Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The (1974)

Review #1,234

Director:  Tobe Hooper
Cast:  Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal
Plot:  Five friends visiting their grandfather's house in the country are hunted and terrorized by a chain-saw wielding killer and his family of grave-robbing cannibals.

Genre:  Horror
Awards:  -
Runtime:  83min
Rating:  M18 for violence.
Distributor:  New Line Cinema

“My family's always been in meat.”

Wow, managed to see this horror classic on the big screen.  Some have criticized it for not ageing well, but I think it is best seen as it is – a raw, B-grade-but-A-grade-aspiring horror movie that continues to scare the wits out of moviegoers. 

Best known for introducing one of the genre's most terrifying figures – Leatherface in his chainsaw-wielding g(l)ory – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a product of its era, valuable as a time capsule, and does for horror filmmaking what Spielberg's Jaws (1975) did for the thriller. 

Both films share a gritty aesthetic, even if Jaws is the more polished one, but it is the 1970s feel that they so authentically exude that I think should see them worthy of a place in a list of essential American pictures that capture not just the essence of that time, but the newfound creative spirit of a new wave of American filmmakers. 

This is the story: a group of youths in a van travel in a road trip that sees them ending up in an isolated Texan countryside.  They wander about (don't they ever not wander?) and discover a plain-looking house with a sinister occupant.

Directed by Tobe Hooper, who ever made only one great film in a career of B-grade-but-C-grade-aspiring works (the uneven Spielberg ghost-directed Poltergeist (1982) might be worth an honourable mention), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is relentlessly entertaining and satisfies because it consistently gives audiences a sense of toxic uneasiness. 

The tension is unbearable, but there are moments of dark, unexpected comedy, particularly in the second half of the film.  Not as gory as its trashy sequels, Hooper focuses more on the cult of Leatherface, his background and motivations.  There is more than meets the eye, and this is why the film has also been regarded as a psychological and social study of a 'serial killer', loosely based on a true story.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's status as one of the most enduring and exemplary of 1970s American horror remains untarnished.  Its economical storytelling and unsettling sound design (using a myriad of percussion including cymbals) from the get-go conjure up a unique screen experience, sort of what David Lynch could have done if he was into grindhouse-esque slasher flicks. 

Verdict:  Relentlessly entertaining with unbearable tension and moments of dark comedy, its status as one of the most enduring and exemplary of 1970s American horror remains untarnished. 


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