Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Let's talk horror shall we, or rather, let's discuss the declining history of horror movies in general. Back in the 1910's and 20's, the first horror flicks came from Germany. German expressionist films they were called and produced classics like F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu and Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari. Not to mention The Phantom of the Opera, the silent classic. Then came the 30's and 40's, dominated by the Universal Studios monster films such as Dracula and Frankenstein. The 50's saw Christopher Lee command the screens in with his portrayal of Dracula in the Hammer Horror Films. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was synonymous with the 60's horror scene and it's often considered to be one of the first movies in the slasher genre. Let's not forget to mention Romero's Night of The Living Dead, the grandaddy of modern zombie movies.

The 70's was the best time for horror movies, the world saw a slew of fresh and frightening releases like The Exorcist, The Omen, Audrey Rose, and The Sentinel. Movies that dealt with the supernatural were a big hit in the 70's, which also seems to be the trend nowadays. The 80's of course produced some of the greatest slasher flicks out there like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare On Elm Street. This renewed interest in the slasher genre seeped into the 90's with sequels to the aforementioned movies. But they were nowhere near as good as the originals, the 90's and 2000's were dark days for horror genre. With the exception of Silence of the Lambs and The Blair Witch Project, every horror movie made in the last 20 years was pure butchery of the genre.

Horror movies have been reduced to nothing but gore fests, jump scares, and paranormal entities. The charm that classics like The Shining and Rosemary's Baby faded away. Horror movies aren't as well thought out as they used to be, and the biggest evidence of this is the amount of remakes and reboots being released. Horror movies are like Heavy Metal, not given nearly as much respect as they deserve, thrived in the 70's and 80's, but became a parody of what they used to be in recent days.

More often than not, whenever I mention The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM) to anyone, they always say they've watched the 2003 version, no one ever mentions the 1974 one, That's very sad, because to me, that movie is the quintessential horror flick, the movie that revitalized the slasher genre and never looked back. Released in 1974 and directed by Tobe Hooper, TCM is about a group of young adults travelling through Texas, when their van runs out of gas, they venture into the desert, not knowing what awaits them inside the lonesome house in the distance.

It's quite ironic that despite the name, the movie isn't a gore fest whatsoever, in fact there isn't much blood at all. Come to think of it, there isn't any music either, nothing to extenuate the fright factor in the movie. Nor was it as complex as other horror films at the time, quite hilariously, director Tobe Hooper was hoping to get a PG-13 rating because he approached it as a black comedy rather than a horror flick. But what really made TCM stand out were its shortcomings. The budget, the grainy camera work, and the difficulty during production all contributed to the charm this movie possessed. I mean how can you argue with a movie that starts off like this...

What makes TCM so special is the fact that it deals with the evil that dwells within the human mind, like Psycho, it is based on the story of the real life serial killer Ed Gein. It's frightening to know that the events in the movie could happen in real life, and they have happened. This is real, real life, not some Paranormal Activity moving chairs bullshit, people like this exist. Shot primarily in Texas, location played a huge role adding depth to the movie. Think about it, this arid landscape in the middle of Texas, with no one to help you and, dare I say, no one to hear you scream. The landscape adds a dryness to the whole experience, sort of like an itchy throat.  The location had me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable, not in a "oh this is disturbing" way, but rather like being in a sauna and wearing heavy winter gear. Location, location, location people.

The whole dryness of the movie is made more obvious by the raw and gritty camera work and use of very bright lights. The farmhouse in which the Sawyer family lived in was "decorated" with real animal bones and REAL blood. The chainsaw that Leatherface uses is real, and no special effects were applied when he moved it terrifyingly close to the face of one of the actors, it was all real. In the scene where Sally was "feeding" grandpa, they had to cut the actresses' index finger with a razor blade to get the blood flowing. The modest budget of the movie forced the production team to go to these extremes, and when production ended, most of the actors were physically injured.

Without an ounce of doubt, the star of TCM was, and always will be, Leatherface. The big baby, the retarded butcher, the pseudo cross-dresser. Leatherface, the man with a thousand faces (literally), is not only physically terrifying, but also an ambassador of sadism. He peels the skin off of his victims and uses it to make masks to cover his face with, if he only pursued a career in plastic surgery. His primary objective is to kill stranded victims who stumble into his house and slaughter them in order to feed his cannibalistic family. Leatherface is a true icon of horror, although he has appeared in all the sequels and remakes, none of the portrayals are anywhere near as good as Gunnar Hansen's "original" Leatherface.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre exploded into a huge franchise, with comics, action figures, remakes, and sequels. None of the later films were even close to possessing the charm of the original. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Leatherface has an entirely new family who's involved with aliens and the Illuminati, and they eat pizza instead of humans, WHAT THE FUCK. The original was raw, macabre, and bizarre, but the movies that followed were and absolute joke. It is a well known fact that horror movie sequels are almost never as good as the originals, but I have never seen a franchise so scarred by its sequels as much as TCM. The original is a masterpiece and a groundbreaking addition to the genre, it is my all time favorite horror movie, and for good reason. It took the low budget feel of B-Movies at the time and added some dark (very dark) humor, gritty realism, fucked up characters, and combined it all into one movie; a pure powerhouse combo.

To finish off, TCM is just fantastic, whether you're a horror movie fan or have a real fucked up sense of humor, this one's for you. To enhance your experience, try watching it in the hours of 1PM to 4PM, yeah it's not really a midnight movie in my opinion. Dark room in the afternoon is optimal. As for its sequels, the only "worthy" one would be TCM 2, although it was horrible by every meaning of the word, it did introduce us to one of the best characters ever shown in a movie, We will take an in depth look at TCM 2 soon enough, stick around for that.

"I just can't take no pleasure in killing. There's just some things you gotta do. Don't mean you have to like it."

Ahmed J. Almatrook 

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