31 Days of Horror: The Beautiful Brutality of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Photo: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.. Image Courtesy Shudder
Photo: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.. Image Courtesy Shudder /

Tobe Hoopers 1974 horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been a staple in the genre since its release. The film follows five young adults on a road trip through Texas to check up on a grave site after a series of grave robberies occur in the area. While passing through, the young teens come across an old farmhouse. The nightmare that lies inside will leave those who survived wishing they hadn’t.

The film is regarded as one of the greatest films the horror genre has ever seen, and for good reason. Tobe Hooper, his cast and his crew all poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this film… literally. From over the top intense performances to even more intense set dressing and practical effects, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre still haunts the nightmares of cinephiles nearly 50 years later.

The film begins with flashes of gruesome imagery, revealed to be police photographing a desecrated corpse rotting in the Texas heat. This serves as a fantastic precedent for things to come. This films set design, makeup and prop work is rotten to the core. The mangled corpse melting in the sun, the couch made of bones we see moments before Pam’s untimely demise, the eerily realistic looking skin mask Leatherface sports during his killing, it all oozes off the screen with such ferocity and grit that you can’t help but keep looking.

The characters we follow are all pretty likeable, the film has the advantage of being before the time of cliché and painfully unlikeable slasher victims. Not that the characters in here are the most three dimensional but for the time they’re around they’re enjoyable. The standout is the late Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty, the film’s final girl before the times of Jamie Lee Curtis and Neve Campbell. Burns sells the performance with shattering screams and convincing cries throughout the film.

Tobe Hooper went all out to immerse his cast and crew in the film, the house itself was filled with raw meat and with no air conditioning in the house with the simmering heat, it wasn’t long before the meat started to rot. Keeping up with the immersion it was common for Leatherface to be away from his victims behind the scenes, likely to keep Gunnar Hansen in that isolated mindset and to make the sure the scare factor of seeing Leatherface didn’t wear off on his victims. Hansen also visited facilities for the mentally ill to study the correct body language and movements for his role as Leatherface, who is a non verbal mentally ill man.

Leatherface, while he is the main antagonist is only 1/4 of the threat the victims of this film are facing, as Leatherface is the youngest in a family of psychotic cannibals. The other members are Drayton AKA The Cook, Nubbins AKA The Hitchhiker and Grandpa. Each of them seem to serve their own role and often do their own thing, but none the less they all return to the farm and enjoy a homecooked meal as a family, it doesn’t get more wholesome than that. Ed Neal who portrays Nubbins, brings a frenzied and energized performances that instantly puts viewers on edge, while Jim Siedow who plays Drayton plays a more subtle and seemingly manipulative figure who walks the line between semi-normal and flat out crazy. One of the most mysterious characters in the film is Grandpa, while the character says nothing the entire film everything about the character is… disturbing to say the least. Grandpa is old, in fact he looks nearly dead, the only indication he isn’t dead is when he begins drinking blood and weakly swinging around his mallet.

Grandpa is one of our only glimpses in the family’s history, as he’s said to have been an excellent killer in his younger years, “one of the best that lived” Drayton says. Being the nerd I am, I researched the age of everyone in the film, and according to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre Fandom Wiki Grandpa was born in 1849 making him 124 years old at the time the film takes place. Even more interesting is that despite Grandpas old age, he was portrayed by John Dugan who at the time was 21 years old. It’s crazy how movie magic can age a person 103 years.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Photo: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.. Image Courtesy Shudder /

More on the actual filmmaking aspect of the film, Hooper’s strong directing shines through as each scene commands your eyes to the screen. It also interests me how it’s a movie with such a reputation of violence and mean grit, yet there’s really only a handful of blood actually shown on screen. So much of the violence is implied and not even fully realized. In fact for the most part we really only see the aftermath of the barbaric violence with all the skulls, bones and lampshade faces strung about. This is a great example of established world building, environmental storytelling and again strong direction from Hooper.

The writing, like Leatherfaces chainsaw carries some strong teeth with commentary on the meat industry, veganism through cannibalistic imagery, and the overall struggles of rural American life in the 1970s.

The direction of the film really makes the story itself feel like a full blown nightmare, with how suddenly every action and new revelation unfolds. Burns finds herself in a horror story beyond her wildest nightmares, and fights tooth and nail to get out of it leading her through some of the most iconic parts of the film such as the infamous dinner scene and the big final chase.

Overall, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a feral force of filmmaking. The writing, directing, acting, cinematography, special effects, set design, the entire filmmaking process is operating at full capacity. The film is a hallmark in not just horror, but the history of cinema. Tobe Hooper crafted something special, and no matter how many enjoyable sequels come from it there will never be another movie like the original.

Have you seen the Texas Chain Saw Massacre? If not, cut through some films on your watchlist and make room for this one, you won’t regret it. If you enjoyed reading this review, check out some of my other articles and feel free to follow me on my social medias such as Twitter (JacobAtTheMovie), Instagram (JacobTheHarper), Facebook (JacobTheHarper) and Letterboxd (JacobTheHarper)

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