If I could pick one of the horror movies from the 1970 that really changed the way we look at movies today it would be “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” What makes “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” stand out above the rest is that it portrayed itself as a true story and was shot in almost eerie documentary style footage. The look of the movie is unique and artistic, given the material. The acting from both the family of psychopaths and young victims is solid. It brought a new type of urbanoia (a term coined for urban characters coming to rural settings and getting their come-uppance for their transgressions) fear into the audience’s mind that they hadn’t felt since “Deliverance.”
Sally, Franklin, and their three friends load up the mystery machine and drive to rural Texas to find the farm house where they grew up. They run into a psychotic hitchhiker who attacks them with a razorblade and a goofy BBQ chef who runs a gas station. Eventually they find their old farm house. Unfortunately, the neighbors are on the homicidal side. A seven foot tall, chainsaw-wielding nutcase is inside and he doesn’t like visitors. As the poster asks, “Who will survive and what will be left of them?”
The movie is portrayed as if it really occurred. There are shots of bodies that were dug up and left to rot in the heat. The footage is haunting and the brief squeaks of violin are quite spine-tingling. There is an intro text crawl read to us by John Larroquette. Most of the filming took place in the farm house where the furniture is made of animal bones and feathers. Considering the limited budget, they had to use every trick in the book to make this as disturbing as they could. The box office rewarded them handsomely for their suffering.
Some actors truly make this movie a marvel. Marilyn Burns steals the show as Sally. She shows terror like no one I’ve ever seen on screen before. The other notables are the family of psychopaths themselves. Gunnar Hansen, as Leatherface, is both terrifying and childlike in his mannerisms. There is a scene at the dinner table with Sally and the whole family. In this scene she cries and begs for her life as they laugh and mock her. This dinner table scene has been ripped off in so many other movies that it has now become a cliché.
The genius of that scene is that it’s a mockery of the American family. Leatherface is dressed in drag, so he plays the mother. The BBQ chef is the breadwinner, and he plays the father. The hitchhiker is the rebel teen, and even the elderly Grandfather is part of the insanity. They all have murderous, cannibalistic tendencies, but they can still sit as a family and eat dinner despite their dysfunction. There is a method to the madness of this movie.
This movie will make you feel like a rural setting is where you will meet a rusty and bloody end. This feeling is odd since this movie did not have a lot of gore. The few deaths you actually see are really tame by modern horror standards. It’s not nearly as exploitative as folks imagine by the title.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a really great movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should. It’s a classic of the genre. It showed that it was more than a lumbering idiot man-child with a penchant for the chainsaw. It was also a mockery of the 1970s American family. Tobe Hooper clearly knew a thing about satire since even the sequel movie poster for “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II” is a spoof of “The Breakfast Club.” It’s a slice of horror Americana.