The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Genre: Slasher Running Time: 1 hr. 23 min.

Release Date: October 4th, 1974 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Tobe Hooper Actors: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen

 


 

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he rather overlong, documentary styled prologue scroll doesn’t actually say that the following events are “based on a true story.” But the gimmick is set nonetheless, describing the upcoming chaos of August 18th, 1973 as if it were entirely factual. It’s immediately foreboding, with a radio report of grave robbers digging up corpses; magnificently disturbing camera flashes revealing decomposing bodies; and talks of the nearby slaughterhouse. The music is eerie, the camerawork effective, and the eventual eardrum-piercing vibrations of the chainsaw undeniably petrifying.

A group of five teenagers head into Texas to view the gravestone of a relative to determine that it hasn’t been disrupted during the recent run of cemetery vandalisms. They pick up a bizarre hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), pitying him due to the unbearable heat, but the man is clearly unhinged, cutting himself with a knife and eventually slicing wheelchair-bound passenger Franklin (Paul A. Partain) with a razor. After kicking him out of their van, and getting blood smeared on the side as thanks, the fivesome continue on to the old Franklin residence, belonging to the family. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and Jerry (Allen Danziger) are the first to investigate the decrepit building.

Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri Mcminn) wander off to find a creek to swim in, but are sidetracked by a barn, wherein the sound of a generator is deafening. They also stop at the nearby house, but no one seems to be home. The creepy abode is almost identical to the Bates building from “Psycho”; so it’s no genuine surprise when Kirk is quite suddenly attacked with a sledgehammer. Pam follows suit, stumbling into a room where human remains have been crafted into furniture, before being literally picked up by a hulking monster of a man – wearing a stitched-together mask of human flesh and a blood-spattered yellow apron – and stuck onto a massive meat hook for immobilization. It’s one of the greatest, most alarming sequences in the history of horror films, springing upon the audience with brief warning and gut-wrenching menace. “Leatherface” drags Kirk’s lifeless body through a doorway and slams shut the metal door leading to his workroom with unendurably striking intensity. He’s instantly an unforgettable movie monster, made even more nerve-shattering when he first picks up his signature, mechanized chainsaw weapon.

The crafting of legendary villain Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) is one of the rare occasions when details and depth to a murderer are even more frightening due to the bits of sinister humanization. He’s troublingly realistic when shown to be little more than an overgrown child, mentally slow but physically brawny. And he’s essentially a mere henchman for a clan of freaks so appalling that they must be seen to be believed. Almost nonstop screaming presides over the second half of the film, where panic, nightfall, and an exhilarating lack of help unfold without a minute of wasted screentime. Like an exploitation film, there’s a distinct mixture of sexuality and horror; partial nudity and attention to shapely female figures imbue the introduction, while overt violence and bloodshed fill the conclusion (though actual minutes of gore are kept low, with most of the chainsaw activities insinuated).

The film features a cast of unknowns, who are incredibly convincing, revealing a sensational mix of highly distressing oddballs and credibly ordinary youths. Jim Siedow gives a particularly authentic performance as the leader of the cannibalistic family – a sadistically unpredictable twist, and one that allows for swift calms before the next heart-stopping storm. The budget is low, the special effects are at a minimum, and the overall mediocre production value is perfectly in sync with the purpose of the picture. The sound effects, on the other hand, are hair-raisingly spectacular, aided by locations, lighting, and unpleasant props that uphold the terror sublimely. The impact, legacy, and influence of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” are no less than monumental – appropriately garnering attention for starting the slasher genre, being one of the most outrageously terrifying movies ever made, and giving horror enthusiasts a brand new, sensationally powerful face that might never cease to inhabit sequels and remakes.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10