by Laurent Kelly
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Director: Tobe Hooper Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danzinger Screenplay: Tim Henkel and Tobe Hooper OSCAR COUNT (0)
This masterpiece of terror was made on a shoestring budget and yet its visuals remain alarming, its unrelenting dark atmosphere equalled by few if any from it genre. What makes the film so striking is its spine chilling bluntness in regards to its depiction of horror. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre doesn’t raise your heartbeat but rather it almost makes your heart stop short. Look at the scene where Kirk walks into the isolated house and one fall later has been bludgeoned in the head and locked in an enigmatic room where further torture awaits. This happens in a matter of seconds and yet its spareness is what makes the scene so unforgettable. In a genre where we have become so used to long and suspenseful tracking shots and teasing, Hooper’s film stands tall to this day because it subverts these expectations with its direct and gritty tone.
Hooper proves himself a master in this film of maximising the camera to its full potential to scare perfectly exemplfied in the scene where we see the female protagonist trapped in the chair surrounded by the twisted family members of Leatherface. Whereas most horror films focus only on the violence, Texas Chainsaw instead uses this moment to build audience empathy as we see close up the anguished, blooshot eyes of the poor victim and her rough tear stained sweat and bloody wounds and breathing. Seeing the impact the horror has had on her proves to be much scarier than the horror itself and in these moments where she finds herself completely trapped the movie becomes very hard to watch as the camera has made the pain and torment feel far too close for comfort.
It is not just the content that is clever but also the structure of the film. For the first half hour the use of dramatic foreshadowing brilliantly builds up the required tension before the horror is released like a caged animal and doesn’t relent until the final moment of footage. The eery soundtrack and isolated arena first help to establish the foreboding violence and then the violence itself takes centre stage and when it arrives the lack of respite makes the film almost an exercise just to watch as there is no room to escape, no light relief to try and catch a breath from the authentic and skillfully crafted violence.
Texas Chainsaw is and will remain a horror classic because it never allows its violence to become a gimmick. Through frantic editing, clever dramatic technique and character driven terror we are taken on a dark and honest vision of a bleak and relentless horror which scares through implication, atmosphere and a dreaded feeling of helplessness. When the film miraculously gifts us a survivor we feel for a moment as if we have survived the experience ourselves.
DID YOU KNOW? Unusually the film was actually shot in chronological order.