I don’t trend to watch much horror. As a genre, it’s never really appealed to me. I had a brief phase in my early teens where Freddy Krueger seemed kind of entertaining and I watched a few Steven King adaptations here and there. It was a short flirtation that was over pretty much before it began. Then I spent the next decade or two assuming horror was cheap and nasty. But as I get older, I can appreciate that good film making is good filmmaking, regardless of genre. So every now and again, I’ll realise that while the vast majority of the genre does nothing for me, there are horror classics that I should see if I’m gonna call myself a movie nerd. Horror classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Sally (Marilyn Burns) and her paraplegic brother Franklin (Paul A Partain) are road tripping through backwoods Texas to visit the grave of their grandfather that has apparently been vandalised. Along for the ride in their groovy van are three friends, Jerry (Allen Danziger), Kirk (William Vail) and Pam (Teri McMinn). They pick up a hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) who immediately proves to be a nut job. When he cuts himself and Franklin with pocket knife, they kick him out of the van and keep going.
Pulling over for a rest in an area that Sally and Franklin knew well as kids, Jerry and Pam go in search of a swimming hole. Low on petrol, they approach an isolated house in the hopes of trading for enough petrol to get them to the next service station. Here they meet Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who gets his name because he wears a face mask sewn together from what looks like human skin. Jerry and Pam’s encounter with Leatherface doesn’t go so well, and things only get worse for their friends as they one by one start searching for each other.
First things first, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is really scary and really disturbing. So that’s a good start as far as horror movies go. But more than just scary and disturbing, director Tobe Hooper manages to put an unsettling sheen over the entire movie. So even before we meet bizarre characters like the hitchhiker and Leatherface, this version of Texas is already creepy for some reason.
More than cheap shocks, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre works for the same reasons that Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead works. You can see the shoestring budget behind this movie, but you can also see that a real student of cinema is calling the shots and getting the absolute most out of every cent. There’s a real ambition to this movie that makes the gore more impressive than in some modern day torture porn that had millions of dollars at its disposal. And I think that’s the kind of thing that makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a classic today. This is real movie, made with a real vision. And it proves that horror doesn’t have to be cheap and nasty.