What can I say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a bona fide genre classic, one of the most well-known horror movies EVER. A film that after 33 years still manages to give off that grim feeling of hopelessness and total terror. A film whose history is plagued with major censorship hassles (specifically during the mid-80s “video nasty” hysteria), mass walk-outs, and plenty of negative reviews by shocked and sickened critics. TCM is a film that reflects the bleakness of the era in which it was shot, which encompasses the aftermath of the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal, a time of government oppression, racial conflict and revolution.
The flimsy plot opens with a group of teenage friends, two of whom are brother and sister – Sally and the wheelchair-bound Franklin Hardesty – on a roadtrip in rural Texas, their purpose being that they are on their way to check on their Grandfathers grave after hearing reports of grave-robbing and vandalism at the cemetery where he’s buried. When the group begin running low on gas, they pull over at a petrol station but the owner says there won’t be any gas available till late afternoon. They decide to carry on up the road and wait at the deserted Hardesty family farm for fuel. While there a couple of the kids – Kirk and Pam, decide to go looking for an old swimming hole and in the process stumble upon a derelict farmhouse. Kirk, in the hope that the occupants may have some gas for sale, approaches the house and subsequently becomes the first victim of the homicidal, human skin-wearing, chainsaw-wielding Leatherface! From here on out the film is a basic slash / hack / chainsaw-fest, with all of the kids being eventually drawn to the house and killed off with the exception of Sally, who is treated to a rather eccentric family dinner, a round of hide ‘n’ go seek with Leatherface, then manages to eventually escape to freedom.
I think for me the thing that ultimately makes the film is Leatherface, he’s an absolutely terrifying force of evil, whether he’s caving in skulls with his sledgehammer or carving up some unlucky person up with his trusty chainsaw, he just manages to look so utterly deranged. A mindless beast who kills seemingly without reason, with his butchers apron and shrivelled mask of flesh gaudily painted up like a trashy hooker. He is the ultimate monster, far more realistic and horrifying than any Frankenstein or Dracula. One of my favourite images from the film is in the final scene where Leatherface does a crazed chainsaw dance with the rising sun for a backdrop.
Despite TCM’s reputation of being one of the most nasty and notorious horror films around, there really is very little blood and gore shown onscreen. The film relies more on its grimy atmosphere, the gritty low-budget 70s feel and the documentary-style shooting all help add to the realism of a psychotic redneck family living in the backwoods of Texas digging up graves and cannibalising tourists. All this is added to by the fact that the family of psychopaths (specifically Leatherface) are based on serial killer Ed Gein – the family home is filled with furniture and morbid accessories made out of human bones, there are lampshades made from human skin, even Leatherface’s infamous mask was once someone’s face.
Regardless of its horrific premise, TCM also has an undercurrent of black humour running through it too, as witnessed in such scenes as the “dinner party” where the withered, almost mummified figure of ol’ Grandpaw feebly tries to brain Sally with a hammer or when the family taunt Sally by echoing her petrified screams back in her face.
TCM is a landmark horror pic that needs to be seen by any self-respecting horror fan, it portrays an era of filmmaking that was raw, no-holds-barred and actually made an impact on you. This film has had an influence over genre cinema right up until today, it has been ripped off, “paid homage” to and referenced countless times by numerous directors (especially of late – Rob Zombie & Eli Roth).
Other classic products of 70s exploitation that are mandatory viewing: Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit on Your Grave and The Candy Snatchers.
In Umbrella Entertainment’s Region 0 NTSC 2-disc Collectors Edition release, the film is presented in an all new high definition transfer from the 16mm camera originals with 5.1 / 2.0 stereo surround soundtracks and a digitally remastered original mono soundtrack. The DVD is housed in a solid metal slipcase and the actual case art is raw mince with a price sticker on it saying “still fresh after 30 years”.
- Commentary with Tobe Hooper, Daniel Pearl and Gunnar Hansen
- Commentary with Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Allen Danziger and Robert A. Burns
- Documentary: Flesh Wounds
- Documentary: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth
- Deleted scenes and alternate footage
- Blooper reel
- Killing Kirk outtakes
- Kim Henkel interview
- Tobe Hooper interview
- Theatrical trailer, TV spots and radio spots
DIRECTOR(S): Tobe Hooper | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 1974 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Umbrella Entertainment | RUNNING TIME: 83 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16:9 | REGION: 0 | DISCS: 2