The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) 4.36/5 (4)


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Rating: The Good – 90.3
Genre: Horror
Duration: 83 mins
Director: Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger

As pure a horror film as you’ll find, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an exquisitely sculpted journey into the raw unprocessed soul of fear. Five friends travel to a Texas backwater to visit an old family home but stumble into a neighboring house where the majority of them are suddenly and brutally murdered by a relentless chainsaw wielding killer whose face is hidden behind a leathery mask. The events that follow become even more horrifying for the sole survivor as she comes face to face with cinema’s most grotesque and psyche-affecting reflection of institutional perversion and generational corruption – a family of deranged and psychotic cannibals from the enfeebled grandfather to increasingly defiant grandsons.

Through the inspired writing of Kim Henkel and the doubly inspired writing and directing of the perennially underrated horror auteur Hooper, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre becomes a deeply intelligent but utterly relentless force-feeding of terror. Made in the immediate aftermath of the psychologically scarring Watergate scandal and at the height of public opposition to the Vietnam war, the movie is infused with the themes of fear and even disgust which permeated much of the American subconscious at that time. This is a primal scream at those times but it’s as much a warning to the power gluttons who create so much carnage from the safety of their offices that what they might ultimately create is a dark and uncontrollable future where society turns upon itself.

The movie itself is lean in production quality but it never looks cheap. If anything, it’s extraordinarily accomplished right across the board. The camera work and the sound in particular are outstanding and provide much of the punch in the scenes leading up to and including the central chase. Though comprised of unknowns, the cast are universally excellent with Marilyn Burns and Paul A. Partain giving genuinely commanding performances. Of course, Gunnar Hansen deserves special mention for his physical performance as the maniacal Leatherface.

However, the real genius of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre lies in Hooper’s direction as he carefully constructs and captures the very essence of a nightmare. Not rushing into things, he builds the characters first and then slowly raises the level of tension with a series of clever devices. The framing of his camera combined with the physical set-up of every scene (check out that skeleton art!) increasingly draws us into the drama until we’re right there in that house. And then, when all hell breaks loose, it hits us like a freight train and save for a couple of brief interludes, it doesn’t stop until, just like the main protagonist, we feel we can’t take anymore. This is one of the truly great achievements in direction and it produces a film that can be fairly described as the “2001: A Space Odyssey” of horror movies as Hooper grabs us by the scruff of the neck and drags us into the centre of this nightmare and beyond the infinite.

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