An interesting phenomenon occurs when one watches a Horror movie. More so than any other genre, the mind is often required to fill in the blanks. It is well known that the less you show, the scarier it often is. Indeed it’s almost as if the implication of Horror is enough to inspire it. Sometimes, a film is so effective in what it implies, that it becomes, in the mind of those that saw it, something altogether more than what it was. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is just such a film. A lot of people seem to remember it as a non-stop gore-fest. As an exploitative exercise in graphic depravity. The reality is that this flick, while indeed twisted and disturbing, has very little gore and no nudity at all.. What makes THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE special is that while the first half is a 'pick off the teens one-by-one' film, the second half is a menacingly surreal romp that is almost psychedelic in its effect.
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Directed with great visual flair by Tobe Hooper (on a budget of only $300,000), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE throws the audience off balance right away by claiming that the film is based on a true story. Of course it isn’t, but Hooper made the assertion in response to the lies and misinformation surrounding Watergate and the Vietnam War (it was 1974 after all). This air of ‘truth’ around the film is reinforced by the cast, who were all unknown young local actors from the central Texas area. Having no familiar faces among your protagonists instantly heightens the sense of danger, since you have no ‘star’ that you can assume will survive. The cast all give good, convincing performances but particular attention should be paid to Gunner Hansen, who played the most memorable of the villains; Leatherface.
Leatherface is cuts such a horrifying figure that he has become the ‘face’ of the franchise - completely obliterating any cultural memory of the fact that the antagonist of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is an entire family. Gunner Hansen decided in the development of Leatherface that he was a mentally disabled man who had never learned to communicate properly. He researched the role by studying the movements and mannerisms of the students at a Texas special needs school. Far from just a creepy mask slapped onto a large man, Leatherface is a carefully constructed and fleshed out character - which only serves to make him all the more terrifying.
So disturbing are Leatherface and his family that people see blood and gore that is simply not there at all. What little blood is shown is limited to, for example, some scrapes on Sally’s body (the scrapes were real, received as actress Marylin Burns ran through the brush) and the cutting of Sally’s fingertip (again, real - the fake knife didn’t work). In the scene where Pam (Teri McMinn) is hung from a meat hook, the action is so visceral that there are people out there who swear that they can see the hook enter her body. Of course you can’t, but it is a testament to just how frightening the moment is.
The absence of blood was actually a commercial choice. Tobe Hooper intended this film to be PG, but of course, never got it. It’s just as well - the film was much too scary for PG even with no blood. It is a masterpiece the genre and a study on how the mind works when watching Horror.
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE fun facts - For the scene when Pam was hung up on the meat hook, actress Teri McMinn was held in place by a nylon cord that went between her legs. It was so uncomfortable for her that much of the pain expressed on Pam’s face is genuine.
One alternate title for the film was “Headcheese”.
Tobe Hooper tried very hard to edit this film down to a “PG” rating. So effective was the Horror in his movie, that no matter how much he cut, it always came back from the ratings board as “R”.
Old Man - “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.”
Pam - “Oh, no. Capricorn's ruled by Saturn. ‘There are moments when we cannot believe that what is happening is really true. Pinch yourself and you may find out that it is.’”
Hitchhiker - “You could have dinner with us... my brother makes good head cheese! You like head cheese?”