The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (USA, 1974) - Color, Director(s): Tobe Hooper
MPAA Rating: R
Approx. 83 min.
Z-rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Cheese Factor: 1 stars out of 5
Theaters called Grindhouses, that played mostly exploitation and violent horror movies, were becoming very popular in the 1960's and 70's. Even amongst these low budget films that emphasized sex and violence, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was considered controversial and banned in several countries following its release. Falsely promoted as a true story, this film's raw and gritty look made it feel like you were watching a crime documentary. The lack of music only helps lend realism to the horrors you're witnessing on screen. From what I understand, filming was particularly difficult because of how hot and humid it was. The crew decorated the walls of the house with drops of real animal blood from a local slaughterhouse and the floors were littered animal remains in varying levels of decomposition. Due to a lack of ventilation and the heat, the house supposedly stunk of death.
Loosely based on the murders of Ed Gein, this movie is about a group of five teenagers on a drive through Texas. More specifically the movie focuses on Sally Hardesty and her handicapped brother Franklin, who were on their way to visit their grandfather's grave. On the way, they pick up a strange hitchhiker who starts cutting himself and cutting Franklin's arm. Thinking the worst was over, they continue on their way until they accidentally stumble upon the scene of "one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history." After the slaughterhouse was shut down, one family apparently went crazy and started killing people. In one of the more disturbing scenes, Sally is tied to a chair and forced to sit at the dinner table with the family of lunatics. They taunt her and laugh sadistically at how terrified she is. All while Leatherface is wearing make up on his mask made of skin and howling like an animal.
Leatherface would go on to become one of the most popular horror icons, often credited as being one of the first masked killers in horror cinema. This film spawned four sequels and a remake that would go on to have its own sequels. The sequels would fail to capture the same level of disturbing and macabre imagery that the original had. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, also directed by Tobe Hooper over a decade later, featured some freaky new characters to fill out the crazy family. Also, Leatherface has the most batshit insane chainsaw battle with the late, great Dennis Hopper at the end. The next couple sequels weren't great but Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, which is supposed to be a sequel to the original but many consider to be a remake, did feature Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey before they were mainstream stars. There wouldn't be another movie for almost another decade until a remake breathed new life into the franchise. The remake was successful enough that a prequel to the entire franchise was made. The last film to date, Texas Chainsaw 3D, was also a direct sequel to the original.
Gore: Despite not being the bloodbath the title would have you believe it is, this movie still manages to be really disturbing. Only one person is killed with a chainsaw, hardly what I consider a massacre. There is one part where they cut Sally's finger (played by Marilyn Burns) and let their decrepit old grandfather suck the blood from her finger. Supposedly, they had an effect set up that wasn't working or something, so they ended up having to cut her finger for real.
Awesome: This film is surprisingly effective despite not having a ton of gore. There are a lot of dried out corpses and bones that give the movie an eerie atmosphere. The feel of the first film is different from every other one in the franchise, the rest feel more like conventional movies. The grainy film quality and generic sounding narrator that reads the introductory text really adds to the documentary feel of the movie. This movie is really tame compared to the horror movies of today, it's hard to believe that footage had to be cut out to avoid an X rating. Tobe Hooper had originally hoped for a PG rating due to the lack of explicit gore. Still, there's no denying the influence this movie had on the horror genre, laying the foundation for slasher films like Halloween and many others. As with many of these classic franchises, there is another movie already in the works. The next one is supposed to be another prequel that will tell of Leatherface's origins.