Blog Directory CineVerse: Born under a bad sign

Born under a bad sign

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

From the moment the crazed hitchhiker smears his blood on the side of their van, the hapless victims-to-be appear doomed to a dark destiny in Tobe Hooper's seminal work of the slasher and hixploitation subgenres, 1974's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Indeed, portents of death, carnage, and evil are abundant in this movie, which has been hailed as a masterpiece of true, unadulterated horror. We carved up this classic last night at CineVerse and examined the remains. Here's what we discovered:

How was this 1974 film different and groundbreaking from many horror pictures that came before it?

  • It wasn’t a classically constructed horror movie: It lacked the normal tropes, clich├ęs, and expectations of predecessors. There is no brooding music to warn us of what’s to come. There is no sex or nudity. The victims aren’t deserving of punishment due to sexual promiscuity, drug use, horror movie stupidity, or criminal acts. There are no heroes or noble sacrifices—there is only a survivor— and the monsters aren’t vanquished or killed by the conclusion. There is also no comic relief or “winking at the audience.”
  • Instead, this horror is remorseless and lacking any kind of message about morality or redemption. The violence is sudden, random and without warning. Surprisingly, there is very little blood or gore. The camera doesn’t linger on dead bodies or severed body parts. Most of the killing happens quickly and occurs within the first half of the movie.
  • The last third of the film, in which Sally is held captive, psychologically tortured, and escapes, is an exercise in sheer terror.
    • “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is all-out and no holds barred horror, a full-frontal dive into a naked assault on its central character. The half-hour-long attack on Marilyn Burns, which consists of nothing on the soundtrack bar screams and the buzz of a chainsaw, while the camera wildly careers in on extreme close-ups of screaming throats and wide-open eyeballs, has the jagged ripped-open edge of a bad acid trip. You can literally feel Marilyn Burns’s sanity fraying at the assault,” wrote Richard Scheib, reviewer for Moria Reviews.
  • Also, the movie has a raw, documentary-like ragged quality to it, as demonstrated by the shaky camera, gritty film stock, and voiceover opening that claims the events are based on truth.
  • Additionally, this film introduced the notion of power tools used as murderous devices and inspired later horror icons like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees with its depiction of a large, silent, faceless killer.

Themes at work in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

  • Predetermined cosmic fate: Consider the sunspot footage shown at the opening, the close-ups of the full moon, the group talking about cautionary astrological predictions for the time period, and the radio news broadcasts, which relay almost nothing but bad news and disturbing events.
  • The death of the American dream. 
    • DVD Savant critic Glenn Erickson wrote: “Hooper's movie explained the end of the American Dream: with the closing of the frontier, the pioneers had no place to exercise their skills in conquering nature. Killing and eviscerating animals to survive had satisfied man's feral needs. Modern life deprives 'atavistic frontiersmen' of basic savagery… when corporate consolidation took away hundreds of thousands of jobs, Middle Americans had to take their dreams elsewhere. The days of a paycheck and a new car every five years were over, and some of the dispossessed turned to the Bible or to survivalist anti-government movements. Chain Saw shows one feral family that has regressed to practicing the pioneer skills it knows best: living off the land.”
  • We are living in violent, pessimistic, and disillusioning times. Remember that this film was made near the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. The idealism of the 1960s was long dead. The public felt distrust in political leaders, and the nation felt like a more violent, cruel place.
  • Meat is murder: Killing cows, pigs and other livestock for mass production of food is a cruel business that everyday people don’t want to know the gruesome details about. While animals suffer and die in a commercialized industry of slaughter, we look the other way. Hooper was quoted as saying “it’s a film about meat.”
  • The hidden savagery within man and the dangers of tapping into primal instincts
  • Beware of strangers and their dwellings: This film serves as a kind of modern Hansel and Gretel tale.
  • The usurping of the wholesome nuclear family. Leatherface and his clan represent an affront to our image of a loving and functional family.

Other movies that this film reminds us of

  • Hixploitation, backwoods brutality and primal folk horror films like The Last House on the Left, Straw Dogs, Deliverance, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit on Your Grave, Southern Comfort, and Children of the Corn
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, The Night of the Living Dead, and Duel—all films wherein the violence and attacks are unprovoked, sudden, indiscriminate, and random
  • The Devil’s Rejects
  • Hatchet
  • The Strangers
  • Wrong Turn
  • Wolf Creek

Other films directed by Tobe Hooper

  • Salem’s Lot
  • Poltergeist
  • Invaders From Mars (remake)
  • Lifeforce

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