31 Screams in October, #27: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Posted: October 27, 2014 in Movie Review
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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen, John Larroquette (narrator)

Ever come across a strange house that compels you to investigate it? You knock on the door, the polite thing to do, but there’s no answer. Certain that there must be someone at home, you open the unlocked door… Um, excuse me, but what’s the matter with you?! Beyond the one or two laws you’re breaking, you have no idea what or who is on the other side of that door! It could just be some nice old couple who are too infirm to get up out of their chairs in the time it’s taken you to lose your patience. Then again, in certain parts of the country, it’s just as likely to be the home of some chainsaw-wielding maniac.

A rash of grave robbing incidents has brought in several concerned families from various parts of the country to an isolated area of Texas. One such family is the Hardestys, specifically Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), traveling with friends Jerry, Kirk and Pam. Along the way, they pick up a very strange hitchhiker. He’s very proud of his family’s history of working at the old slaughterhouse. He’s also got a screw loose, as he demonstrates first by drawing blood from his own hand with Franklin’s pocket knife, and then using a straight razor to cut into Franklin’s arm. Unceremoniously parting ways with their passenger, the group treks on.

The group stops at a gas station, but are told there won’t be any fuel available until later in the day, so they decide to pass the time by stopping at the old Hardesty homestead. Looking for a swimming-hole (which has dried up), Kirk and Pam come across a house with a gas generator. Thinking of borrowing some gas, Kirk walks up to the front door, knocks, and then enters anyway when no one answers. He doesn’t make it much farther than that. Neither does Pam, who also enters while looking for Kirk.  Wondering what’s keeping his friends, Jerry goes up to the house to find them. All three are victims of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen).

The first time I sat down to watch this movie, I was a little impatient with it. The first 35 minutes or so seemed to move rather slowly, and I was anticipating the carnage that was surely to come. I guess I was just expecting a little truth in advertising. Since there wasn’t much of a “massacre” going on, I was beginning to wonder just what the fuss was all about. Truth be told, it’s a mostly bloodless movie, especially by today’s standards. Had I known what the rest of the movie would bring to the table, I’d have appreciated the setup a bit more. There’s a certain level of dark humor to this movie, and a lot of it is thanks to a scene-stealing performance from Jim Siedow as “The Cook,” the owner of the gas station.

The secret to the longevity of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is in its final half-hour. This section of the film is relentless, and actress Marilyn Burns does a great job in expressing with her eyes just how quickly she is being driven mad with fear. It was with great sadness that I learned of the actress’s passing in the last week of August 2014. Her legacy lives on, as does the legacy of Leatherface. Based upon real-life murderer Ed Gein, Leatherface is the grandfather of all the masked horror icons (before you namedrop Norman Bates, remember that he wore a wig, not a mask), predating even Michael Myers by a good four years. As “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” also predates “Black Christmas” by a couple of months, the two share credit as being the templates for what would become the slasher genre. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” had three sequels, and another in 2013 which ignores the others, as well as a 2003 remake and a 2006 prequel to the remake. All six of those films are, of course, quite inferior, but that’s because the anticipation is gone. We know what to expect now. The cat’s out of the bag. The shark’s out of the water. The chainsaw-wielding man-child is out in the open.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I admit that just the idea always put me off from watching this movie, but in view of the films and series that I have watched in more recent years, I might not find it so scary after all. I assume that “The Cook” has something to do with the “left overs from Leatherface’s hand work?

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