Home > Exploitation, Horror, Mystery, Thriller > The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

There are certain noises that will always inspire a certain level of fear in a sane human being. Explosions. Thunder. Someone screaming. And since 1974, the sound of a chainsaw being powered up. Thanks, Tobe Hooper. Thanks for making an entire generation afraid of power tools.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an American independent horror film by Tobe Hooper, starring Marilyn “I Had Laryngitis For a Week After This Movie” Burns, Edwin “He Looks Trustworthy” Neal, Paul A. “Can’t we just leave him on the side of the road or something?” Partain, Allen “I won’t survive the movie” Danziger, William “Why am I wearing this red shirt?” Vail, Teri “granola girl” McMinn, Jim “I loves me some barbecue” Siedow, William “You dumbass” Vail, and Gunnar “Holy shit get in the car!” Hansen, with a stunt voiceover by John “Night Court” Larroquette.

Presented as a true story (it’s not), the movie follows Sally Hardesty (Burns) and her brother Franklin (Partain) as they travel with three friends, Jerry (Danziger), Kirk (Vail), and Pam (McMinn) to the cemetary where the Hardestys’ grandfather is purported to be buried, after hearing reports of alleged grave robbery and vandalism. Afterward, they decide to visit an old Hardesty property; on the way there, they pick up a hitchhiker, but he turns out to be deranged and slashes himself and Franklin with a razor before they force him out of the car. They stop at a gas station, only to be told that the tanks are empty, but the refueling truck should be by that afternoon. They continue to the homestead, planning to stop at the gas station on the way out. When they arrive, Franklin tells Kirk and Pam about a watering hole nearby, and they decide to check it out and go for a swim. Instead, they find a house, home to a gruesome family that all share a common taste in meat.

Having picked this movie up to round out my experience in classic slasher movies, I walked into this movie knowing that it had influenced a whole subgenre of horror, and was considered a horror classic. After all, who hasn’t heard of Leatherface and his deranged clan, and how many cannibal redneck movies had been inspired by this one? The tiny budget (around $60,000) and the sensibilities of the mid-seventies naturally limited how much could be shown, but I’d seen campy horror from the seventies and eighties before, so I thought I was in for more of the same.

Afterward I was left with a single thought:

What the hell did I just watch?

This movie is uncomfortable to watch. The protagonists are bland and unremarkable (except for Franklin, who is whiny and obnoxious) and appear to exist only to get butchered. While most of the slasher conventions had yet to be created in 1974, some of their actions seemed beyond stupid (like picking up a hitchhiker who appears to have mental problems and blood smeared on his face, or not being alarmed by the discovery of a human tooth on someone’s porch, or taking a guy in a wheelchair out sightseeing in the middle of nowhere). Leatherface & Co. seemed to be more interesting than the heroes, and only then because they actually seemed to have personalities. The violence, though abundant in the second half was largely bloodless (and one would expect some of the red stuff when a guy is getting stabbed in the abdomen repeatedly with a chainsaw.

Now, I will grant that for a first effort Hooper overall did a decent job. He had a tiny budget to work with and did the best he could. The camera angles are tight, the directing is good, and the antagonists are terrifying and more or less realistic enough that you could imagine something like this happening somewhere on the fringes of civilization (and sort of did, as Hooper’s inspiration was the real-life serial killer Ed Gein). As far as slasher movies go, I would call this one an acceptable entry on most lists.

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