'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' (1974) Movie Review

Updated on May 26, 2019
John Plocar profile image

When I moved to Texas when I was young, I was scared out of my wits as I actually thought TCSM was a true story. Turns out I'm an idiot.

There Is No Dispute.

There is no debate, no argument, no substantially evident form of a discussion to counter the fact that Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the scariest horror films ever made. It truly is one of the greatest examples of terror ever captured on film. Even the late Roger Ebert, a man who did not like the 1974 original, at least admitted that he had an immense amount of respect for it being so effective in how disturbing of a film it is. So if it is able to convince the critic famous in his detest for exploitation-horror of its merits then it has to be doing something remarkable. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, to me, is what I consider to be one of the golden standards within the genre. It is right up there with the rest of the horror masterpieces such as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing, George A. Romero’s original “Living Dead Trilogy”, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. TheTexas Chain Saw Massacre is on par and even rivals those as the number one greatest horror film of all time, in my opinion.

To be completely honest, this is one of the few great horror films that I rarely revisit because it is that disturbing. The terror is that effective and I admire it so much; it isn’t very often that I shy away from a scary movie because it is that scary, but the ’74 classic does exactly that. Every five years or so I may take another look only to feel as though my heart will pound right out of my chest at any moment as it is terrifying to witness this masterful illustration of the horrible atrocities human beings are capable of doing to one another. Every second of its eight-two minute runtime feels real; I feel as though I really am right there with these people as the crazed, murderous savages strike. The characters come across as authentic and believable while the environment evokes such a guttural presence in every frame. I haven’t quite ever seen a film like it in all my years of enjoying horror flicks since I was a kid. Now, just recently turning 27 last week, I’m still remain scared sh*tless of this movie. Me, a grown ass man (physically speaking, not so much mentally), still has trouble facing this one. But I did last night and I thought that I would share my critique much in the same way that I analyzed both the original and remake Dawn of the Dead films. I hope you enjoy!

The Story

A small group of friends, two of which being siblings, travel to rural Texas to visit their grandfather’s grave and old childhood home when they are suddenly attacked by a deranged family of cannibals.

Come on! It's not so bad being chopped up and eaten...
Come on! It's not so bad being chopped up and eaten...

This premise is easily one of the simplest and most familiar in existence, basically a group of young kids accidentally stumble upon a horror film. It really does feel like it is just an unfortunate coincidence that they find themselves being killed off, one by one. Not even in any sort of contrived or unconvincing way as it feels completely natural as to how they wind up at the wrong end of a chainsaw. The pacing of it always feels pitch perfect as it takes its time with its buildup initially, but once it gets going then it fires on all cylinders with full speed ahead. The suspense takes hold and it refuses to let you go until it is finished with you. That is how effective the writing and tone is here, there is such an overwhelming sense of menace and dread when we enter this world that it is difficult not to feel as though we too are thrown right into the middle of it all. That is the mark of true horror.

The Victims

Maybe we should go... anywhere else but here.
Maybe we should go... anywhere else but here.

Unlike what I had stated about 1978’s Dawn of the Dead being effective because we get a deep understanding and thorough look into the inner workings of our leads, Texas Chain Saw Massacre supplies more of the sense that these are real and ordinary people that we are following. No, we don’t get as in-depth into the cast’s characteristics or personalities; we pretty much get the bare minimum. Yet somehow, despite not receiving all that much information about these characters, the performances given from these actors supply a terrific sense of realism. Even though I don’t know these people all that well, I still get the sense that these are real living and breathing individuals, not simply a group of meat puppets written in for the slaughter. These aren’t a bunch of blank slates walking towards their inevitable doom, these are just some young kids that happen upon the wrong place at the wrong time. There is a sense of a life and history inside the victims of the chaos. That is the key difference between this film and any other slasher that fails to encapsulate that idea. Making the events that occur in the film all the more tragic and terrifying.

The Killers

We'd love to have you for dinner!
We'd love to have you for dinner!

