The #2 Greatest Horror Movie… Ever! is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In fact, it’s my personal favorite horror movie. If you and I were going to sit down together and check out a horror movie and you asked me to pick it, it’d be The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
There is one above it on the list, but it’s not as fun as this one!
#2-The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
(Gash’s note: Yeah, it looks weird, but the actual spelling of the film’s title in the opening credits has the word “chainsaw” split into two words. Subsequent sequels and remakes would use the traditional spelling, chainsaw).
“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected, nor would they have wished to see, as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to the discovery of one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.”
It is with this intro, read by John Laroquette (this bit of John Laroquette trivia was much more impressive when people immediately knew who John Laroquette was and you didn’t have to go into a whole explanation about “Night Court” being the show on after “Cheers,” etc.) that we descend into one of the greatest horror films in the annals of American history: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Everything about this film is perfect. The chilling intro, the underlying story of grave-robbing and Edwin Neal’s unforgettable portrayal of The Hitchhiker (and I do mean unforgettable; I remember many a night as a young man, lying awake in bed trying not to see that nut grabbing Franklin’s knife and slicing his own hand open… but it simply wouldn’t go away). Once its hooks are into you, you’re not shaking Texas Chain Saw, ever.
Filmed on a paper-thin budget, 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 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. That never happened either. Director Tobe Hooper did a masterful job making you remember things you didn’t actually see. And he needed to, as the film’s budget was under $300,000, shoestrings even in 1974.
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 up dozens of other titles. They all must tip their cap to the original, and still the best, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
As with all truly horrific films, the tension in Chain Saw is palpable. Hooper built it by making us wonder just how demented the Sawyer Clan was and how far this nightmare would go. He reveals the answer to us in the now infamous dinner scene as Sally Hardesty (Marilyn 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 murderous 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 is just one amongst a family of killers, Leatherface’s larger-than-life persona (delivered by Gunnar Hansen) is the most memorable of the film.
You cannot make a better film about people being hunted by people than this. 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.
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