While the 80’s has long been considered the decade of the slasher films, today’s movie, which came out 6 years before that decade started, is usually considered to be the starting point for the genre. When I first started getting into horror movies, this is one of the movies that I had always heard about and wanted to watch. I would catch portions of the edited version on TV every now and then but it would be a while before I was able to rent it. Needless to say, the movie did make an impression on me and I became a fan, but it wouldn’t be until years later that I would pick up a copy, and that was done to compare the differences between the original and the remake when it came out. So let’s get our scare on with today’s movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
The plot: In a rural Texas County, a reporter is talking about a grotesque statue made from decaying body parts that is tied to a monument in a cemetery. The statue cause police to discover that dozens of graves had been robbed but there are no suspects in the case as yet. Sally Hardesty, her paraplegic brother Franklin, Jerry, Pam, and Kirk, are traveling to the graveyard to check on Sally and Franklin’s grandfather and see if his grave is one of the ones that was robbed. When they get to the cemetery, Sally is escorted inside to check on the grave and when she returns to the van, she tells Franklin that the grave didn’t look disturbed. Leaving the cemetery, the group decides to head to visit the old Hardesty homestead, passing by a slaughterhouse on the way there. When they spot a hitchhiker walking down the road, Jerry decides to pick him up so he doesn’t die from the heat but Pam and Sally have some reservations about the man. When the hitchhiker gets in the van, Franklin asks if he was by the slaughterhouse and the hitchhiker says that his whole family used to work there, showing Franklin pictures of the cows he had killed. When Franklin starts playing with his pocket knife, the hitchhiker suddenly grabs it and slashes his hand, then hands the knife back to Franklin before showing them the straight razor he carries.. The hitchhiker then pulls out a camera and starts taking pictures of everyone, then asks for $2 for the pictures. When they refuse, the hitchhiker proceeds to burn the picture, then grabs Franklin’s arm and cut it with his straight razor. Jerry pulls over and they kick the hitchhiker out of the van, where he proceeds to smear his bloody hand on the side of the van while making faces at Franklin as they drive off. Disturbed by the incident, the group continues down the road and stops at a gas station but the owner tells them he is out of gas at the moment and the transport won’t be there till later that afternoon. As the girls go to use the restroom and get some sodas, Franklin asks the owner if he knows the way to his grandfather’s old house and the owner says he does but recommends they don’t go there, as they are likely to get hurt. The group heads out anyways, making plans to return to the station later to get gas, and they eventually arrive at the house. As Sally leads the others inside the house to show them around, Franklin stares at the blood smear on the van, worrying that the hitchhiker might try to follow them. When Franklin heads inside, he hears everyone laughing upstairs and starts feeling dejected, as he is unable to join them. Kirk and Pam head downstairs and ask Franklin about the swimming hole he said was around there. Franklin tells them where to go and they head off only to find that the creek has long since dried up. Seeing a farmhouse nearby, Kirk and Pam head towards it to see if they might have any gas they can borrow. Reaching the house, Kirk knocks on the door and calls out but receives no answer so, finding the door unlocked, he heads inside. Hearing a sound coming from a room filled with animal skulls, Kirk moves forward to investigate when Leatherface, a large man wearing a mask made from a human face, suddenly appears and kills Kirk by hitting him in the head with a mallet, then drags him into the room and closes the door. Getting worried that Kirk hasn’t come out of the house, Pam heads inside to look for him. As she looks around, she trips and falls into a room that is full of human and animal bones, with furniture made from the bones and skin. Pam runs out of the house just as Leatherface emerges from the room and he grabs her and takes her into the room, then impales her on a meat hook, where she is forced to watch as Leatherface uses a chainsaw to start carving up Kirk. As the sun starts to set, Jerry decides to go looking for Kirk and Pam and eventually makes his way to the house. Calling out for his friends, Jerry heads inside and, hearing what he thinks is Pam, makes his way towards the back room. Hearing something coming from the freezer, Jerry opens it to discover Pam inside and, she suddenly jerks and tries to get out of the freezer. Leatherface shows up and kills Jerry with the mallet, then stuffs Pam back in the freezer, checks the windows for anyone else in the area, then sits down in a chair. Back at the Hardesty house, Sally and Franklin are arguing about whether they should try to go and get help or look for their friends themselves. When Franklin discovers that Jerry took the keys with him, they decide to head out looking for them and make their way towards the creek. Seeing the lights from the house in the distance, they make their way there, with Sally pushing Franklin. Suddenly, Leatherface appears and uses his chainsaw to kill Franklin then chases after Sally, who goes running through the woods to try and escape. Making her way through the thick brush, Sally reaches the house and screams out for help, then heads inside and locks the door as Leatherface arrives and begins using the chainsaw to cut through the door. Sally runs upstairs screaming for help and enters an open room to find the desiccated corpses of an elderly