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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre




Without a doubt, Tobe Hooper's directorial debut has left a permanent and strikingly apparent legacy within the horror genre, that is also frequently cited as being amongst the greatest horror films of all time. I've seen it once before, but when Film4 kicked of Frightfest by showing this, I decided to watch it once again...

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre follows a group of five teenagers, including Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her paraplegic brother, Franklin Hardesty (Paul A. Partain), as they check on their grandfather's grave after a recent series of grave robberies. Upon their travels, the group decide to pick up a hitch hiker (Edwin Neal) and from there on out, everything begins to descend into chaos.

Positives

The film was produced on a minimal budget ($60,000 or just over 38,000) and as such, Tobe Hooper was perhaps forced to be extremely creative in order to create his desired effects. Therefore, we never actually see very much gore or blood at all, yet we're made very well aware of what's occurring, and the prolonged shots and sequences only make the film more disturbing. As far as I'm aware, there wasn't really a soundtrack either, which definitely worked in the film's favour, because it doesn't use sounds to build a sense of dread and to foreshadow something violent. Consequently, the violence is brief and sudden, and can't be distinguished from the remainders of the film because it's filmed in the exact same way a dialogue scene is, and that in itself is quite disturbing because its portraying violence in quite a detached way, that very few other films choose to do.

The acting is terrific as well. Marilyn Burns is perhaps the greatest scream queen out of the countless actresses primarily known for their contributions to horror. Her dedication to her role is extremely admirable, considering her finger was actually cut on screen, and she was genuinely cut quite severely on branches during her chase scenes (so some of the blood on her clothes is actually her own). Also, considering she was screaming for quite a large proportion of her scenes, she never came across as amateurish or dissuading, and her scream was one of the more creepy elements of the film without a doubt. I also really liked Teri McMinn, who played Pam (the girl on the hook) whose walk up to the house is probably one of the most iconic shots of the film. However, she came across as the most charming and endearing member of the group, so seeing her endure one of the most brutal on screen deaths was difficult to say the least. However, the rest of the cast did brilliantly too, considering the extremity of the setting in which the film was shot (the temperature consistently went above 40C or 110F and some of them were wearing suits that couldn't be washed!) so that alone is worthy of praise!

Tobe Hooper's direction was also quite interesting, as I've already mentioned with his portrayal of violence. However, the initial chase scene between Leatherface and Sally, and the following dinner scene are both extremely extended scenes, yet they're never dull, there is always an impending sense of danger and due to the strong acting, the whole thing is just so creepy and atmospheric, and is just a pure exercise in terror. The ending is fantastic as well, seeing Sally trying to get away whilst also seeing the other males catching up was both mesmerising and petrifying at the same time. Honestly, it has to be one the greatest endings to a horror film, it was nothing short of magnificent.

Negatives

The plot was nothing special, although this film was never about the plot, it's just an assault on the senses really. However, its depiction of women is slightly questionable, in that neither Pam or Sally can do a thing to protect themselves, however, they're definitely presented to be more intelligent than the males in the film i.e. Pam insists that they don't pick up the hitch hiker, which they shouldn't have done and later refuses to enter the house, again a right decision. Additionally, Sally manages to escape death several times throughout the film without resorting to physical confrontation (although the one time she does, she fails miserably) so it can be forgiven in all honesty.

This is probably due to my own irresponsibility too, because I've seen many films (including the re-make and prequel) that undoubtedly used tropes established within this very film, and they were all pale imitations to say the least. Nevertheless, I kind of felt as though I'd seen this all before, the teenagers making silly mistakes, wandering into abandoned houses and creepy forests. I have no doubt that this film was the first one to do this, but I couldn't help but be a little bit bored in places, especially in the first half, because I knew what was coming and I just wanted them to cut to the chase (no pun intended). However, when the film really started to get going, I always remained enticed in what was going on, and the film still stands very strong on its own merits despite this. Nevertheless, had I seen this when it had been first released, I can't help but feel I'd enjoy the film a lot more than I did.

Conclusion

Complete with terrific acting, directing and money management, it isn't difficult to realise why this film is beloved by so many people. Yet had I been introduced to horror with this film, I probably would have been just as deeply impacted as audiences back in the seventies were. Its continued legacy and impact on pop culture is fascinating by itself. But, I'll give this film: