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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Like a Sledgehammer to the Head

Cinephile by heart, techie/computer geek by necessity. I write about both topics.

Leatherface's dance

Leatherface's dance

“That's where they kill them. They bash' em in the head with a big sledgehammer!… They don't do it like that anymore. Now they get this big air gun that shoots a bullet into the skull and then retracts it.” –Franklin

That is the way that paraplegic, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), describes the slaughterhouse process to his friends as they travel through the Texas countryside. The comparison between the sledgehammer method versus the air gun is supposed to take into consideration the more humane way to slaughter cattle. But unlike that air gun, there is nothing humane about what happens in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Director Tobe Hooper takes the “sledgehammer” approach with the audience and bashes our heads with its raw violence.

The character has become so iconic that it has joined the above-mentioned Freddy, and Michael Myers, along with Jason, in the pantheon of “Horror Monsters of the 70’s and 80’s."

The character has become so iconic that it has joined the above-mentioned Freddy, and Michael Myers, along with Jason, in the pantheon of “Horror Monsters of the 70’s and 80’s."

The film follows a group of young friends who travel to Texas to visit the graveyard of Sally (Marilyn Burns) and Franklin’s grandfather, which might have been victims of vandalism and grave robbing. As they head to visit their grandfather’s old abandoned house, they stumble upon a family of cannibals who begin to slaughter them one by one.

And that’s what the film builds up to; nothing more, nothing less. Although there are signs of resentment and issues within Sally and Franklin, there is little depth within the characters. The film treats them as mere cattle headed to the slaughter. Just by reading the opening crawl, which falsely implies that the film might be based on real-life events, you know that nothing good will come to them. So the hour before they meet their tormentors becomes a long hour of dread and fear, much like what would be if one were to watch the inside of a slaughterhouse.

The cannibal family is formed by gas station owner (Jim Siedow), hitchhiker/grave robber (Edwin Neal), and their grandfather (John Dugan). But the main killer of the film, and the most popular, is Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), a deformed, mentally unstable, cross-dressing, chainsaw-wielding serial killer. From his first abrupt appearance, the character hits you in the head, both literally and figuratively, with his grotesque appearance and his blunt approach to killing. This is not the wise-cracking Freddy Krueger, or the methodical approach of Michael Myers. Leatherface presents a more in-your-face, raw approach to killing. In my opinion, his first two kills are two of the most iconic scenes in horror films. And there’s nothing remotely contrived about it, just “wham!” like a sledgehammer.

Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and Pam (Teri McMinn)

Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) and Pam (Teri McMinn)

The character has become so iconic that it has joined the above-mentioned Freddy, and Michael Myers, along with Jason, in the pantheon of “Horror Monsters of the 70’s and 80’s." The image of a chainsaw-wielding maniac, with a human skin mask running through the woods has also become a synonym for horror. And that scene is indeed one of the most disturbingly terrifying of the film. As Leatherface chases Marilyn through the woods, it becomes such a relentless run for life. The incessant sound of the chainsaw, mixed with Marilyn’s terrified shrieks, in what seems like an endless chase can be the subject of many nightmares. At least I know it was for my brother.

As for the final dinner scene, it is one of the most bizarre and awkwardly comedic scenes I’ve seen in a horror film. Film critic Kim Newman noted how the scene parodies a “typical American sitcom family," with each of the members of the family taking a stereotypical role: bread-winner, housewife, rebellious teenager. The nature of the scene just adds to the crudeness and disturbing aura that permeates the whole film, capped by the sight of the near-dead “Grandpa” sucking on Marilyn’s bloody finger or the family trying to make him hit her with a hammer.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is clearly not a film for everyone.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is clearly not a film for everyone.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is clearly not a film for everyone. Not because of its violence which, to be honest, might seem visually tame by the modern standards of Saw and Hostel. But its low-budget approach, simple plot, and below-average acting by some of the cast, might not be down everyone’s alley. But to me, most of those traits are what makes it so effective and disturbing. And that is what a good horror film should be. Not like an air gun to the head, but like a sledgehammer. Grade: A


Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on October 06, 2013:

Thanks for your comment! I do think there's more purpose and intent to it all than just "blood and guts", but I agree that the simplicity of it all it's a plus to it.

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And that's cool about you meeting Marilyn Burns!

jrnevermore on October 06, 2013:

I'd like to point out that I'm so thankful you made a brief mention of the fact that this is falsely based on true events. But on the flip side of things, I think this movie is a paver for something else that comes from this. Although it lacks a fantastic plot (among other things) the brutality and the pure slaughterhouse effects that Leatherface brings is interesting. Without a true motive he's just a pissed off guy with a chainsaw, and I personally love that. It's all about the blood and guts from this standpoint and it takes no brains to watch the bloodshed...sometimes that's just what you need.

On a random note, I've met Marilyn Burns and she is a fascinating elderly woman. Also very feisty. But amazing.

