong.
Hooper didnt sugarcoat the evil of the killers, but when he lingered on Leatherfaces eyes behind his mask, you saw fear. An inarticulate simpleton, he gets bullied by his obnoxious brothers, forced to make them dinner. Their taste may be unorthodox, but who knows what years working in a slaughterhouse will do to your palate? When planning the movie, Hooper and his fellow writer Kim Henkel watched Frankenstein, and their film, like that classic 1931 Universal horror picture, extends some sympathy to the monsters.
They are certainly far more compelling characters than the young victims. (The wheelchair-using Franklin is the ultimate example of the common horror character so intentionally annoying that you secretly cheer his death.) Hooper baffled many by describing his movie as a comedy, but you can detect its sense of humour in the way the killers come off as fools quibbling in a mundane family comedy, a sensibility that became far more overt in his sequel, an entertaining farce that disappointed fans expecting something as terrifying as the original.
A poster for 1974’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’
All great horror movies lose something in the second viewing. Once youve seen the alien burst out of the chest or discover the truth about Norman Bates mother, a certain pleasure, an essential one to the genre, is gone. While watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacrefor the first time remains a singular adrenaline rush, its the rare horror movie that just keeps getting better every time I see it.
Whats lost in surprise is made up by new details noticed, the gothic juxtapositions of colours or the ominous tracking shot underneath the swing as a victim approaches the killers house. When Steven Spielberg met Daniel Pearl, the Chain Sawdirector of photography, on the set of 1941, he stopped shooting and asked how that shot was pulled off. Its one of many moments when Hooper turns the vast blue Texas sky into a terrifying backdrop.
In the seminal final shots of Chain Saw, the colour of the landscape changes, turning hot yellow in an instant, an abrupt shift that belongs more to dreams than any real-life dusk. The nightmare ends with Leatherface holding a roaring chain saw aloft and twirling, a dance of death whose gracefulness is the movies final shock.
2017 New York Times
- Scary Movie - Everything2.com - December 3rd, 2018
- Scary Movie (1/12) Movie CLIP - Femme Fatality (2000) HD - November 28th, 2018
- Horror movies: What was the first scary movie you saw ... - October 29th, 2018
- The 35 Scariest Movies of All Time | Reader's Digest - October 15th, 2018
- Amazon.com: Scary Movie 4: Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Craig ... - September 26th, 2018
- Scary Movie 3 (2003) - Rotten Tomatoes - September 24th, 2018
- Amazon.com: Scary Movie [Blu-ray]: Anna Faris, Jon ... - September 14th, 2018
- Scary Movie 3 - Wikipedia - August 23rd, 2018
- Scary Movie Movie Review - Common Sense Media - August 22nd, 2018
- Scary Movie 3 (11/11) Movie CLIP - Down the Well (2003) HD ... - August 19th, 2018
- The Best Horror Movies of 2017 (So Far) - Vulture - August 1st, 2018
- Scary Movie 2 (2001) - Full Cast & Crew - IMDb - July 28th, 2018
- Scary Movie (2000) - Full Cast & Crew - IMDb - June 22nd, 2018
- Scary Movie 4 (2006) - IMDb - June 19th, 2018
- Scary Movie (2000) - IMDb - June 18th, 2018
- Bafana: A horror movie where nobody survives - Sport24 - September 7th, 2017
- Here's Why You Should Be Watching A Scary Movie During Your Next Workout - Elite Daily - September 7th, 2017
- 'It' May Be Scary, but Nothing Beats Your Childhood Fears - The Ringer (blog) - September 7th, 2017
- Tennessee teen has starring role in upcoming horror movie 'It' - WBIR-TV - September 6th, 2017
- It: a superb Stephen King adaptation fueled less by scary clowns than by real-life evil - Vox - September 6th, 2017
- 17 Horror Movie Remakes That You Should Actually Watch - Vulture - September 6th, 2017
- How Get Out Inspired a New College Course on Racism and Horror - Gizmodo - September 6th, 2017
- Scary 'It' does Stephen King largely by the book: movie review - New York Daily News - September 6th, 2017
- 'IT' Movie Reactions Are Scary Good - Uproxx - UPROXX - September 6th, 2017
- An Expert Explains Why You're Scared of Creepy Clowns and Other Horror Tropes - Slate Magazine (blog) - September 6th, 2017
- Syfy - Horror Movie Magic: The practical effects behind the grossest ... - SYFY WIRE (blog) - September 6th, 2017
- Don't let 'killer crown' craze return just because scary movie IT reaches cinemas this week - Gloucestershire Live - September 6th, 2017
- Kill Me Please is a dazzling teen nightmare, and the first great horror film of fall - The Verge - September 6th, 2017
- 10 Awesome Horror Movie Deleted Scenes You Won't Believe Were Cut - WhatCulture - September 6th, 2017
- How American Horror Story: Cult Handled Election Night 2016 in Its First 7 Minutes - Vulture - September 6th, 2017
- Scary stuff: Bloomington studio creates official 'It' movie poster - Bloomington Pantagraph - September 3rd, 2017
