Last week, I made the embarrassing confession that I’d never seen Psycho. This week, it’s time that I finally admit that I never saw the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre until this week. Oddly enough, I saw the remake years ago. I bought it super cheap on VHS at one of those sales that Hollywood Video used to have. All I remember about the remake is that everyone looked incredibly sweaty, but in that Hollywood glycerin kind of way, and that the movie was incredibly yellow, like it was filmed on Instagram.
I just never got around to seeing Psycho until I had a reason. It’s weird that they never show it on PBS because they show Strangers on a Train every other week. Some movies scared me too much to see, like Hellraiser. I would seriously creep past the Hellraiser box at Blockbuster because I was scared Pinhead and his all-seeing eyes would spot me. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre falls somewhere in between for me. The idea of it scared me a lot when I was young and then I lost interest.
So how did this movie make me feel? It didn’t really scare me so much as leave me deeply unsettled.
The movie opens with a text-crawl about how this totally happened. You know how much I love those. Oddly enough, this movie and Psycho are both (very) loosely based in Ed Gein, the killer and grave-robber from the 1950s. Gein killed two women and also robbed graves, stole corpses’ body parts, and tried to make a woman suit.
The movie follows a group of friends on a trip to a graveyard in Texas. Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her brother, Franklin Hardesty (Paul A. Partain) want to visit their grandfather’s grave after hearing about a rash of grave robberies and desecrations in the cemetery where he was buried. Afterwards, they decide to visit their old family home which has fallen into disrepair. On the way they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal.)
He is totally nuts and manages to freak everyone out by cutting himself with a knife and then cutting Franklin.
They stop at a gas station and get directions to the Hardesty home from the Harbinger of Impending Doom. They take a fun tour of the creepy abandoned building while waiting for the gas station to receive its gas delivery. Franklin tells Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn) about a nearby swimming hole. They go look for it but it’s dried up. They’re lured to the Leatherface residence by the sound of a generator. They think that maybe they can buy some gas from whoever lives there.
Kirk is quickly bashed with a sledgehammer and Pam is meat-hooked while still alive. This is after she finds the Creepiest Room on Earth, full of bones and a chicken.
There’s no motive given, Leatherface is just looming, huge, and hostile.
Jerry (Allen Danziger) goes hunting for Pam and Kirk after they don’t show up for a while. He finds the house and Pam, who was trapped in a casket in a freezer. He’s hit on the head with a sledgehammer, like Kirk.
Sally and Franklin are left alone and finally decide to figure out what the heck is happening. Franklin is chainsawed by Leatherface and Sally ends up running to the Leatherface residence. She briefly escapes to the gas-station but it turns out that the Harbinger is related to the Leatherface clan and brings her right back. D’oh!
They agree to let grampa (John Dugan) have a crack at killing Sally since he was the best at killing when the old slaughterhouse was still open. She manages to escape again and is rescued by a pickup driver.
Despite its reputation, this movie is relatively bloodless. For me, the worst scene was Pam’s meat-hooking because it just looks so damn painful.
This movie helps establish some slasher tropes while also harking back to grindhouse classics like The Last House on the Left. There’s the lurking, apparently motiveless killer in a menacing mask. There’s a Final Girl. There’s a gauntlet of horrors to run, including finding the bodies of your dead friends. The elements are all there.
What sets this apart from the remake? The characters aren’t the most unlikable human beings on earth. I legitimately cared about their fates. Even Leatherface. There’s something so sad about him. Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface, regarded him as mentally disabled and played him as someone who never learned how to talk. He operates mostly on fear of his family. Poor Leatherface.
How many movies can one movie influence? I’m looking at you, Rob Zombie. I saw House of 1,000 Corpses before I saw this movie. Now that I’ve seen it, I wonder where the line is between influencing an artist and theft?
I wasn’t so much scared by this movie as I was unsettled. Everything in the movie felt slightly off, like things were happening in a slightly more sinister dimension. All the news in the news report on the radio playing in the beginning is bad news. Some people interpret the movie as an animal rights film but I see it more as commentary on the random cruelty people are able to inflect on each other. I also think you can see it as influenced by the Vietnam War, like The Last House on the Left. Seeing this movie gave me some insight into Tobe Hooper’s work and actually makes me see The Funhouse in a more positive light. I feel like I understand it more and would possibly like it more if I saw it again.
Past Slashermas Offerings;
Dark Night of the Scarecrow
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Who can Kill a Child?
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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