CraftytotheCore on September 20, 2013:

I saw the first version years ago. I never saw the remake. The older I've gotten the more disturbing it is for me to watch these shows because I have children now, so it freaks me out even more.

But who would of thought, my lovely daughter would become hooked on the grotesque and scary films like her mama! LOL

MickeySr from Hershey, Pa. on August 21, 2013:

Mary ~ if you forget about the genre aspect of it, drop any assumptions or initial resistance, etc, if you just watch it as a movie (I suggest in the middle of the day with a strapping and devoted husband just next to you) . . . and if, as I said, if you think about what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish - it is observably brilliant. I mean, from the opening scene with the old-time flash bulbs, that did make a kind of shrill whining sound, but not THAT shrill and whiny, with the glimpses of images that repulse you from the get go . . . it's brilliant.

Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on August 21, 2013:

Thanks for your great comment, Mickey. I agree with most of what you said, so I hope you didn't feel that my review was dismissing the film in any way. Obviously my review and grade tells you how much I appreciate it.

Mary Craig from New York on August 21, 2013:

You're certainly full of surprises Mickey. I never thought to delve into the Chain Saw Massacre.

MickeySr from Hershey, Pa. on August 21, 2013:

If we look at a film in the sense of, what was it trying to be, what did the filmmaker want to accomplish - then we must count 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' as one of the greatest movies ever made . . . and I do. I'm not a 'horror' fan in the sense that I like scary, morbid, murder & torture films no matter the quality - I like all manner of films; western, sci-fi, comedy, romantic, etc, etc. I am particularly a fan of Hollywood films of the 30s & 40s.

When I was young, sitting in the Saturday matinee, I recognized the difference between 'The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad' and 'The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad' . . . I knew what made 'The Golden' fun and what made 'The 7th' a masterpiece. I could see why 'Earth vs The Flying Saucers' was so superior to 'Invasion Of The Saucer Men', etc, etc.

I watch movies just to see what happens - I love film and how the storyteller tells his story, what he uses and doesn't use, what I see on the screen informs me of, etc. And 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre' is brilliant film making, not to be lumped together with crappy slasher flicks. There are several things the viewer can go back and reflect on that demonstrate how good a movie this is; 1st, nearly everyone who watches it again after a good number of years remarks on how they were sure there was a lot more blood - there's not a lot of blood, just effective storytelling. 2nd, actors, really good actors, don't display that they're acting, they convince you they're what they're pretending to be - many people have asked 'who are those people in that movie, are they really actors or just some crazy family that was put into a movie?'.

And 3rd, the excruciating and relentless creep-factor . . . it's not that there are so many killings or that the deaths are so gruesome - it's all the little 'why is that guy folding up that photo in tin foil and burning it?', 'why are there chicken feathers all over the living room floor?', and 'so, is the dad trying to comfort and reassure her or is he delighting more than any of them to terrorize her?'.

It's too bad so many just catalog this film as cheap, trashy teenage drive-in slasher muck - if you think of the set, the actually making of each scene, and think of what we see on the screen - this film is brilliant.

Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on August 21, 2013:

Thanks, tillsontitan! I can enjoy different types of horror films, but I've always found the raw, visceral approach of this one to be quite effective.

Mary Craig from New York on August 21, 2013:

I found it a horror film ;) I am more of the genre of wondering what's going to happen or not really knowing who's getting killed or how. I will admit though this is an excellent review! I like the way you used the "sledgehammer to the head" approach. VERY fitting for this film for sure.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on August 19, 2013:

I'll definitely give it a chance. I love horrors/ thrillers :)

Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on August 19, 2013:

Not at all. I have to admit that I found the 2003 remake to be solid, although not as bizarre or effective as the original. But if you are able to enjoy horror films, give this one a chance ;-)

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on August 19, 2013:

I have yet to see the original but I saw the one from 2003. Is it bad to admit that I did like it? LOL!

Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on August 19, 2013:

It is a very simple plotline, which - like I said in the review - serves no bigger purpose than to lead the friends to the "slaughter". But yeah, audiences were shocked by it in the 70's.

Thanks for your comment!

Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on August 19, 2013:

I love this movie! Even though it is quite boring in terms of storyline, I think it was quite gruesome for its time!

IslandBites from Puerto Rico on August 19, 2013:

I agree about the scene in the wood. Nice review!

(I also agree about the girl's screams! hahaha)

Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on August 18, 2013:

LOL! My wife said something similar about the girl's screams.

As for the film, I agree it holds up well. It's a very gritty film indeed. I spent most of the first half of the film dreading the moment when Leatherface appears for the first time.

Keith Abt from The Garden State on August 18, 2013:

I just revisited this movie about a year ago after not seeing it for a very long time, and I'd say it still holds up very well. It's a truly nasty, scuzzy piece of work (and I mean that in the best possible way).

...though I have to say, the "final girl's" near-constant screaming during the second half of the film *does* eventually start to grate on the nerves... after a while I was wishing one of the cannibals would stuff the gag back in her mouth just so she'd shut up for a while!! hahahaha

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