Walter’s Top 5 Slashers: #3 Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Dir: Tobe Hooper
Cert: 18 • US: 120 min • Bryanston Pictures • 1974
Walter Beck reviews
Welcome back loyal readers. We’re at the halfway point in our Halloween Slasher Countdown, and for this one we’re going south to Texas for one of the grisliest slashers to ever grace a movie screen, Tobe Hooper’s gritty vision of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Set in the back roads of Texas, the films follows five young people, Sally, Franklin, Jerry, Kirk, and Pam. They travel to an old cemetery after reports of local grave vandalism to see if their grandfather’s grave is still intact.
After finding the grave intact, they get back on the road and pick up a strange looking hitchhiker. The hitchhiker rambles on about the nearby slaughterhouse, saying “My family’s always been in meat.” He slashes himself with a knife, takes a picture of the group in the van, and after they refuse to pay for it, he burns it. In a fit of rage, he slashes Franklin with a straight razor and they throw him out of the van.
The group speeds down to a service station for gas, but the owner tells them the pumps are empty. They decide to head down to an old homestead where Franklin tells them there’s a swimming hole. They find the swimming hole dry, but on hearing a generator, Kirk and Pam go to investigate and see if they can get some gas. They walk into the house and the deranged killer Leatherface bursts out of the door smashes Kirk with a sledgehammer and takes him in the back room to butcher him.
Pam runs to help Kirk, but stumbles into a room full of furniture and decorations made out of human bones. Leatherface grabs her, takes her to the back room, hangs her on a meat hook while he revs up his chainsaw and finishes butchering Kirk.
Night falls and Sally and Franklin start looking for their friends, in the dark, Leatherface emerges and kills Franklin with his chainsaw. Sally runs back to the service station where the old owner kidnaps her and brings her back to the house …
Tobe Hooper establishes many standards with this low budget gristly film: the false narrative of claiming it was based on true events, the psychotic masked killer, and the grainy film styling, all adding to the level of shock and horror.
Another classic technique that Hooper used, one perfected by Alfred Hitchcock, is the level of implied violence. Sitting through the film, you think you’ve just witnessed a blood bath, but in reality, there is very little on-screen gore. Hooper used atmosphere to create the illusion of blood. This technique would be used by many slasher directors until the gore craze of the 1980s.
The haunting atmosphere and implied gore made this an incredibly controversial film upon its release. It was pulled from several theaters in the United States, it was threatened with an obscenity charge in Canada, and in the UK the British Board of Film Classification refused to grant the film certification until 1998, twenty-four years after its original release.
Tobe Hooper’s stark, gritty vision remains a landmark amongst slasher films, establishing many trademarks of the genre and opening the door for many films that would follow. Like many popular slashers, it spawned a series of sequels, some of which aren’t half bad, and a remake that came out in 2003 (don’t bother with it).
So this Halloween season, head down to Texas and visit Leatherface and his family – just don’t stay for dinner…