johnlink ranks THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974)

For my first movie of 2013 I step back 39 years to one of the iconic horror films, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. My decision to throw this on is two-fold. For one, I march ever closer to 500 films and would love for certain icons of cinematic history to be represented on this blog. Secondly, I have a group of employees planning to screen the new TEXAS CHAIN SAW tomorrow night. Being a supposedly direct sequel, I thought it was time to revisit the first one.


I watched THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on 1.2.13. It was my second viewing of the film, and first in a decade or so.

This is a movie which runs less than an hour and half but does not get into its meat  (so to speak) until more than thirty minutes in. Once the brutality starts, it goes down quickly. This leaves us on the side of Sally (Marilyn Burns) as she tries to escape after the demise of her fellow hippies.

This is a voyeuristic film even before we get there. Director Tobe Hooper often shoots from far away, giving us a sense that someone is watching. Because the family of malicious folks is fairly dumb, it is the small town which becomes the voyeur. By extension, of course, we the audience become the voyeur.

There are some absolutely great scenes of macabre excellence. The first slamming of the door. The meat hook. The freezer. The realization that this Grandfather is not the same as Norman Bates’ mom. The attempted bludgeoning of Sally.

Once it starts, it happens so exceptionally fast. We are left wondering how Sally can make it another forty minutes, and the movie does not make it easy for her.  The first thirty minutes happens in a typical 70s-slow fashion: long shots of people walking. Seemingly mindless exposition. Methodical pacing.

So when this movie kicks into high gear, it is unexpected and seemingly unsustainable. Hooper’s ability to keep it moving is what makes this an icon of the genre.

The flaws are easily seen. The acting isn’t superb. The dialogue is moderately effective (though the script is more effective than the sum of its dialogue). The end is ambiguous, even as it shows an optimistic view of faceless humanity helping Sally survive a faceless (so-to-speak) assailant. Where does the movie go from here? What happens to Sally? What happens to the family?

The answers are left frustratingly ambiguous, as if the movie ends part way through its third act. Hooper’s point, of course, is that this could happen to you. That you are never safe.

In that sense, this is a wildly successful film, right up to the final chaotic dance with that chain saw glistening in the morning sun.





~ by johnlink00 on January 3, 2013.

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