The Texas Chain Saw Massacre!!!

An idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history…

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)

The film review which you are about to read is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. A nightmare that immediately begins as the opening credits roll over the sounds of digging, with flashbulbs illuminating the rotting fingers and faces of freshly unearthed carcasses. The Texas sun soon rises to reveal rotting corpses crudely displayed as macabre art and left to bake in the blazing summer heat. Viewers are then treated to a loving closeup of a dead armadillo, followed by an extended sequence highlighting an invalid taking a piss and tumbling down a hillside. There’s roadkill all over Texas.

“Grave robbing in Texas is this hour’s top news story. An informant led officers of the Muerto County Sheriff’s Department to a cemetery just outside the small rural Texas community of Newt. Officers there discovered what appeared to be a grisly work of art: the remains of a badly decomposed corpse wired to a large monument. A second body was found in a ditch near the perimeter of the cemetery. Subsequent investigation has revealed at least a dozen empty crypts, and it’s feared more will turn up as the probe continues.”

Young Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin, along with Sally’s boyfriend Jerry and their best friends Kirk & Pam decide to visit the cemetery to see if their Grandfather’s grave had been disturbed. To their relief, the grave doesn’t appear to have been dug up, and the kids then decide to take an idyllic summer afternoon drive and pay a visit to the old Hardesty house. They should have listened to the drunk old man in the graveyard. “Things happen here about, they don’t tell about. I see things. You see, they say that it’s just an old man talking. You laugh at an old man, it’s them that laughs and knows better.”

The five youths also should have listened to Franklin & Sally’s horoscope. “Travel in the country, long-range plans, and upsetting persons around you, could make this a disturbing and unpredictiable day. The events in the world are not doing much either to cheer one up. There are moments when we cannot believe that what is happening is really true. Pinch yourself and you may find out that it is.” Their first mistake was not stopping for gas before making the trek to the old Hardesty house. Their second mistake was being kindhearted enough to pick up a weird looking hitch hiker who was stranded on the roadside next to a smelly old slaughterhouse. As Jerry himself would later remark, it will be the last time they ever pick up a goddamned hitch hiker.

The gang picked up Dracula. Franklin and Drac immediately bond over their mutual interest in slaughterhouses. The hitch hiker’s family has always “been in meat.” A whole family of Draculas. Things get interesting when the hitch hiker takes a liking to Franklin’s beloved pocket knife and uses it to mutilate himself. Franklin is understandably upset by this, so the hitch hiker tries to smooth things over by taking Franklin’s picture. Sadly, the picture didn’t turn out so good, and the kids also decline the hitch hiker’s invitation to join his family for an authentic headcheese dinner. The hitch hiker then repays the gang for the ride by lighting Franklin’s picture on fire, and then violently slashing the invalid’s forearm with a straight razor!

The idyllic summer’s day that became a nightmare of fear and blood. For them, an Idyllic summer afternoon became their worst nightmare. The kids manage to throw the hitch hiker out of their van, and the lunatic smears some of his blood on the side of the door as a warning. The mark of Zorro. Now dangerously low on fuel, the gang pulls into a gas station looking for directions to the Hardesty House. The kindly owner and operator of the station has no gas until the next morning, and instead offers the kids some good barbeque and a warning not to go messin’ around some old house. “Those things is dangerous. You’re liable to get hurt. You don’t want to go fooling around other folks’ property. If some folks don’t like it… they don’t mind showing you.”

The kids decide to press on and eventually make their way to old Hardesty house. Once inside, the girls have a blast running around the rotting bedrooms and howling and giggling like maniacs. Franklin also becomes unhinged and begins mocking the girls and blowing raspberries like a lunatic. “If I have anymore fun today, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to take it!” Kirk & Pam later split the scene for about an hour or so to go check out the legendary Hardesty swimming hole, and instead stumble upon a surrounding farmhouse with a loudly purring generator. Kirk foolishly decides to go inside the house looking for gasoline and comes face to face with Leatherface – who swiftly smashes Kirk’s skull with a hammer! Pam is then swallowed whole by the house of evil as she wanders unsuspectingly into the living room of a family of necrophiles. Her attempt to escape is feeble, as Leatherface quickly snatches her up in his massive mongoloid arms and then drags her back inside the house and violently impales her on a meathook!

Later, Jerry decides to go looking for Kirk & Pam and gets a good, close look at Leatherface’s bloody hammer for his efforts. Unfortunately for Sally and her invalid brother Franklin, Jerry had brought the keys to the van along with him. Now stranded,  the eternally bickering brother and sister are forced to wander into the darkness of night with only a flashlight to guide them through the rough Texas terrain. What happens next is brutal beyond description and grisly beyond comprehension. Franklin is bisected by the chainsaw wielding Leatherface, and Sally is chased screaming into the mummified arms of the patriarch of the demented clan of cannibal killers! America’s most bizarre and brutal crimes! Who will survive and what will be left of them?

