A few weeks ago I posted a horrendous movie entitle TOBE HOOPER’S NIGHT TERRORS. To re-visit the horror master Tobe Hooper indeed once was, I decided to go a little retro and start with the very first TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE of 1974. When I first saw this movie, I was in my senior year at Swarthmore College. Hard to believe, but my college library had it in their stock of “educational value” videos. Not what you would expect at a liberal arts college, but there it was anyway. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I checked it out, popped it in, and almost immediately realized I wasn't in for a big-budget Hollywood fest. On the other hand, I was in for a cult classic that did not disappoint.
When the low budget TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was first released, it was considered a stunning shocker – a level of graphic horror that hadn’t been seen before. By today’s standards, that’s not the same case, but we’ll get to that…The plot involves a group of kids driving along in a van and they encounter some weird back-country mountain-type people who, well, also happen to be completely whacked and into killing people with chainsaws. There's really not much else to the plot, although a handicapped guy was thrown in for good measure. Perhaps an Oscars bid?
What shocked me was how little gore was actually in the movie. The implied nastiness is probably even creepier than seeing tons of blood, to be sure, but given the reputation, I expected something incredibly graphic. It’s not. Yet, when one of the kids starts creeping around the crazy family's house and finds parts of bodies lying around, it is quite a chilly thrill. On the other hand, you never really see anyone get truly chopped up with a chainsaw.
You have to get past the low-budget-ness of this movie in order to truly enjoy it. The acting is awful, the production values minimal, and the cinematography shakey. On the other hand, the crazy family (the aptly-named Sawyers) is so weird, it's just fun to watch them do their thing. For instance, the main killer of the family is the infamous Leatherface who wears a leather mask over his face. But there’s a lot more to the Sawyers than Leatherface, and about 2/3 through the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRES the movie takes a very sudden turn that delves into their family dynamics.
The final surviving member of the van is brought into the house of the crazy family and forced to have dinner with them. This was a meal which I could never forget, and neither will you. This final third is clearly the inspiration for countless rip-offs (such as HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES) but retains its power. Finally, the movie culminates with a chainsaw-chase which lasts a good ten-minutes of on-screen time. Awesome.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was apparently inspired by a true story, but I’m just amazed by how much of a shocker the film is over thirty years later. Ignore its grainy photography and poor acting (at least at the beginning). If you stick with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE to the end, you will not be disappointed. By the way, I’ve seen this movie’s remake, and other than the value of seeing Jessica Biel in a tight t-shirt, it’s pointless. Stick with the original.
Rating: *** and a 1/2 (out of a possible 4)