The Texas Chain Saw Massacre hit theaters like a grisly piece of outsider art
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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D has us thinking about “real horror” movies.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
“The film you are about to see it true,” lied the tagline for Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a piece of misinformation that Hooper claimed mirrored the lies being pushed by the United States government at the time. But the line also establishes the film’s distinct aesthetic: Roughly inspired by the Ed Gein case, Hooper’s low-budget shocker isn’t a stylized, escapist piece of horror filmmaking, but one that emphasizes real terror through a plain, matter-of-fact brutality that’s infinitely more disturbing. Hooper removes all the varnish from the genre and shows how human beings suffer and die at the hands of other human beings—the film’s literal slaughterhouse functions as a stand-in for the metaphoric slaughterhouse of the Vietnam War.
Hooper follows five teenagers as they visit their grandfather’s desecrated grave in a Texas backwater, but trouble begins when they pick up a vicious hitchhiker who slashes one of them (and himself) with a straight razor before getting ejected from the car. After running out of gas, they head to a creepy old clapboard house for help and wind up becoming the victims of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and his family of crazy cannibals. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre arrived in theaters like a grisly piece of outsider art, so defying genre convention that critics and audiences—and some public officials—didn’t know how to process it, other than to ban it in some places. Now, nearly 40 years and many remakes and imitators later, the film has lost virtually none of its impact, looking all the more like a home movie someone found in an attic somewhere and unleashed on an unprepared public.
Availability: DVD/BD, though it’s ideally viewed through a beat-up projector like the one in Summer School.