There’s this weird thing in our society where certain aspects of our popular culture seem to be known from birth. Before I ever watched a single horror movie I knew of Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and Leatherface. I can’t for the life of me tell you why I knew these things, perhaps commercials for the various sequels while I was growing up in front of a TV, maybe an older cousin or neighbor talking about them or maybe it was just so engraved in our culture now that we’re born with that knowledge. Either way, I’ve always heard how scary Texas Chainsaw Massacre was so when I had a birthday party/sleepover one year in Elementary school, I rented it.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a movie I hated when I watched it. I found the movie boring, slow and lacked any gore to keep me entertained. However I did watch the last 5 minutes of the movie multiple times before returning the VHS tape. After all the years of hype (keep in mind I couldn’t have been older than 12) and the demented box-covers I had seen for this movie it was INSANELY tame.
Then one day when I was in high school, I bought it for 5 bucks at a blockbuster sale. I watched it Halloween night (I believe it was my senior year, possibly my junior year) and it was like watching an entirely different film. With the lights out, sitting all alone in my house... the movie had an entirely new level of fright. From the opening narration and the quick shots of a rotting corpses to the final shot of Leatherface doing the ‘chainsaw dance’ I could not take my eyes off the screen.
The plot is simple enough. Someone in Texas is digging up corpses and putting them on a weird display. A brother and sister decide to check on their grandfather’s corpse and stop by his old house. They also bring some friends with them.
When they arrive at the house they are killed off one by one by Leatherface and his demented family of cannibals. The final girl escapes the horrible experience with her sanity literally almost gone.
There’s a few things that really make this movie work. First of all, the low budget. Like many horror movies from the 70’s the best ones are the low budget ones. This isn’t particularly because ‘Indie is better’ and ‘fuck the system’ (like today) but because the lower the budget the grittier the film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre plays out like a documentary more than horror movie. Everything looks and feels like it was shot on someone’s home camera.
Beyond that the low budget meant no budget for special effects. The nightmarish shooting schedule has been well documented. Rotted animal carcasses stank up the set, the fake blood was making everyone sticky and many actors bled for real. At any given moment this low budget horror film could have turned into a high budget snuff film.
Now despite all the praise I give for the low-budge quality, the top quality editing also makes the films terror level extra high. Close-ups of eyeballs, veins, mouths and the random decorations of the house really give you the feeling of chaos
Finally Marilyn Burns’ performance of Sally makes you love her character and genuinely feel for her as she rides off in someone’s truck at the end of the film. Her terrified/excited cackle leaves you wondering if it’s a good thing that she survived. How can she function in life after the ordeal she was just through? It’s the layers of terror that makes this film a classic, something the 2003 remake can’t come close to achieving.
Matt Kelly can also be found hosting The Saint Mort Show, Co-hosting the Reddit Horror Club Podcast, Writing for Geekscape,Tweeting and running Dollar Monday Promotions.