Reed Alexander's Horror Review of the One, the Only, 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' (1974)
A timeless legend
Let's talk about one of the greatest classics in the slasher genre. This movie set a standard that raised the bar far beyond what other slashers in the genre were ever capable. There was a level of unhinged insanity captured in this movie and the effect really deserves more credit than it ever gets.
As I previously explained about Friday the 13th (F13), the acting was abysmal, the premise laughable, and the overall execution was generic, but it was still fantastic and became the standard for slashers as a genre. That's because The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TTCM) was more than just some slasher. It predates both Halloween (1978) and F13 (1980), and basically blows both of the out of the water.
Let's talk about why. Leatherface walked onto the scene and stunned with everything that he was. They didn't save him for some big reveal, they put his ass right up front and center with the first kill of the movie. Jason Voorhees doesn't make an appearance until the second F13, and doesn't even get the iconic hockey mask until the third F13. Leatherface is also deeply developed. Hell, Michael Myers doesn't even get an actual back story until the fourth movie. Leatherface never speaks, but he still emotes. He reacts in tangible ways that allow the audience to ponder his thought process. They make a very specific point of showing the eyes underneath the human skin mask he wears, darting back in forth in worry and confusion. The director wanted you to think about what Leatherface was thinking, wanted you to try and process that there is a consciousness behind each horrific acts. Leatherface wasn't just some slash'o, killing the kids fucking in the woods, he's a mass murderer with thought and drive. He has reason, warped and insane as that reason might be.
It's fair to say the acting was on point—at least equal to the acting in Halloween. And it wasn't just Leatherface, every member of the cast was solid, even the bit rolls. The setting was marvelous and the atmosphere meticulously constructed. You could smell the rot through the theater screen. It was gritty, grimy, dark; just absolutely caked with filth. The FX were bargain barrel, but they were used perfectly. Camera filters, lighting, the occasional smattering of fake blood. Simple. And the story is powerful enough to be an urban legend. It is, after all, looooooosely based on a true story called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They even have the real radio report during the opening of the movie. Mind you, there was never any mass murderer, just a grave robber who stole and skinned corpses. But it was enough to send the imagination reeling.
TTCM is special. It wasn't just some slasher. Perhaps that's what it became over the years and perhaps that's what was wrong with the latter 2003 adaptation, but originally it was beyond standards. This movie is absolute required viewing for Horror Heads.
Let's talk about what made this movie perfect. Absolute, unhinged, madness. By the end of the movie, the actual actress was pushed so hard by her involvement in the movie, she snapped. We get to witness one of the most honest moments in horror ever presented; a person actually losing their mind.
Everything in the movie is so insane, so violently warped, that the madness is real. The effect was real. I can only imagine that the unprepared minds of 1970s audiences were simply incapable of processing it. The actress might have actually snapped, but nothing less could have been expected of the character she played. Anyone confronted with the same psychotic circumstances would have lost their wits as well.
Heck the last survivor doesn't get away because she formulates a plan. She flails and claws like a trapped animal until one of the Sawyers makes a mistake and she pulls herself free. Her only escape, flinging herself through a window. That is just fucking brutal. You get the feeling that she just flung herself aimlessly through the nearest exit, no sense of the consequences. And at that point, the actress was so flustered, it's hard to know if she was acting or out of her damn mind.
That's what makes this movie so great. Real, tangible, madness. Again, this is required viewing for all Horror Heads.