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John’s Horror Corner: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), the film that paved the way for the modern horror paradigm

May 12, 2013

MY CALL:  If you claim to love horror movies and have not seen this film by modern horror pioneer Tobe Hooper, then you are simply lying to yourself!  This not only changed the flavor and face of horror, but changed how everyone would make horror movies for the next 40 years.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHThe Hills Have Eyes series (1977, 1984, 2006, 2007) and Wrong Turn (2003).

I often refer to the “classic Wrong Turn/Hills Have Eyes/Texas Chainsaw formula in which a group of four to six twenty-somethings (often including one or two couples) go on a road trip out in some backwoods-y wilderness and, just like The Cabin in the Woods taught us, meet a harbinger of bad things to come.  This harbinger comes in the form of an iffy hitch hiker, a weird gas station attendant missing some teeth with open wounds on his face or a clearly inbred shop owner who awkwardly ogles the girls, gives the stank eye to the guys, and seems angry by their very presence.  But these soon-to-be victims don’t bat an eye at him nor do they hesitate to enter dilapidated homes festooned with warning signs.

Well…this is the movie.  Director Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist, The Funhouse, Lifeforce, Salem’s Lot) cast this classic mold with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  This model has been sampled by so many filmmakers that it honestly seems that any horror flick that isn’t a haunting, possession or house movie has a 50/50 shot of using this model as if it was simply “the way” to make a scary movie.

So let’s meet our victims…  Sally Hardesty (Marylin Burns; Eaten Alive, Future-Kill), Franklin Hardesty (Paul A. Partain; Texas Chainsaw 3-D), Jerry, Kirk (William Vail; Poltergeist, Mausoleum) and Pam (Teri McMinn) travel to Sally and Franklin’s grandpa’s old house where they are terrorized by a chainsaw wielding killer and the Sawyer family of grave-robbing cannibals.

As Sally, Marylin Burns gets put through the ringer.  The 70s and 80s were really good at physically testing their female leads (e.g., I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left).  She runs a lot, watches her brother’s brutal murder, falls out of a second story window, screams to no end, gets beaten and bound, beaten in a burlap sack, has blood sucked from her finger by grandpa Sawyer, gets hit in the head with a hammer, and ultimately transforms into a sweaty, twitchy, blood-drenched, hysterical mess.

Horror master Tobe Hooper brought us this classic, brutal slasher-horror which accomplished something that we really didn’t have before: horror in broad daylight.  And that’s not all!  Hooper’s man-child menace Leatherface (Gunnar Hanson; Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Texas Chainsaw 3-D) brought us all the terror with none of the foreplay.

Great scene!  Instilling terror on a beautiful sunny day.

Conventional, well-orchestrated horror and slasher flicks gradually build tension, giving the audience time to anticipate and dread whatever horrors lurk around the corner for the guy who will “be right back.”  Instead, Leatherface whips open the door, drags a woman into the basement and impales her onto a meat hook (screaming!) so quickly that our subconscious hardly knows how to react.  Leatherface is the perfect anthropomorphization of menace.

Such scenes of unorthodox, blatant, undelayed brutality shaped a new shocking style of horror that has historically left many leaving theaters rocking back and forth in need of therapy.  I mean, Leatherface chainsaws a guy in a wheelchair.  Who does that!?! Among so many other things, Tobe Hooper brought us an often duplicated shot: the rear-shot approach of the deadly house.

ABOVE: Hooper does this rather tastefully.
BELOW: Later iterations of the franchise were a little less tactful when it came to framing this shot, starring Jessica Biel’s butt.

Lovers of the Hostel series, the Saw series, the Wrong Turn series, The Hills Have Eyes series or other such fare should pay homage to this forefather of torture porn, brutality and the classic horror paradigm.


53 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2013 2:09 pm

    The quick kills rocked my world. They were efficient, no nonsense and soul crushing. Reminded me of the Troll from Ernest Scared Stupid. That guy didn’t mess around.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      April 10, 2016 1:46 pm

      And even though there was little gore, it FELT so brutal and intense!

  2. January 6, 2019 8:17 pm

    Ah, TCM. I liked the remakes too. 😀

    • John Leavengood permalink
      January 7, 2019 9:22 am

      For fans of brutal horror, they are a blast! Plus, I just thought they were well done.

      • January 7, 2019 10:31 am

        I like subtle horror too, but there’s something about TCM that stands out from the rest. It’s probably the villains’ normality. How can a family be that insane and yet act very normal? I think the remakes capture this best. But what I enjoy most about the original is that table scene and the superb acting from the villains. As far as the acting goes for the rest of the characters, I found it bad.


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