31 Horror Movies I Own #4: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Another horror film that gets a bad wrap for being “too dated”, the original TCM still holds its place among the top of the very small list of movies that actually scare me.
The key to the scariness of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is atmosphere. The story comes off as really basic because by now we’ve seen it copied 100x or more (I’m looking at you, House of 1000 Corpses); 5 friends set off in search of some fun, run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and stumble upon an old house that just happens to be occupied by a gleefully murderous family.
Leatherface is super frightening because in the first scene he just appears out of almost nowhere and brutally kills the first victim with a sledge hammer. When he’s chasing the rest, he’s completely relentless. He will not stop. Add that to a handful of other family members willing to play along by nailing guests to dining room chairs with human hands and encouraging LF’s penchant for skinning, and you’ve got a really good set-up for total terror.
Being almost all amateurs, the actors of course aren’t the best, but the key characters still work. Sally, the main protagonist, earns her title as a true Scream Queen. Leatherface doesn’t have any lines, but the hulking Gunnar Hansen was still cast perfectly, and Jim Siedow in particular as “the head of the family” stands out as great (he’s also in TCM 2, which I have great love for).
People also tend to complain that though this is called “chainsaw” massacre, only one person ends up dying by chainsaw. Some people are so touchy! It doesn’t matter, because every kill is shiver inducing, and the end of the movie is SO perfect it’s hard to top.
I’m also always impressed that Director Tobe Hooper pulled off filming this thing in just over 4 weeks with a budget of only $140,000, given the amount of detail that went into props for the house and the special F/X.
In my opinion, this is a must-see for any horror fan. The 2003 re-boot isn’t worth your time (unless you’re only interested in watching Jessica Biel run around in a wet tank top).
If you’re curious about the modern version, I recommend the 2006 “prequel”, The Texas Chain Massacre: The Beginning. It’s much more interesting and has a kick-ass splatteriffic scene involving Jordana Brewster hiding under her boyfriend and being forced to watch as he’s murdered. Also, R. Lee Emery totally brings it the appropriate level of madness it deserves.