The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974
Horror movies are, as we all know, very hit and miss. Statistically, they’re mostly miss. For every Halloween there are five or six Manos: Hands of Fate. When there’s a Psycho, there’s a gaggle of I Drink Your Blood and others like it. That’s not to say that ‘bad’ horror films can’t be good; I’d be the world’s largest hypocrite were I to say that. Still, seeing a horror film transcend being just a ‘scare flick’, that dreaded second bill on a double feature (where everyone’s either falling asleep or making out anyways); well, that is a rarity. For a horror movie to actually come along and push you out of your comfort zone, put you on the defensive, and (dare I say it?) actually scare you…well, in my opinion, that’s the Prime Directive of horror movies, that intangible brass ring that’s so seldom seized. It’s why I and so many others have spent countless hours sitting in front of them. It’s why we’ll all continue to do so, striving for that lightning in a bottle that we crave.
Tobe Hooper and crew captured that lightning for us in his first effort, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This little venture had three strikes against it from the start; low, low budget, untested actors and crew (recent film school grads and students), and an unforgiving Texas summer to shoot in. Many of the cast and crew remember that, at the time, filming was both some of the most fun yet some of the most hellish and miserable times in their memories…the unyielding heat, the stench of a lot of the ‘props’ they were working with (most of the bones and meat were real, salvage from the roadside and from stockyards; hey, they didn’t have access to high-end latex appliances and such); making this film was difficult and trying. However, from this humble beginning a legend was born.
So much has been said before (and better than I can say it) about this landmark film, that there’s little I can add. However, to play my part, I’m just going to talk about the very beginning for a moment; set up the terror for any of you out there reading this that may be lucky enough to have not seen it but want to: We open to a black screen with a slow-scroll up; a haunting voice-over from a young, unknown John Larroquette sets an ominous, documentary-type tone to what we’re about to experience. The credit sequence itself subconsciously begins the assault on our fear centers, with its radio reports of senseless violence and disaster layered against a backdrop of the raging sun, blasting its solar flares into the void. Moving from there to darkness, we’re tormented with a short but nerve-wracking display of flashbulb horrors, accompanied by that now often-borrowed old-school strobe recharge sound, fading to a final news report of grave-robbing/desecration in Texas. Enter our protagonists; five young people, travelling in an old van. We learn they’re visiting the old homestead of Sally (the blond girl) and Franklin (the boy in the wheelchair)…
I won’t go into any more of the plot; if you’re reading this you either know it or don’t need to hear it so you can experience it yourself. I will take a few lines to praise Henkel’s story and Hooper’s direction; the film was unique in its time with the cinema veritas feel it was shot in, the portrayal of mindless insanity it spotlighted…films in that time usually had a resolution; a reason for the madness, and a feeling of closure at the end. TCM left us dangling, sitting in our seats, slapped across the face and wondering what the hell we’d gotten into. The performances were excellent; the terror always seemed real: for wild-eyed batshit hysterical terror, I don’t think Marilyn Burns in the role of Sally will ever be topped. Despite Leatherface’s imposing presence and undeterrable persistence, Gunnar Hansen portrayed him in such a way that you found yourself with a grudging sympathy for him at times. Edwin Neal’s Hitch-hiker is so over-the-top nuts that it transcends ‘over-the-top’ and becomes genuine, terrifying nuts, and Jim Siedow’s ‘Cook’ was so homey and amicable…well, I can’t say any more about him without risking a spoiler=P The cinematography was brilliant and forward-reaching for the resources they had; the extreme close-ups, the use of shadow; innovations being used to this day. One example has always stood out for me; watch for the tracking shot that goes under a swing and follows a character…think about how little money and equipment they had, and try to tell yourself it’s not genius.
One brief word on effects: The blood and gore, despite what you’ve heard, is minimal. Hell, Hooper himself has said many times that he was going for a PG rating, but the MPAA was so horrified by what was onscreen, he got an R no matter what he did to it. I repeat: blood and gore are minimal; you see a lot of bones and some meat roasting on a grill, but no real gore. I’ve had many conversations with other fans where they talk about some horrific blood-and-guts scene, entrails flying, limbs severed, etc….that simply didn’t happen. They aren’t there, folks. I promise. The horrors of this film are from the atmosphere it creates and what it gives to us, Fellow Fans, for our imaginations to use against us. For that to be so strong that what we see in our minds becomes what we recall as reality is the real power TCM has.
Every once in a while, the planets all align, the weather is right, and everything just comes together (I don’t know if I’d call it fate, but as Stephen King would say, it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it). That summer of 1974 was one of those instances. A group of University of Texas alumni and students, scrabbling together what resources they could, innovating and creating, made magic. The film they turned out from that brutally hot shoot still has its repercussions being felt today; remakes, homages, very-late sequels, etc. The strongest testimony to its relevance is that it draws a new audience year after year. Four decades later, I still hear people talking about it; some reminiscing, discussing their first time seeing it with that touch of nostalgia usually reserved for talking about your first car or your first date; others who’ve yet to have the experience chattering about their anticipation with an almost nervous glee…
It’s a rite of passage for us horror fans, and we hold to it with pride and love.
Long live the Saw.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2013
Oh the rash of remakes from great horror movies from the 70’s and 80’s are rampant these days, with more and more coming every year. The first major remake was in 2003 and was none other than the classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The remake was directed by video director Marcus Nispel and starred the beautiful Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Eric Balfour, and the one and only R. Lee Ermey.
There are some major issues with remakes. First and foremost, there are classic images, scenes, and/or performances that make a classic a classic. A remake, most of the time sours those images or performances by placing a newer actor in a role that could not be replaced, in our minds, by anyone else. This is the main reason why there is so much backlash when a remake is announced by the fans that hold these classics close to their heart. I, in fact, despise Gus Van Saint (Psycho remake) and Samuel Bayer (A Nightmare On Elm Street remake) for tarnishing the original classics for me. I can’t watch the originals without a little demon inside my head whispering and reminding me of how utterly fucked up and pathetic the remakes were, that diminishes my enjoyment of watching these films again.
One of the main reasons the remake wave is still flooding the cinemas was the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Me, not being the BIGGEST fan of Tobe Hooper’s original, was more than open-minded to a remake.
I feel the remake supersedes the original in many areas. Marcus Nispel’s vision was one of the first to have that monotone color tone that ever horror movie seems to have nowadays, not to mention the remakes. His innovative shots (see video below), and camera movement builds up the tension, the terror, and the scares without having shit pop out from nowhere to make you jump. The cast is incredible from the star (Biel) to the smallest performance (Lauren German as The Hitchhiker). The kills were bloody, as opposed to the originals off-camera kills, and the score was haunting and surreal.
Overall this remake stands up to it’s predecessor and even surpasses it on many if not all levels. This is one remake that people can’t bitch about, if they do they are nuts.
– Chad Armstrong
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