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August 12, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #32 - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

I've always been kind of intimidated by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's a movie that's dripping
with unease, a movie that's more about a feeling than a plot, and a movie that I've always felt is near impossible to put into words. For example, I've spent about an hour on this review thus far. Sure, I've been roaming the internet and fielding calls from work during that time, but the impending challenge has still been staring into my soul for that long.
The thing about Tobe Hooper's grindhouse hit, as I understand it, is that it's one of the rare horror movies that forgoes any kind of levity. While other titans of the '70s, like Halloween, Jaws, and The Exorcist, peppered in some lulls in the action - which were usually used to build characters and establish a sense of calm within the plot's chaotic design - Hooper's film appears to be entirely opposed to slowing up to let the viewers get in touch with the "real" Sally Hardesty, or any of her expendable friends and relatives (aside from that weird scene with Franklin getting all spittle-y).  And forget about learning more about the sick family who terrorize them, they exist solely as a force of aggression.

There's a moment about halfway through the film where we almost get that break, as Sally stumbles
into the roadside station manned by Jim Siedow's crazed cook. We don't yet know how the character
fits into the film as he briefly comforts Marilyn Burns' Sally, but - for a moment - it does seem like we're going to get a break in the action. That moment is incredibly brief, a tease from another person who wants to control and terrify us, and the film picks up right where it left off as Sally is again thrust into the mouth of terror.
Movies like this are not easy for any viewer, including the most hardcore horror lovers. Maybe time and repeat viewings have numbed the film's impact to some, but I still find it incredibly hard to look at the film - which I've seen a number of times - and call it fun or entertaining. The film is mentally taxing, because it seems to have been designed to attack the viewer when they're most vulnerable. And it never lets up.

As you can see, I've spent most of the last four paragraphs covering up any kind of negative comment I have about the movie.  Like I said, it's totally intimidating, and I don't want to incur its wrath.  If the horror films of the '70s all went to the same grade school, there's no doubt The Texas Chain Saw Massacre would have been the playground bully.  It's loud, it's in your face, it's from the area where no one dares to go's the boss.  I can totally see it laughing at taunting the dark haired kid in the corner and calling it "the son of a jackal", or making fun of the Canadian killer who's a deep breather because he's got a bad case of asthma.  That's just the kind of movie Hooper and crew made.
Of course, there's something anyone who's gone through grade school knows about any bully.  Normally, the biggest, baddest, most unrelenting bullies...are actually pretty harmless.  Unlike its Michael Bay produced remake or the slew of "video nasties" that followed in its footsteps, the film only aims to get in your head and doesn't resort to physical means - there's barely any blood, and next to no nudity.  It makes you think it's going to get physical (so much so that the film was banned and earned a reputation as a gross and vile film), but it never really goes to far, except for a little gumming.  And after I realize the movie's not after me physically, and realize it's just a misunderstood kid who's doing what it's learned from its elders, that's when the love comes in. 

Good for you, Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  You can have my lunch money any day, just keep presenting that unrelenting and aggressive front that I've learned to love.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


Morgan said...

Is it wrong for me to say that I enjoy The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 more? I will admit though, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre did scare the crap of me when I was little. I agree with your opinion on the film.

"Leatherface! Leatherface! Leatherface!"

Emily Louise Church said...

This film with terrify me until the day I die and for that reason it's one of my favourite horrors.

The Mike said...

I don't think it's wrong, they're two entirely different beasts. I've only seen the sequel once, actually, but I've been meaning to see it again soon. From what I recall, it kinda reminded me of what Hellraiser II was to Hellraiser....similar brutality, increased cheese, and a grander scope.

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Definitely in my top 5 of all-time favorite horror films. I first saw this when I was 7 years old and it haunted me for years. To this day, I still get nervous about going down to Texas. I never want to run into these people. It's definitely a taxing film [especially during Sally's ordeal], but it's a classic for a reason: it gets into your head. They don't make them like this anymore, no matter how many indie horror directors and Rob Zombie have tried. It's one of a kind for sure. Great post!

John Eno said...

I love Patton Oswalt's standup routine about how, just based on the title alone, you know that you're in for a fucked-up experience when you watch this.

AE said...

"more about a feeling than a plot." Absolutely right. And the feeling is more complex than the title would have you believe. I delayed seeing this film for years and was blown away by it. Leatherface's maniacal sunrise dance with his chainsaw is one of my favorite images in film, ever. Yeah, it's loud and in your face, but it's beautiful.