Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
"I used to work there. My brother did, too. My grandfather, too. My family's always been in meat!"
I learned something about you this week, dear readers. Like myself, you really love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. And rightfully so. When it didn't show up on Dread Central's Top 10 Groundbreaking Films list, I heard from you. Now I'm not here to argue why it wasn't on the list or why it should have been; I'm just here to celebrate the awesomeness of the film. That's right - this week's Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel honor goes to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in all its glory.
Everything about this film is perfect. The chilling intro, the underlying story of grave robbing and Edwin Neal’s unforgettably manic portrayal of The Hitchhiker. And I do mean unforgettable. I recall many a night as a young 'un, lying awake in bed trying not to see that nutcase grabbing Franklin’s knife and slicing his hand open…but it simply wouldn’t go away. Once its hooks are in, you’re not shaking The Texas Chain Saw Massacre ... ever.
Filmed on a paper-thin budget over the course of four weeks, which was two weeks longer than initially planned, this movie implies so much more than it shows. The casual viewer will remember gallons of blood being spilled on the screen, when in fact there was very little stage blood used during the production (although there are well known accounts of Marilyn Burns shedding more than a bit of her own blood during the intense filming). They will tell you that a chill went down their spine when they saw that meat hook come through the front of Pam’s (Terri McMinn) chest. And as we all know, that never happens either. Director Tobe Hooper did a masterful job making you remember things you didn’t actually see. And he needed to, as the film was operating on limited finances.
But what was created on that meager budget would go on to inspire absolute legions of followers. Let me describe a movie for you: a group of teens/young adults venture out into the woods/hillside/rural area, and after their car breaks down/blows a tire/runs out of gas, they realize they are being hunted by a family/tribe/pack of deranged/deformed/cannibalistic weirdos. Sound familiar? The Hills Have Eyes, Wrong Turn, House of 1000 Corpses, Wolf Creek and Malevolence come to mind immediately, and I’m sure you can conjure dozens of others. They all must tip their cap to the original, and still the best, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
As with all the truly horrific films, the tension is unbelievable. Hooper builds it by making us wonder just how demented can this family be? How far is this going to go? He reveals the answer to us in the now infamous dinner scene as Sally Hardesty (Burns) sees just exactly how twisted the family is when Grandpa is brought in to join the festivities. And Burns is brilliant. It is the sheer terror she channels that makes the final 25 minutes of the film legendary. The movie is gritty, the intro tells us that it’s real and to watch Burns in action with the killers, you could almost believe it is.
Of all the slashers we’ve come to know, Leatherface may just represent the most perverse of them all. If the mask of human flesh isn’t off-putting enough, the undertones of sexual depravity (or at least sexual ambiguity and confusion) make him that much more disturbing. And although he takes his place amongst this family of killers, his larger-than-life persona is the most memorable of the film.
You cannot make a better film than this about people being hunted. It just seems too real. It seems effortless. A perfect storm of great villains blessed with wonderful victims. An absolute treasure of a horror film. It has stood the test of time, inspired legions and easily goes down as one of the best, most influential horror films ever. And for that we honor The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with this week's Tip of the Scalpel.
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