The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Movie Review
In a rural town in Texas, one family is wreaking havoc among townsfolk. Hooper’s imaginative horror feature is disturbing!
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Paul A. Pertain, Allen Danzinger, Teri McMinn, William Vail, John Dugan, Jim Siedow & Edwin Neal.
Run Time: 83 min.
US Release: 11 October 1974
UK Release: 21 November 1976
German Release: 25 August 1978
Welcome to my new Halloween segment: “Friday Fright Nights”. First up in my series of reviews is Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Having been banned in several countries for its source of brutality, Hooper’s cinematic product is not as graphic as one might expect, though psychologically seriously disturbing. I did not see the original until I was nineteen years old, though even then it took me a couple of watches more, to fully appreciate what I was experiencing. So hold on to your chairs and slash with me through my review for… The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
Two siblings embark on a road trip through rural Texas with three of their friends, to visit the grave of their grandfather. On the way back, looking for gasoline, they stumble across what appears to be an empty house, only to discover a sinister creature living within. Armed with a chainsaw, it starts hunting the teenagers. A fight ensues between life and death.
A low-budget production, Hooper came up with the basic plot idea, while working as an assistant film director, as well as a documentary cameraman, both of which would serve as pivotal in the making of this horror flick! During that time, he had already envisioned a narrative that would use the motives of isolation plus darkness as its main components. The real cases of serial killers Ed Gein and Elmer Wyne served further as inspirational elements.
Finally, the misinformation about the movie being based on true facts was an artistic form of response to the cultural and political changes within the US - specifically, the government misleading the public. The final screenplay was co-written between Hooper and Kim Henkel, who formed Vortex Inc. as a production company. The central message was to depict the macabre madness of men, who the director believed to be the real monster, hiding behind masks.
With a slow build-up towards the first kill, the main villain Leatherface would first make his appearance 30 minutes into the runtime, however, even then the carnage was minimal, mostly even hinted at, since the director intended to create more psychological unease, drenched in realistic looking footage, than a blood-soaked tale.
While the story was competently handled, it drops the ball completely when it comes to dialogue. Most of the conversations don’t sound realistic, and it surely has to do with the poor delivery as well, nonetheless, there is something about the dialogue that feels plastic.
Given the low budget, it comes as no surprise that the cast was formed by a group of relatively unknown actors at the time. Most of them were Texans, who had performed in commercials or Television. Some of them were propelled to stardom, after the release of the movie.
Marilyn Burns, who was given the lead role of Sally, was at that time a student at UT Austin. Her portrayal of the lone female survivor was at times too hysteric. The constant screaming started to unnerve even me, since she was permanently giving away her position in the darkness of night. Personally, I do believe that her survival was more due to sheer luck.
Gunnar Hansen played the infamous Leatherface. An Icelandic actor, Hansen regarded the villain to have an intellectual disability, which lead him to visit a special needs school, to learn how students moved and talked. This gave Leatherface his trademark mannerisms.
Cinematographically, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an absolute gem of a horror flick! The 16mm film it was shot on, gives the picture a grimy, dirty feel that enhances the macabre atmosphere and at the same time heightens the scare factor. It also gives the whole flick a near-documentary look, which again sold Hooper’s mislead about this being a real story. The heat wave during the shoot, created discomfort among the cast, inadvertently giving the characters a realistic feel on film.
The effects are all simple and practical in nature. The on-screen blood was partially real, with animal blood, obtained from a slaughterhouse, covering the walls. The furniture plus decoration inside the house was constructed from animal bones, with latex material used to give it the appearance of human skin. Since there was not enough money for a second set of costumes, the cast needed to wear their first set for all 32-days of shooting.
The feature has barely any music in it, mostly making use of the quiet surrounding that is occasionally broken by a running generator, empty cans swinging in the wind or the terrifying noise of the chainsaw. This intensified the feeling of isolation.
Verdict: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a misunderstood product of the early 70s. The screenplay includes a lot of metaphorical messages; from an artistic protest against the false coverage of the Vietnam War to the director’s interpretation of the monstrosities committed by man, this horror picture is on many levels much deeper than at first glance. Yes, the dialogues are not written very well and the cast is inexperienced, nonetheless, the fantastic cinematography makes up for most of its shortcomings! The 16 mm camera added a whole new layer of authenticity, as did the low-budget effects. The discomfort of the cast is transferred to the characters, making them believable. Also, don’t let us forget… it launched Leatherface as one of the most infamous villains in cinematic history! An absolute must-see during Halloween time, deserving an 8.0 out of 10!
Have you seen Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre yet? If not give it a try! It will linger in your thoughts for some time! Thank you for reading!