#289 -- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Rating: 4 / 5
Everyone knows Leatherface, his family, and what they're all about. Some are old-timers, who know everything based on the originals. Some are youngsters and know more about the more recent string of movies. But me? I didn't know anything. I'd seen that one remake in 2003, but I didn't know much about it, and didn't remember much after I watched it. This is the first time - yes, that's right - that I have seen where Leatherface began. The most I've ever known about him and these movies is about Ed Gein, the man on which he was based. He was very loosely based on Gein, and the real man was a much more terrifying thing. But I can see now how they drew inspiration from him to create this piece of cinematic history. I've always felt like such a bad horror fan, being that I'd never seen this movie which receives such high praise. Now I feel...strange, because I feel like I should have enjoyed it a lot more than I did. Not saying I didn't like it; just saying, it's not as great as I'd hoped it would be. I feel like it would have been better had I watched this as a child, with absolutely no knowledge of it, what it was based on, and with nothing to base my experience on. If that had been the case, I think I would have enjoyed it much more. But as it is, I found it to be an okay movie that I respect...but wasn't blown away by.
It was about a group of friends making their way to an old house. It centers on Sally and her brother Franklin. After hearing about a string of grave robberies at the cemetery where their grandfather was buried, they decided to go have a look and make sure his grave wasn't among the ones that had been dug up. After making sure that he wasn't, they went to the house where they spent many days as children. On the way, the picked up a strange hitchhiker who seemed more than a little bit insane. He told them all about his family that ran the slaughterhouse, cut his own hand open, and then sliced into Franklin as well. They kicked him out of their van, of course, but they - mostly Franklin - became worried that the man was angry and might follow them. Little did they know, that man wasn't all they needed to worry about. A string of events led them to a farmhouse that wasn't far from their own, and they met up with a family of cannibalistic redneck crazies. There was the hitchhiker, his brother (Leatherface), a man who I assume was their father, and their grandfather who looked to have one foot already in the grave. There was no group slaying, or anything of that nature, as by the time Sally realized what she'd gotten herself into, her friends were already dead and stuffed in Leatherface's freezer. She ended up having to face this family all on her own.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre did not have much of a budget to work with, and it shows. But there were some interesting things going on here. I particularly liked the summery feel of things. It was bright, hot, and the sun flares on the camera made me feel like it could have been a vacation video. The way things looked, in that area, made it feel like there should be happy and fun things going on, which is always an interesting thing in horror movies. The contradictory tones - in the way things look, and the events taking place- immediately make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Leatherface was not hidden in shadows for the majority of the movie; he was drenched in sunlight. There was also something about how everything seemed so natural. You're not being forced into being scared here. Again, there's nothing hidden in shadows, nothing jumping out at you at opportune moments. It feels almost like a relaying of information. Like, here, this is what happened, no tricks, no gimmicks. Everything going on felt like a natural series of events, like these things were supposed to happen. The movie was very subtle in that way, also. The viewer isn't slapped in the face with any of its so-called "scary" things, but we're left to simply feel them.
Texas Chainsaw isn't a blood-drenched horror movie, as some (like I did) might expect. It's not filled with gore and shocking murder scenes. What makes it scary is the mere knowledge of what is happening. Everyone outside of the group of friends was in on it. Everyone they met during their travels had something to do with that house and that family. That is where the terror lies: that no matter where you go, no matter who you meet, and no matter who you feel might help you...you're never truly safe. At the end, it can be assumed that Sally gets away. But there is no real resolution. She doesn't overcome the killers and get revenge on them for killing her friends. And that, too, is where the terror lies...in the fact that evil never truly dies.
Though all of this is well and good, and that subtle terror is something that many people love, I still feel as though things are not as I expected them to be. I had gone through my life knowing that the movies and the character are things that people in the horror community absolutely love and adore. I went all these years believing that I was missing out on something completely wonderful. But now that I've seen it, I feel like it was all hype. Though I can see where the brilliance in the movie lies, I wasn't as blown away by it as I figured I would be. I'm disappointed that it wasn't 100% amazing, as I'd expected. But even if I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped, I still respect it for what it is, and I understand why it's so beloved by my peers. Maybe as I continue on, watch the other movies in the series, and get to know these characters better, I'll be able to fully understand why everyone finds it so amazing. I look forward to delving deeper into this world that Tobe Hooper created.