I think it goes without saying that everyone knows who Leatherface is. Everyone knows the iconic Leatherface image and exactly what movie franchise he is birthed from, without ever even needing to see a single installment of the series either, that is how famous Leatherface has impacted our culture. For good reason too, he is terrifying in this movie. Arguably the only entry in the entirety of the franchise where he is handled to this terrifyingly an extent; that includes all of the sequels, prequels, and remakes. The introduction to Leatherface, alone, is one of the most blood-curdling cinematic moments ever created. There is no music que stinger, there is no post-production sound effect to emphasize his entry into frame, it is completely silent to the point of being able to hear a pin drop. We see this big, hulking brute stepping in from out of nowhere and kill with no hesitation. That, to me, is scarier than any loud audio stinger that would most likely have been edited in nowadays. The actual sudden interjection of our villain without any kind of loud sound effect is a major component as to why it is so effective. As though we are actually standing in that room as that very moment happens. Plus, Gunnar Hansen’s physicality as Leatherface also adds that extra amount of intimidation that catapults this character into the legendary status that we know him as today.

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Just fixing me up something yummy!If you ever need to learn how to properly use a hammer on a human skull, I'm your man!God bless the almighty gasoline driven chainsaw!Ya know... life is like a box of severed fingers. You never know what mama will surprise you with.In all seriousness, I'm going to f*cking kill you.
Just fixing me up something yummy!
Just fixing me up something yummy!
If you ever need to learn how to properly use a hammer on a human skull, I'm your man!
If you ever need to learn how to properly use a hammer on a human skull, I'm your man!
God bless the almighty gasoline driven chainsaw!
God bless the almighty gasoline driven chainsaw!
Ya know... life is like a box of severed fingers. You never know what mama will surprise you with.
Ya know... life is like a box of severed fingers. You never know what mama will surprise you with.
In all seriousness, I'm going to f*cking kill you.
In all seriousness, I'm going to f*cking kill you.

So yeah, we all know how scary Leatherface is. Sadly though, I believe the rest of the creepy cannibalistic family doesn’t get near the amount of the attention that the character of Leatherface has gotten. Granted, visually speaking, Leatherface is certainly the most eye-catching and memorable. But the rest of the family is also really damn creepy. One of the funny things about this cast actually, including the protagonists and the antagonists, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the first movie credits for the majority of the actors here. In some cases, this is one of the very few acting credits for this cast. And everyone does phenomenal in their roles. No one at any moment seems disingenuous or unnatural in their performance, everyone feels real, and Jim Siedow as the “Old Man” and Edwin Neal as the “Hitchhiker” are real homicidal maniacs. I’m convinced that these two guys go out killing and eating people as a hobby, that is how good their acting is in the movie. The switch in Siedow’s performance between being some random concerned citizen into a total lunatic is perfect. Neal, however, doesn’t have that same switch as Siedow, but he does create a genius arc with the film’s character opening. From the moment he shows up, the Hitchhiker instills a very uneasy vibe which slowly intensifies the scene into being totally unnerving. I also love that nothing about this crazy cannibal family is ever explained, we don’t even know their real names. We, as the audience, have to put together the pieces ourselves of how their racket works. Although as the story drops us into the madness, we’re not really thinking all that much about how their murder system functions as we’re too busy mentally running away from these psychopaths. Also, the whole sequence with the grandpa in the last act makes my eyes practically pop right out of my skull from the amount of fear that fills me.

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Hahaha it's funny because I'm gonna use your skull as my new toilet....the f*ck is wrong with you...
Hahaha it's funny because I'm gonna use your skull as my new toilet.
Hahaha it's funny because I'm gonna use your skull as my new toilet.
...the f*ck is wrong with you...
...the f*ck is wrong with you...

The Violence

When you twist the hook around into the lower intestines, it really isn't all that bad.
When you twist the hook around into the lower intestines, it really isn't all that bad.