- IT Filmmakers on Adapting Stephen King, Delivering a Scary Pennywise and Earning Their R Rating - IGN Africa - September 3rd, 2017
- HELLRAISER Gets Mondo Soundtrack and Poster Release for 30th Anniversary - Nerdist - September 3rd, 2017
- IT Filmmakers on Adapting Stephen King, Delivering a Scary Pennywise and Earning Their R Rating - IGN - September 2nd, 2017
- IT movie: The TERRIFYING reason the original Pennywise star QUIT new film - Express.co.uk - September 2nd, 2017
- 'It was wonderfully scary': Tim Curry, Rob Reiner and Kathy Bates on the joy of adapting Stephen King - The Guardian - September 1st, 2017
- Stephen King's scary movie reboot provokes tears from 'legit clowns' - The Register - August 31st, 2017
- Stephen King's IT Poised to Be One Heck of a Scary Movie - TVOvermind - August 31st, 2017
- PG-13 Horror Movies That Prove You Don't Need an R-Rating to Be Creepy AF - Collider.com - August 31st, 2017
- How the Original It Miniseries Traumatized a Generation of Kids - Vanity Fair - August 31st, 2017
- The Hollywood Tastemaker You've Never Heard Of - Vanity Fair - August 31st, 2017
- Screenwriter Gary Dauberman is the new 'It' man - The Ottawa Herald - August 31st, 2017
- The Unpopular Opinion: 'Dead Silence' is One of James Wan's Best Movies - /FILM - August 31st, 2017
- Horror movie season in full swing in Sept. - Graffiti - August 30th, 2017
- Defining IU's breakthrough - South Bend Tribune - August 30th, 2017
- "Scary as sh*t" - the first It movie reactions are in and it's good news for King fans - GamesRadar - August 29th, 2017
- 'It' Clips Show Off Pennywise the Clown, Terrified Children, Etc. - /FILM - August 29th, 2017
- WAMG Giveaway Win the LIFETIME SCARY MOVIE SET From Lionsgate - We Are Movie Geeks - August 28th, 2017
- Ne Obliviscaris' Xenoyr On His Top 10 Epic Horror Films - Dread Central - August 28th, 2017
- In 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre,' Sympathy for the Devil - New York Times - August 28th, 2017
- Annabelle: Creation - This is the REAL story behind the incredible film scaring people across Essex - Essex Live - August 28th, 2017
- Innocence lost: Stephen King's IT and the real-life horror of kids in Hollywood - The Guardian - August 28th, 2017
- Early reactions to It praise Stephen King film: 'Totally terrifying,' 'scary as sh--' - EW.com - August 28th, 2017
- Now they're really asking for It: film fuels scary obsession with Stephen King's 1986 novel - CBC.ca - August 28th, 2017
- Tobe Hooper, the horror filmmaker behind 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' is dead at 74 - Mashable - August 28th, 2017
- The First Reactions To It Are Scary Good - Gizmodo - August 26th, 2017
- EXCLUSIVE: Lakeith Stanfield Reflects on Breakout Year and 'Crown Heights' - 9NEWS.com - August 25th, 2017
- The Mist - Stephen King's adaptation oozes a familiarity in which old-school horror fans will be happy - review - Telegraph.co.uk - August 25th, 2017
- Schlock & Awe: PIECES is a Bananas and Baffling Chainsaw Massacre - Nerdist - August 24th, 2017
- Eli Roth Puts Horror Classics 'in a Blender' in Terrifying New Trailer for Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights - PEOPLE.com - August 24th, 2017
- These Horror Movie Bath Bombs Are Terrifyingly Awesome - Simplemost - August 22nd, 2017
- James Van Der Beek's Daughter Has 'Great Taste' in Movies: Find Out Which (Scary!) Film She Loves Makes Him ... - PEOPLE.com - August 22nd, 2017
- The Horror Movie Jump Scare Actually Has a History - TVOvermind - August 19th, 2017
- 15 Best Horror Movies on Hulu Right Now - Den of Geek US - August 19th, 2017
- 5 scary doll movies like Annabelle: Creation - The Indian Express - August 19th, 2017
- 'Scary Mother' Wins at Sarajevo Film Festival; Bosnia-Herzegovina Selects Oscar Entry - Variety - August 19th, 2017
- Scary Movie Bath Bombs Make the Perfect Halloween Soak | Brit + Co - Brit + Co - August 17th, 2017
- Top 10 Horror Movies You Need To Watch! - Instinct Magazine - August 17th, 2017
- 68 Kill Coming to Cinemapolis - ithaca.com - August 17th, 2017
- Annabelle: Creation movie review - Genuinely creepy; the best film in the Conjuring universe - Hindustan Times - August 17th, 2017
- 10 Things You Didn't Know about The Conjuring - TVOvermind - August 17th, 2017
- Five Easy Steps to Making a Better Horror Sequel - Vulture - August 17th, 2017
- Annabelle: Creation Movie Review: More Giggles Than Scary Screams - koimoi - August 16th, 2017
- Marlon Wayans dishes on new Netflix movie 'Naked' and NBC sitcom 'Marlon' - WTOP - August 14th, 2017
- 'Annabelle: Creation' is scary good - The Spokesman-Review - August 11th, 2017
- Marlon Wayans sees work in sitcom, movie as finally coming into his own - The Columbus Dispatch - August 11th, 2017
- 'Annabelle: Creation' is scary good - Washington Post - August 10th, 2017
- 'Annabelle: Creation' burns its hard work to the ground - CNET - August 9th, 2017
- Chris Pratt Shares A Heart-Breaking Message As He Announces Split From Scary Movie's Anna Faris - Capital FM - August 7th, 2017
- At This Horror Movie Sleepaway Camp, Nightmares Are the Ticket to a Dream Job - Thrillist - August 7th, 2017
Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero