Texas Tuesday: Stop calling The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a dark comedy


After years of fans calling the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre a dark comedy, including the late Tobe Hooper, we have to stop the surreal nonsense.

There’s nothing funny about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre….

Welcome back to Texas Tuesday. The day 1428 Elm heads back to Texas, today we’re focusing on the immortal 1974 classic. While we’re still mourning the loss of series godfather Tobe Hooper, I have a blade to pick with the late icon.

Although it’s apparent — or it should be — that Leatherface’s debut is straight horror, some claim the film a dark comedy. In fact, Hooper has stated this as well, leading others to repeat the filmmaker’s view in a push to seemingly come across as more intelligent. And while I’m not so narcissistic to assume I know an artist’s art more than it’s creator, this view has always struck me as more a joke for Hooper and not, in fact, the case.

So, try to stay sane in the blistering heat as I get into why there’s no way in Texas the original Chainsaw Massacre is a dark comedy.

The Tone As It Revs

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While the interaction between the hitchhiker (later Nubbins in the sequel) and our band of unlucky travelers is somewhat funny in a detached sense, the tone says otherwise. Although Edwin Neal’s performance is no doubt over the top, it never plays for laughs. If Hooper really wants the audience to laugh, instead of fearing the man’s creepiness, the tone would illicit such.

Which really leads to a discussion of what tone is. Tone, for those still scratching their heads with a chainsaw, isn’t about genre but mood. It’s how the film lets the audience know they’re in the realm of one thing or another. Tone’s not the house which it’s in (genre), but the atmosphere of the planet in which that house sits upon.

Take Scream vs Scary Movie for example. While some characters in 96 classic are no doubt funny, Wes Craven isn’t playing the film for laughs. When people are killed, you feel it deep within. When Tatum meets her maker, you deepen with sadness. But with Scary Movie, given the tone of the Keenen Ivory Wayans’ flick, deaths are fun. You laugh when character’s die because the tone let’s you know this is a comedy. With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, deaths grab you by the throat while chilling you to your core.

Documenting The Destruction 

Examining the tone leads me to the another clear cut point. If Hooper really wants his audience to ingest a dark comedy, why is the film encapsulated in an almost documentary structure? Documentaries, unless a joke from the get go (which is play on the concept and not a documentary) are in essence about real emotions and serious situations. So if we’re suppose to really be experiencing comedy, then why not make the film more in the traditional manner and not give it the doc feel? It’s this approach that causes audiences to be truly disturbed instead of chuckle. And let’s be honest, have you ever laughed when watching the film when not thinking you should be doing so?

The Sequel Satiates

While I highly question Hooper’s comedic purpose with the original, I can’t deny the sequel is hilariously side-splitting. But as I’ve pointed out the purpose of tone, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 focuses more on laughs than deaths. Every death in the film plays for laughs, from the yuppies in the beginning to L.G spitting when taking the brunt of Choptop’s carnage. Hell, even when L.G comes back, the situation plays for the funny as much as the fright. And it’s because Hooper wanted you to feel this way from the start.

But with the original, it’s simply not there. And at the end of the day, give Kirk, Jerry and Franklin more respect than that. They truly deserve it.

So seriously, can we stop calling The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a dark comedy? This has been another edition of Texas Tuesday. We’ll see the chainsaw crowd in Texas next week for more carnage.

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Fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Think the film is too scary for comedic consideration? Let the other Texans know what you think in the comment section below.