THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
Director: Tobe Hooper
Year of release: 1974
Country of origin: USA
Running time: Around 80-84 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Tagline: "Who will survive and what will be left of them"?
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: After some graves are desecrated and body parts stolen from the cemetery of a small Texas community, siblings Sally and wheelchair bound Franklin take a road trip into town to check on the grave of their late grandfather. With some friend tagging along they find the grave to be undisturbed but before they can leave the area they pick up a deranged looking hitchhiker from the roadside. Claiming he used to work killing cattle at the local slaughterhouse the hitchhiker freaks everyone out with his bizarre behavior which includes cutting his own hand. His actions result in him being kicked from the vehicle but the friends are left rattled by the encounter. The group then find they are unable to continue on much further as they are running low on gas. Finding the pumps at the local garage empty they decide to check out some property owned by the siblings grandfather while they wait for the next gas delivery to arrive. The property which has fallen in to a dilapidated state since the old mans death is situated close to an old farmhouse which some of the group soon visit. When explored the farm proves to be the lair of a crazed family of backwoods cannibals among them the unhinged hitchhiker from earlier and the deranged and terrifying Leatherface.
Good points: There is a nice opening monologue at the beginning which has since gone on to become a staple of the series. It is quite different and not something I've seen mimicked too much elsewhere in the genre. It sets the tone nicely and right off the bat creates an air of dread and suspense as we wait to see what horrors the speaker is referring to.
Some good acting and interesting characters quickly reveal themselves. Franklin being in a wheelchair was a good move as it instantly set him apart and made him seem more vulnerable and segregated as well even from his own friends. The hitchhiker came across well as a genuinely mad individual so good acting there which is something we also see from the cook character once his true nature is revealed. We also have some good eye candy in Pam and Sally does well with final girl duties appearing genuinely terrified and traumatized towards the end.
There is a dramatic long drawn out chase scene involving Sally and Leatherface where he is chasing her around the farm area shortly after separating her from Franklin. There is a lot of tension and excitement here with Sally desperately trying to outdistance Leatherface, a chase made all the more engaging due to the unusual choice of weapon in the chainsaw which is buzzing all the while.
The iconic Leatherface himself is a sight to behold from his creepy skin like mask to his stained apron and guttural animal noises. The other members of the clan namely the Hitchhiker and the ghoul like grandpa are also intimidating in their own right. Helping things along is the house itself and the surrounding property which is all well put together with bones, animals, feathers and skins much in evidence as well as just generally filthy conditions which all adds to the menace of the situation.
Although the main chase sequence takes place at night it is nice to see the rest of the action including the finale occur in the well lit daytime. It goes against the formula of bad things happening to people in horror films usually only at night and lends things perhaps a slightly more realistic believable air as of course in reality murder could take place at any time of day especially in the middle of nowhere.
Bad Points: Even though it is seen as one of the most memorable and disturbing parts of the film I'm not overly keen on the dinner scene towards the end. For me there was a bit too much screaming and wailing going on and the whole thing just seemed too noisy and over the top for my taste. I think the actors did a good job as coming across as crazy but I felt it went on a bit too long and I felt like I was urging it to be over as I was watching.
A couple of small things relating to the Hitchhiker near the start bugged me as it seemed a bit unrealistic hat the group didn't question him more after he cut his hand. They seemed surprised but not as much as you would think and they didn't insist on an explanation or kick him out straight away. Also he leaves some sort of scrawled symbol on the vehicle in blood and it is mentioned that he was possibly trying to write something. I was hoping that would be built on and explained later but it never was.
Only a very small thing here but as the film was pretty short there wasn't a lot of time for character development. We didn't know the group very well really in particular Kirk, Pam and Jerry who were all dispatched pretty quickly once the farmhouse was discovered. I would have liked to see the film go on for say five to ten minutes longer with the time used to help build up the characters. For example we could have learned more about why Franklin was in a wheelchair. Having said this though the film is responsible for helping set the template of the group of kids in peril in isolated country and one girl being all that is left towards the end so I can't be too critical.
Verdict: I'd say this is certainly deserving of its classic status and is a film hat still has the power to capture and scare an audience today. Was no doubt instrumental in inspiring many other horror and slasher films that came afterward so for that alone it deserves both credit and attention. I personally don't enjoy it as much as some of the other big franchise films that came later like Halloween and Scream but I can still admire this one and although it is by no means a favourite I can see why it is so popular.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Kirk: hit on the head with a sledgehammer or mallet type instrument.
2) Pam: Impaled through the back on a hanging meat hook and then stuffed into a freezer.
3) Jerry: As with Kirk attacked with the sledgehammer/mallet.
4) Franklin: Hacked up with a chainsaw.
5) The Hitchhiker: Hit by a truck.