The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Release date: October 1, 1974

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen and John Dugan

On route to visit their grandfather's grave (which has apparently been ritualistically desecrated), five teenagers drive past a slaughterhouse, pick up (and quickly drop) a sinister hitch-hiker, eat some delicious home-cured meat at a roadside gas station, before ending up at the old family home... where they're plunged into a never-ending nightmare as they meet a family of cannibals who more than make up in power tools what they lack in social skills.

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror great ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ has acquired something of a legendary status. Stories have even circulated about how some of its viewers fainted or threw up in the aisles. It is believed by many (especially by those who have not actually seen it) to be one of the most unpleasantly graphic gore ever shown on screen.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a plausible geographical setting (backwoods Texas) and although its narrator (an uncredited John Laroquette) claims it to be a true story, it is in fact no truer than the Blair Witch Project (which uses these same tricks to promote itself). Claims that it is based on the real-life exploits of serial killer Ed Gein, stretch our normal understanding of what "based on" means. Despite rumors The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not too graphic, it doesn't have to be, far more terror is generated from the sound of a chainsaw, or the sound of screaming, than from the sight of flesh being sliced and diced. And even when occasionally acts of violence are shown, they are astonishingly quick, and almost entirely blood free. Hooper is so skilled a director, with so firm a grip on atmosphere and tension, that you leave this movie convinced that you have seen far more than he ever actually reveals.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is also a horror film which does not really scare its viewers, instead, like "Audition", traumatises them, bludgeoning them with scenes of psychological, as much as physical, torment. If you’re looking for cheap scares, see a different horror; but if you want to feel as though you’ve actually been hit by an agonising, visceral experience, this is the film for you.

If you can manage to catch your breath, you might be surprised to find yourself laughing. There is something absurdly recognisable about the cannibal family at the centre of the movie, despite its inbred backwardness. The grandfather (John Dugan) whose words are uttered for him by everyone around him. The son (Edwin Neal) who dreams of being an artist (with corpses as his medium) while his brother (Gunnar Hansen) stays at home and does all of the actual work (slaughtering AND cooking). It is shocking, but also darkly funny, to see in this crew of nastys something like a model family unit where they respect their elders, watch out for one another, and, most importantly, eat a shared meal. In the movie, the family that slays together, stays together.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a low-budget success, still every bit as powerful in its impact today, and like all classic's it is never outdone by any of its many slash-and-dash sequels/remakes. This is cutting-edge horror, and while it may not be to everyone’s tastes, it should find its way at some time onto every horror fan's plate.

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