Thursday, June 30, 2011

"The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" a cult classic that inspired a genre

TITLE: "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre"
DIRECTOR: Tobe Hooper
STARS: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Gunnar Hansen
EDITOR: Larry Carroll, Sallye Richardson
BOX OFFICE: $30,859,000
RUN TIME: 83 min.

A group of teenagers decide to take a trip to an old family house for a weekend getaway. After a strange encounter with a crazed hitchhiker, and with little gas left, they find their way to the residence. Little do they know what awaits next door; an insane family, tucked away from societal influence, and with their own ideas of what it means to "have someone for dinner."

Few films reach the influential cult status of "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre." Outside of the chainsaw franchise itself (this film spawned 3 sequels, as well as a reboot series of films), Tobe Hooper's masterpiece has had a strong influence on the entirety of the horror genre.

This was one of the first genre films to boast the "based on a true story" tagline. It was an ingenious marketing move. Made for no more than $300,000 (though that is an arguable piece of information), the film went on to gross over $30 million! Contrary to this tagline thought, the events it was based on (according to the opening credits) happened after filming had finished. The crimes of Ed Gein (who also inspired "Psycho" (1960), "Halloween" (1978), and countless other horror films ) were loosely adapted for this film.

For a film that can be credited as starting a genre (slasher or splatter films), it is still surprisingly fresh. The beginnings of some cliche moments are forgiven for the fact that the film avoid many others. To go back to a film from over 30 years ago, after seeing so many movies inspired by it, can make the viewer nervous about boredom. No fear (of boredom) necessary. Hooper was trying to get a PG rating, and was filming on a low budget, so the gore/violence is more implied than graphic. Plenty of scares happen throughout the film, but none are cheap.

Hooper keeps creativity to a maximum throughout the film. Hansen was given control over his character, and it was he who decided that Leatherface would suffer from some sort of psychological disorder and mental retardation, adding a sympathetic edge to one of cinema's most violent killers. Creative camera work, and decisions by the director keep tension high. Immediately after the death of one teen, a door is quickly slammed shut to prevent the audience from seeing the rest of the carnage, which leaves the gore and violence echoing in their heads.

"The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" received middling reviews when released, and due to faulty business practices did not make much money for those actually involved in making it. It's cultural influence cannot be denied though. Many artists consider it a major influence on their pieces (Ridley Scott, Rob Zombie, John Carpenter, Alexandre Aja, among others), with Stephen King himself calling it a "cataclysmic terror" (

This writer saw the 2003 remake and was disappointed. If a modern remake of such an old film is really abysmal, what would the original hold? This was a great mistake! This film, while scary as hell, offered so much more. A taught thriller, that had the audience rooting for the protagonists, but also understanding the viewpoint of the crazed killer.

Hooper's decision to tastefully work around the violence and not focus on gore (in complete contradiction to the popular "torture porn" genre of the last few years), leaves the audience even more on the edge of their seats. What's going on behind the door? What exactly happened to the last victim? Why is he hurting these kids? Real world violence is so much scarier than the movies because no one knows all the answers. This film keeps the scares in the real world.

Tobe Hooper went on to "bigger and better" projects in the '80's, but this film has always been considered his best. It shows horror without making the audience feel cheap. It stays scary, long after the end credits roll. This is a masterful work. A must see for any horror fan. For those who might be a little queazy, you may need to skip this one. If you think you can stomach it though, take the time!

MY IMDb RATING: 8 out of 10

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