This was THE one. The one that really fucked up me for life and made me the horror fanatic that I am today. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was the one horror flick I was not allowed to watch as a kiddie, based on the title and reputation alone. My parents had already let me sit through viewings of “Alien,” “Jaws,” “Psycho,” “The Amityville Horror,” “Salem’s Lot,” “Dawn Of The Dead,” “Friday The 13th,” and incredibly enough “Last House On The Left,” but for some odd reason TCSM was considered “inappropriate” for a wee, impressionable Brain Hammer. Fortunately, I had a dirtbag older brother who was all too happy to rent me a copy and sneak it into the house one night when my folks were away getting hammered. I can say without exaggeration that I was mesmerized by the film, instantly captivated and filled with dread and horror, and also giddy with anticipation of what was going to happen next. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” quickly became my new favorite movie, and a budding horror movie maniac was born. Instead of making any sort of fuss over this, my parents shrugged it off, and went about their business. Within a few short years, my mother actually bought me copies of both “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” for X-mas at my local Ames. It’s not much of a stretch to say that I “grew up” with these flicks, which is probably why I am utterly insane.

In my humble opinion, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” is hands down the greatest horror film of all time. To me, it absolutely personifies madness and horror. From start to finish, this film is all out assault on the audience and their sanity. It was the first cannibal horror film with real teeth. It didn’t play nice, or try to meet the audience half way. The viewer is thrown screaming with bloodshot eyes into the mouth of madness, and the immortal tagline “who will survive and what will be left of them” could easily apply to the film’s audience as well as the cast. TCSM can be an absolute endurance test for the uninitiated. The agonizing “dinner scene” is as close to capturing genuine torture and insanity as any film is likely to ever come. And for a horror film with very little onscreen blood and guts, TCSM still easily manages to make viewers sick by reputation alone. The immortal title is enough to have the weak squirming before the opening credits finish rolling.

Much credit must be given to legendary director Tobe Hooper for coming up with the brilliant idea of a “family of Ed Geins.” Luckily for Tobe, he was able to work with another demented genius – Robert A. Burns, an art director who was able to painstakingly create the sort of macabre artwork, dead skin masks, and human furniture that a clan of necrophiles would treasure. TCSM has an unmistakably “real” and evil vibe. It’s also a beautifully shot and composed horror film. There are a number of incredibly cool moments courtesy of cinematographer Daniel Pearl, my favorite being the unbelievable tracking shot that closely follows Teri McMinn as she leaves the swing and walks toward the house. I love the way the house slowly looms larger than life and eventually swallows her. Then comes the legendary meathook impalement, which rivals even the “shower scene” in “Psycho” in terms of horror infamy.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the entire cast is fantastic either. There are some truly incredible performances. From Paul A. Partain’s amazingly annoying, and yet sympathetic Franklin (a real MANIAC, I love how he tears up the van), the absolutely manic and terrifying Hitch Hiker brought to life by the absolutely manic and terrifying Edwin Neal, the all time horror ICON himself – Leatherface, memorably portrayed  by Gunnar Hansen, Jim Siedow’s multi-layered and amazing “Old Man” (Jim steals the fucking show in the dinner scene), and last but not least – Marilyn Burns as the eternally suffering and SCREAMING Sally! Poor Marilyn really deserves credit for all the punishment she endured making this clas-sick. Leaping out of windows, enduring hours of brutal heat and the stench of rotting meat, screaming her lungs out, and incredibly having her finger cut with a razor – for real – so that Grandpa (John Dugan) could happily suck her blood! The insanity of this scene was real, and is still infectious. “Once you stop screaming, you’ll start talking about it.”

THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE still proudly reigns as one of the most profitable independent films of all time. The saw carved up $30,859,000 at the box office, and has over $14,000,000 worth of rentals in the States. There have been a few different DVD releases over the years, but I would have to give the Brain Hammer seal of approval to the steel book 2-disc Ultimate Edition released by Dark Sky Films back in 2006.This definitive collection features a pristine looking high definition transfer from the 16mm camera originals, and over 180 minutes worth of bonus materials. The highlight of the package is the fantastic “Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth” documentary, which is incredibly informative and features some truly hilarious, no-bullshit comments from Robert A. Burns. The bonus bodies also include two different commentary tracks, the “Flesh Wounds” documentary, a tour of the TCSM house with Gunnar Hansen, deleted scenes and outtakes, a blooper reel, still galleries, theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots, and more! I also really dig the original cover art from legendary madman Wes Benscoter. Just a top notch release, and exactly the sort of special treatment that the all-time horror clas-sick truly deserves! A collection without this one is truly pissworthy, because the saw is family! Buy or die!

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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One Response to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre!!!”

  1. Dave Callahan Says:

    It’s a great flick! Man, you really left it all out on the field on that review!

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