One of the most brilliant things about the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre being its use of gore and blood is extremely limited. There are definitely a few times where the audience gets a clear view of a small bloody injury, like a cut or a minor gash, but when it comes to the particularly more brutal moments it is mostly obscured. Leaving us to imagine the horror happening in front of us, which makes it all the more intense. Something that was immediately lost in the installments to come after the first film. The sequels/prequels/remakes/reboots inserted as much of the gore as they possibly could, mistaking that the horror came from the gore rather than the mood and atmosphere. Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre really isn’t all that gory of a film. We do see some blood as well as the set decoration of the house being made up of the deceased’s body parts, but it’s never excessive in any way. It never feels like the filmmakers are inserting any gore for the sake of having gore or shocking people, that’s what the later movies do, not the ’74 one though.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Just cutting out that excess fat is all!See? They're simply misunderstood artists is all!This new diet does wonders!It's the brand new, top of the line, state of the art furniture of the future! Open for donations!!
Just cutting out that excess fat is all!
Just cutting out that excess fat is all!
See? They're simply misunderstood artists is all!
See? They're simply misunderstood artists is all!
This new diet does wonders!
This new diet does wonders!
It's the brand new, top of the line, state of the art furniture of the future! Open for donations!!
It's the brand new, top of the line, state of the art furniture of the future! Open for donations!!

In all honesty, with a few relatively miniscule changes, this could easily be a 1970s PG rated movie. Back in the 1970s and even the 1980s, the PG rating was actually able to get away with having a lot of mature material in their films. Blood, gore, nudity, swearing could all sneak into the PG rating. Back then it seemed like parents understood that the PG rating actually meant that it was the parent’s responsibility to gage whether or not their child could handle the material. That has completely changed in today’s modern culture with the inclusion of the PG-13 and the slow decline of what is acceptable anymore in any rating. But I digress. What I’m saying is that the filmmakers for this film severely restrain themselves from going all out with the blood and guts to focus more on how to create tension and mood, which is the smartest move a movie like this could make. The film tricks its viewers into believing that they are seeing far more disturbing imagery than what is actually being presented onscreen, which is hard to pull off, but this does it masterfully.

Keep watching, you'll love what happens next!
Keep watching, you'll love what happens next!

The Look

The look of this film is absolutely crucial to gaining that truly disturbing nature of the actions witnessed. I don’t necessarily mean the movie’s cinematography or editing, both of which are gorgeous and perfectly executed. What I mean is the actual film grain and all the dirt, hair, scratches, and specs that can be seen on it in the right edition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. This is one of the few examples where the grimier and grittier the filmstock appears, the better the product turns out. Which is why I could never recommend seeing this film on Blu-Ray or certain digital formats because it is heavily cleaned up and polished. To me, that only hurts the film rather than helps. Oddly enough, the gritty condition of the filmstock enhances the atmosphere and creates a feeling to the viewer that this is something they should not be seeing. As though they have accidentally stumbled across a real snuff film and that is what they are watching right then and there. Making the film all the more uncomfortable and creepy, at least that is my feeling on the matter. When I have seen this film in a more pristine form, I don’t quite get that same experience anymore. While the film is still certainly great, the nasty and dirty quality of the film is ingrained in its identity, if someone removes that they are somewhat removing a part of its soul. They are removing a part of what makes this feel so suspenseful and real.

This is my personal copy of 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'. The Pioneer Special Edition.
This is my personal copy of 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'. The Pioneer Special Edition.

The Strangeness of Music & Sound

The musical score is surprisingly iconic, I’m positive that everyone particularly remembers the interwoven use of strange audio mixing with unconventional instruments. Anyone can easily identify the score from the opening scene with that off-putting camera flash sound. It’s raw and surreal, adding so much to a scene when it is properly inserted. But the filmmakers made use of the music only when absolutely necessary because there are long stretches of sheer quiet, only sounds being provided from the environment and characters themselves. Immersing the audience even more into the world, then when the music does emerge, it is effectively used to elevate the mood and tension. Rather than what a lot of modern horror films will do, which is bombard our ears with overbearing jump scare stingers or turn up the volume on the slightest noises in an attempt to create a false scare. When that happens, it is cheap and irritating when done poorly. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre doesn’t want to scare you with loud noises, it wants to frighten you to the core with the subject matter and the nerve racking music plays a large part in accomplishing that.

