I think the lesson in this film franchise is never take a road trip to Texas. But anyways, the original film about a family of twisted and likely inbred rednecks is based very loosely on Wisconsin’s Ed Gein.
Gein is pretty notorious for his grave robbing and making furniture from human bodies. He also confessed to killing two women. But it is the creepy house of horrors that really seemed to inspire Tobe Hooper and his team.*
Hooper opens his film with an introduction warning us of the horrifying tale we are about to witness. It is followed by a creepy visual of a corpse that is hugging a gravestone. All as a news report tells us what the police discovered. The sound effect that accompanies the scene is intensely creepy.
We meet a group of young friends on a road trip to check the grave of Sally Hardesty and her brother Franklin’s father, based on the reports of grave robbing. They pick up a creepy hitchhiker who freaks everyone out. They toss him to the side of the road and continue on their way. Their van is low on gas, so they pull over. Hearing a generator, they discover a farmhouse. And that is where the mayhem kicks in. The friends find themselves stalked and treated like animals by the Sawyer family.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the most controversial of the classic 70’s horror films. It is remembered for it bloody brutality and gore. Which made my first viewing a surprise. The film is raw and frightening. But it is also not very gory. It is, largely bloodless. Even a scene in which a young woman is suspended on a meat hook is not nearly as gruesome in it’ visuals. Much of what makes the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to gruesome is the viewer’s imagination. The thought of how painful it is. It is also interesting to realize the who “Family of Cannibals” aspect was not actually established in the film. Certainly there are things you could see as hints, but nothing explicit.
The set design was made on a budget, but the crew puts together a weird and creepy home for the family. It is genuinely unsettling.
Made with a cast of unknowns (for almost all the performers, this was their first film) by a second time director, Massacre is pretty remarkable for it’s near continuous intensity. Hooper and his team (both behind and in front of the camera) do quite well on a shoestring budget. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a powerful and raw horror film that has held up for forty years, and for good reason. The film is one that sticks with the viewer long after turning off the TV.
*Gein also inspired Robert Block’s Psycho among others.