Taking a trip back to 1974 here when horror films had a certain edge to them. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre scared the bejeezus out of everyone.
We consider it a more psychotic accompaniment to Deliverance (1972), nodding to backwater concepts of remote lunacy, incest, and familial weirdness.
It scared everyone rigid in the early 1970s. And it still has the same raw power almost 50 years later! Rev it up and let’s shred our way into this one, man.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a Rather Spooky Film Indeed!
American director and screenwriter Tobe Hooper (1943-2017) manned this production!
In many respects it’s a modern adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale Hansel and Gretel. In that, a cannibalistic witch fattens up two kids who’ve unfortunately stumbled across her.
The film launched on October 11th, 1974.
It’s interesting to note that, simultaneously, Steven Spielberg was filming Jaws (1975) at the time, too. Another landmark horror film that shaped cinema.
And whilst Jaws doesn’t have the same horrifying impact it did back in the mid-’70s, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still makes for uncomfortable viewing.
The central characters include a bunch of young friends, headed by Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns). They’re busy visiting a homestead, but happen across a highly disturbed family of cannibals.
What plays out are horror genre tropes you’ll already know as they’ve been done to death (ironically). The difference there is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre CREATED so many of those jump scares for the slasher genre.
For example, the cast gets picked off one-by-one as Leatherface runs riot. This is played upon in the good fun spoof film Tucker & Dale VS Evil (2010).
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s influence is such that many modern horror films shamelessly copy what this film did in 1974 for scares.
Bearing in mind Ridley Scott’s Alien turned up in 1979, too, and in retrospect that was one hell of a decade for horror films. Arguably the best ever.
And whilst the xenomorph is iconic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has its own lunatic icon. That’s Leatherface, a large gentleman with a penchant for being mentally ill and revving chainsaws.
He was played with much mania by Icelandic-born American actor Gunnar Hansen (1946-2015). Leatherface is a nutcase! And he makes his screen debut in murderous fashion.
Gradually, the young folks are wiped out until young Sally is kidnapped.
What plays out there is a the notorious dinner table scene—it’s one of the most unnerving bloody things you’ll ever see.
It’s been riffed on a lot, even in video games such as Resident Evil 7.
Leatherface dresses up as a woman for this bit, whilst the family rolls out the desiccated half-corpse of their grandpa. He’s sort of still alive and proceeds to suck blood from a wound on Sally’s finger, kind of like the Wendigo theme explored in Ravenous (1999).
The themes here are simplistic, but highly effective.
As with Jaws, it’s a story of primal fear. The thought of capture and being devoured by something more powerful and overwhelming than you can imagine.
It’s all beyond your control.
Luckily for Sally, she makes a break for it and is able to flee the scene. A sole survivor, as with Ripley five years later in Alien.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a total classic in the horror genre, of course, but it’s difficult to say you can enjoy watching it.
It’s more about that visceral thrill, as the film is genuinely bloody terrifying.
Great films can do that, such as with Misery (1990) through Kathy Bate’s disturbing mental collapse scene-by-scene (with added hobbling).
Hooper and Kim Henkel’s screenplay is smart and Hooper’s direction relied on fantastic camerawork. Very clever given the lack of budget, which created many iconic pieces of cinemaphotography.
It’s pretty much low-budget suspenseful horror done to perfection.
Not the type of film you watch for a good old laugh, of course, but downright grotesquely glorious for any occasion when you want to be disturbed.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s 1974 Production
Off its tiny budget, which was round the $80,000–$140,000 mark, the film was a roaring success. Terrified moviegoers flocked to see it, amassing over $30 million in revenue.
Tobe Hooper developed the idea in the early 1970s when he was at the University of Texas at Austin.
He used the serial killer Ed Gein (1906-1984) as some inspiration, who also inspired the likes of The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
But Hooper also used the sensationalist nature of 1970s media to ramp up the sense of paranoia and the sense of the impossible being possible. The 1976 film Network played on that in more satirical fashion, too.
Hooper got the idea for a chainsaw when he was in a busy store and figured the contraption would help him get through the queue a bit faster.
Typical American. No patience with queuing, us Brits are masters there!
Anyway, one the project got the green light casting went ahead. Hooper used an unknown cast for the film, most of them hired in Texas.
They’d mainly starred in TV commercials and stage productions up until then.
The lead role of Sally went to Marilyn Burns (1949-2014) who was a stage actor up until then. Whilst her arch-nemesis Leatherface went to Gunnar Hansen as he was so effective at being bloody scary.
Hansen visited a special needs school for his role preparation, as his belief for the role was that Leatherface had an intellectual disability and couldn’t speak.
Once that was all done, filming took place in Texas! The crew worked 16-hour days for seven days a week, often in 110°F (43 °C) temperatures with a lot of humidity.
Hansen had the added problem of having to wear a mask during all of that, which he did for a month straight.
It was a tough shoot for everyone. But totally worth it to deliver this scary thing.
A Bit About Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
The series continues on in variously disastrous form. Again, as with Jaws. There’s really only one film from the Jaws franchise worth watching.
And there’s really only one Texas Chainsaw Massacre worth watching.
It isn’t the February 2022 one. Directed by David Blue Garcia, it’s available on Netflix and has been a critical disaster. Hurray!
Seriously, what was the point of making this? Use the funds for a new idea.
Whilst modern horror films often struggle to break free from the genre tropes, there are still clever and inventive ones coming out. Such as The Babadook (2014).
Lazily rehashing the ideas from a 1974 film isn’t the way forward for the horror genre, which still has bags of potential and fun at its core (or gore… lol).
But frankly, we can’t help but think there’ll be another remake of the series at some point soon. Our tip—stick with the bloody original.