It’s Simply One of the Best. ‘Nuff Said!

I realize that it is pretty pointless to even voice my thoughts on this movie, it’s practically common knowledge that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is great. But it inspired me to write, so here I am! It just is one of the scariest films ever made, if someone doesn’t care to sleep well at night, this is the flick to do just that for them. The main characters are 100% believable, the villains are frightening, the pacing doesn’t let up on the suspense, the editing is incredibly innovative for its time, and the cinematography is stylishly terrifying. Especially at the “dinner table” scene with the use of extreme closeups on actress Marilyn Burns. Sends chills down my spine every time.

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We would appreciate if you'd just toss yourself into the oven, if you don't mind.Never mind, I like my human flesh rare.Yeah, this sequence really is creepy as hell.
We would appreciate if you'd just toss yourself into the oven, if you don't mind.
We would appreciate if you'd just toss yourself into the oven, if you don't mind.
Never mind, I like my human flesh rare.
Never mind, I like my human flesh rare.
Yeah, this sequence really is creepy as hell.
Yeah, this sequence really is creepy as hell.

Yes, I could have easily delved into the film’s themes of violence, eating meat, vegetarianism, etc. Or I could have touched on the “true story” aspect being heavily inspired by serial killer Ed Gein. But honestly, I just wanted to gush over how effective of a horror film it is and that it astonishingly holds up nearly fifty years later as remaining one of the best. Several horror films come out every year and it’s rare to find one nearly half as incredible as Hooper’s masterpiece. After all these years since 1974, I could maybe count on one hand the amount of scary movies that may come close to comparing to it. I’m sure that I’m exaggerating, but still there isn’t a whole lot being made that can stand up against this for being the top dog within the genre. A major reason I believe that it stays as strong of a horror film is because it feels like a tragic story that could happen to anyone of us. We don’t all that have much separating our own lives from the reality of this film. There are no ghosts or demonic spirits in this, no inkling of fantasy to be seen, it is deranged people doing terrible things to unsuspecting innocents. That’s why I think this ranks so high amongst the masses with sheer terror in a grounded realism.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
If I was tied up to a chair made out of severed human limbs, I'd freak the f*ck out too.F*CKING RUN!!!
If I was tied up to a chair made out of severed human limbs, I'd freak the f*ck out too.
If I was tied up to a chair made out of severed human limbs, I'd freak the f*ck out too.
F*CKING RUN!!!
F*CKING RUN!!!

In conclusion, if you are a true fan of horror and you somehow haven’t seen this yet then do yourselves a favor and find it immediately. Find the best sh*tty quality version you possibly can and have a good terrifying ride! Possibly one of the oddest ways I’ve ever recommended a movie, but whatever. Please see it if you haven’t. And if you have, what are you reading this for? You already know that this is a great movie, ya dope. Stop wasting your time reading this and go watch Texas Chain Saw Massacre again, you and I both know that it’s been a while. Hop to!

HAHA! I MADE IT B*TCHES!!
HAHA! I MADE IT B*TCHES!!

By The Way...

Oh, and to anyone that might be wondering… yes. I have re-watched the remake recently as well… Review coming soon from a pissed off movie fanatic near you.

Can't... Freaking... Wait...
Can't... Freaking... Wait...

That's All Folks!

Thank you all so much for reading! Did you like or dislike my review? Agree or disagree? Think my head is made of cheese? Comment down below and let me know! And if you did so happen to enjoy my review then please do me a little favor and share this around the social media world as that greatly helps me out. Thanks again for reading and have yourselves a corpse munching good day! …I’ve really gotta get better at this.

What's Your Favorite Chainsaw?

What is your favorite installment of 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' franchise?

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    © 2019 John Plocar

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      • John Plocar profile imageAUTHOR

        John Plocar 

        3 months ago from Weatherford

        There we go, the video links are now all fixed. Trying to remember exactly what clips I used was a little tough, but I did it. Frikkin' YouTube!

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