couple, one of them looking more decayed than the other. Sally starts to head back downstairs only to find that Leatherface has finally made it through the door so she runs back upstairs and jumps out the window to escape. Sally goes running back through the woods, with Leatherface continuing to chase her, and eventually reaches the gas station. Sally races inside and the owner tries to calm the terrified girl down and when she says they need to call the police, he says there isn’t a phone there so they will have to drive to the station. As the owner goes to get his truck, Sally looks around his kitchen and notices that the meat he is smoking for his BBQ is actually human bodies. When the owner returns with his truck, he brings in a sack and some rope and Sally grabs a knife to try and defend herself but the owner attacks her with a broom and knocks her unconscious, then ties her up and covers her head with the sack before loading her in the truck and driving off. As he heads back to the house, the owner sees the hitchhiker walking towards the house and stops the truck, then berates the hitchhiker for leaving his brother alone at the house. They finally reach the house and the owner has the hitchhiker grab Sally and take her inside while he goes to berate Leatherface. The hitchhiker takes Sally into the dining room and ties her to a chair, then removes the bag from her head and when he recognizes Sally, begins taunting her. The owner tells the hitchhiker to go get their Grandpa and after asking Leatherface to help him, Sally is horrified to see them bringing the body of the old man from upstairs. The hitchhiker frees one of Sally’s arms and Leatherface cuts her fingers and moves it to the old man’s mouth and Sally starts screaming as it is revealed that the old man is still alive and he begins sucking the blood from her fingers. Sally passes out from terror overload and when she regains consciousness, she finds herself still seating and begins screaming again. Nubbins Sawyer (the hitchhiker) and Leatherface begins screaming as well until their older brother Drayton, the gas station owner, tells them to cut it out. Nubbins talks back to Drayton, arguing that he is just the cook while he and Leatherface do all the killing, and Drayton tells Nubbins to just get it over with. Nubbins decides to let Grandpa kill Sally and as Leatherface moves Grandpa’s chair and gives him a mallet, Nubbins unties Sally and drags her over to him. Grandpa’s grip is too weak and he constantly drops the hammer before eventually managing to hit Sally in the head but doesn’t kill her. Before he can hit her again, Sally manages to get free from Nubbins’ grip and jumps out a window to escape the house. The wounded Sally makes her way towards the road, with Nubbins chasing after her, followed by Leatherface. Nubbins begins slashing Sally with his razor as she reaches the road but ends up being hit by a semi. As the truck stops, Sally races towards the cab for help and the driver, seeing Leatherface approaching behind her, quickly drags her inside and closes the door. When Leatherface begins attacking the truck, Sally and the driver jump out the other side and run down the road, with Leatherface chasing them. The driver throws a heavy wrench at Leatherface, knocking him down and causing the chainsaw to cut into his leg. As the driver continues running down the road, Sally manages to flag down a passing pick-up and jumps in the back, narrowly avoiding being attacked by Leatherface. As the truck drives away, Sally begins laughing maniacally as the shock of everything overtakes her while Leatherface stands in the road, swinging his chainsaw in frustration at her getting away.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) initially drew mixed reviews but has since garnered a more favorable response from the critics, holding an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Thanks to a smart script and documentary-style camerawork, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre achieves start-to-finish suspense, making it a classic in low-budget exploitation cinema.” Inspired by the real life crimes of Ed Gein, director Tobe Hooper tried to limit the onscreen gore so he could get a PG rating but the MPAA gave the movie an R rating, while it would end up banned in several countries due to the violence. Even though numerous theaters pulled the movie after complaints about the violence, it would still end up being a box office smash, earning $30.9 million off of a $300,000 budget and would spawn numerous sequels and remakes over the years while being considered one of the most influential horror films in history.
Kudos to Tobe Hooper because he made one hell of a horror movie here. The acting was pretty good, especially considering that Hooper used mostly unknown actors in the movie. Gunnar Hansen’s portrayal of Leatherface would influence directors and actors in horror movies for decades to come, while Marilyn Burns did a great job as Sally, doing a great job projecting the terror she felt at everything happening to her. The story was great, with Ed Gein providing the basis for the cannibalistic Sawyer family. The tone was incredible, with all of the cuts that Tobe Hooper made to try and get a PG rating actually making the movie more effective as a horror movie, as you are left to imagine what happened in some of the cases, while the screaming helped accent the terror that people felt. I will say that the scene with Leatherface hanging Pam on the meat hook while he starts carving into Kirk, and her knowing that she is next being particularly terrifying. Due to the limited budget, Hooper couldn’t afford much in the way of special effects but he made good use of what he did with the make-up as well as the bone furniture in the house. A must see movie for any horror fan and actually a movie that is worth watching for any movie fan.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5