Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stubs – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (aka The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) (1974) Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Screenplay by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper. Produced by Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper, Jay Parsley, Richard Saenz. Run Time: 84 minutes. U.S.  Color, Horror.

Halloween sometimes makes you do things you might not normally. Going door to door in disguise and asking relative strangers for candy comes to mind and so does carving up vegetables with scary faces. Add to that, at least for me, watching horror films. This is not something I do normally, sort of like I don’t watch Christmas films out of season either. So tis the season, so another horror film which spawned a franchise to watch and review.

This one is a cautionary tale. And I’m not referring to the story in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but rather watching the film itself. Even though I am not a horror genre fan, especially modern horror, I had heard about this movie for years. I knew it was supposed to be a disturbing film, but it was still a watershed film of sorts. Not only did this film launch the career of director Tobe Hooper (more about that later), but inspired other filmmakers and set new standards for the slasher film genre. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is also a fine example of how small budget films can make it big. Made for under $300,000, the film would eventually gross $30 million (a lot of money back then).
The movie tells the story of a group of friends: Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), Jerry (Allen Danziger), Kirk (William Vail), and Pam (Teri McMinn), who are travelling in a van down some highway to visit the grave of the Hardestys' grandfather to investigate reports of vandalism and grave robbing. Sounds like a fun time already, doesn’t it?
They decide to visit the old Hardesty family homestead and along the way they pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal), who turns out to be a crazy mofo. The hitchhiker (and that’s the name in the credits) talks about his family and how they worked at the old slaughterhouse. (I don’t recall anyone asking.) He starts taking Polaroids and demands money for them. When the kids refuse to pay, he burns the photo and slashes himself and Franklin with a straight razor. (I told you he’s crazy.) The group forces him out of the van and drive on. Later, they stop at a gas station to refuel, but they’re told by the station’s proprietor (Jim Siedow) that the pumps are empty.
Things start going bad when the gang picks up a hitchhiker.
Their series of mistakes continue, when they drive on, intending to return to the gas station once it has received a fuel delivery. When they arrive at the old homestead, Franklin tells Kirk and Pam about a local swimming-hole and the couple head off for a swim. But the swimming-hole has dried up. Off in the distance, the two hear a generator running and go looking for it. They stumble upon a nearby house and Kirk calls out, asking for gas, while Pam waits on a swing in the yard.
They stop at a gas station, but there's no gas.
After getting no response, he of course goes inside (I mean the door’s unlocked what else can he do?). And inside, Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) appears and, of course, kills him. Pam enters soon after and trips into a room filled with furniture made from human bones. She attempts to flee, but Leatherface catches her and impales her on a meathook, then prepares to butcher Kirk.

Leatherface gets ready to skewer Pam on a meat hook.
Meanwhile, since it’s getting dark, Jerry heads out to look for Pam and Kirk. He finds the couple's blanket outside the nearby house and, of course, goes inside. Upon investigation he finds Pam, still alive, stuffed inside a freezer. Before he can react, Leatherface kills him and stuffs Pam back into the freezer. (Anyone else think Pam’s bad news?)
With darkness falling, Sally and Franklin set out to find their friends. As they near the neighboring house and call out, Leatherface lunges from the darkness and kills Franklin with a chainsaw. Sally runs toward the house and finds the dried up remains of an elderly couple in an upstairs room. She escapes Leatherface by jumping through a second-floor window and flees to the gas station. Leatherface disappears into the night.
At the gas station, the proprietor calms Sally down with offers of help, but ties her up, forces her into his truck and drives her back to the house. They arrive at the same time the hitchhiker arrives. (Time and distance don’t make sense here, but we continue.) The hitchhiker turns out to be Leatherface's brother. When the pair bring Sally inside, the hitchhiker recognizes her and taunts her.
At this point, the film gets more creepy than gory. The men torment the bound and gagged Sally while Leatherface, now dressed as a woman (?), serves dinner. Leatherface and the hitchhiker bring an old man, they call "Grandpa" (John Dugan), from upstairs to share the meal. During the night they decide that "Grandpa" (the best killer in the old slaughterhouse) should kill Sally. He tries to hit her with a hammer, but is too weak to do any damage. In the ensuing confusion, Sally breaks free, leaps through a window, and escapes to the road.
The dinner sequence at the end is just creepy rather than scary.
Leatherface and the hitchhiker give chase, but the latter is run down and killed by a passing semi-trailer truck. The driver gets out to help, but Leatherface attacks the truck with his chainsaw. The driver hits him in the face with a large wrench. Sally escapes in the back of a passing pickup truck as Leatherface waves the chainsaw above his head in frustration. And I guess it’s good-bye to the good Samaritan truck driver, but I don’t think the film ever shows what happens to him.
Sally makes her escape on the back of a passing pickup.
A former cow-killer at the old slaughterhouse, Leatherface is an iconic character in this genre of film. Inspired by Ed Gein, the Wisconsin murderer/grave robber, who also inspired the Norman Bates character in Psycho, Leatherface indulges in murder and cannibalism and wears a mask made from human skin. But what can you expect from an inbred. Needless to say, he’s not someone you’d want to run into on a dark street or invite over for dinner, since you might be the main course.
A Leatherface only a mother could love.
While the reviews at the time were mixed, Texas Chain Saw Massacre would go onto have four sequels and a prequel, before the inevitable remake (and no I have no plans to ever see it), in 2003 and a sequel to that, Texas Chainsaw 3D, in 2013 (no to that as well). And yes, they did change the spelling of chainsaw after the first film, making it one word instead of two from then on.
The film would also pave the way for other horror franchises, like the Blair Witch Project, Halloween, The Evil Dead, and be cited by Ridley Scott as one of his inspirations for the movie Alien. Rob Zombie also finds inspiration from the film, so you can see where this is going.
Tobe Hooper’s had a sort of up and mostly down career in Hollywood. A former college professor and assistant film director at the University of Texas (I’d heard he used school owned equipment to make the film), Hooper would be protégé of sorts to Steven Spielberg, directing Poltergeist in 1982, which would go onto to be a big hit and have its own series of sequels (Poltergeist II: The Other Side and Poltergeist III) and, surprise, surprise, is due for its own reboot in 2014.
After Poltergeist, Hooper would direct Lifeforce (1985) whose main villain is a sort of life force vampire (and naked) Space Girl (Mathilda May). In 1986, he made a remake of the 1953 sci-fi film Invaders from Mars, before making the first sequel to his own claim to fame, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986). Sadly, the film sort of flopped at the box office, making just over $8 million on a budget of $4.7 million.
While Hooper has continued to make films, they haven’t been really been as earth-shattering as his first success. He even has a film, Djinn, set for release later this year. A supernatural thriller, the film was shot in the United Arab Emirates (of all places) in 2011, so it’s been on the shelf for a while.
Back to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, while the film might have been gory for 1974, it is truly boring for all time. Slow paced is a nice way to put it and at 84 minutes it seems longer. While there is some killing, they didn’t make me want to look away. As I recall Franklin’s killing was almost blah when it finally happened. Creepy and weird would be a better description, especially the dinner sequence at the end.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a film that I saw so you don’t have to; you can thank me later. If you really need to see a slasher film … well, seek help. 

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