|The Plot: Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) is traveling across Texas with her friends and brother to check on the grave of her grandmother, which has been recently desecrated by graverobbers. When they arrive and find there’s very little they can do, they decide to head back but the only gas station around has no fuel to offer. So the group decides instead to stop in at Sally’s family’s home to see what the old place looks like. It’s a run down shack at this point, as they moved away when Sally was very young, but it has apparently had some visitors in it throughout the years as the animal bone designs that pattern the house would suggest. When the group starts to split up, a few of them find an old house down the trail in the backyard. Their first throughts are to see if there is gas that the group could possibly buy off of them, but this house is nothing they want to get involved with. A crazed family of cannibals lives there, with the psychotic Leatherface leading the charge with his whirring chainsaw blade. This family is mad… and hungry.|
This late discovery was based on two different factors, first of all as a very young kid the idea of a Chainsaw Massacre is pretty darn frightening you have to admit. So, growing up the idea of seeing bodies sawed into pieces scared the living daylights out of me. It was one thing to see Jason Voorhees take a machete and slice a teenager’s head off in one fatal swipe but it’s an entirely different thing to see someone slowly saw and carve through flesh and bone. When I finally hit my preteens I discovered mafia movies and from there I found Scarface… BAD idea in terms of conquering my fears. The chainsaw sequence in Scarface, as a 13 year old kid, was probably the most disturbing thing I could have witnessed. For some reason that nerve-fueled five minute sequence just left me shellshocked. It took me probably four or five years to finally discover the Chainsaw series and violence wise I found that I had been sitting on the fence for absolutely nothing.
The violence in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is NOT what has sucked audiences in throughout the decades. That title ropes you into believing that convention says that this flick is going to be all sorts of disgusting and violent, but the actual reality is that this is an entirely psychological form of terror. As a teenager, next to Cannibal Holocaust and Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh & Blood (though I may have been twenty seeing that one), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would mark one of the few times I have been incredibly nervous before a film by what I might happen to actually see. Although these fears turned out to be completely unwarranted it just goes to show both the power that a title can have and the brilliance of the marketing behind the movie. To this day people who have not seen Tobe Hooper’s original movie just assume that it is some kind of terrifyingly brutal film of violence and gore. However, going through it for probably my twelfth time recently there are only a handful of scenes in the entire movie that actually feature blood that you can actually see. That isn’t to say it isn’t violent or deserving of it’s R rating.
To think that Tobe Hooper was actually shooting for a PG rating initially is just insane, even if PG was a more loose rating back then than it is now. It’s just that everything within TCM is implied. We don’t see Leatherface slicing up the bodies, just a shot of the body in the foreground and him revving the chainsaw. We don’t see the meathook go into the back of his innocent victims, just their reaction and Leatherface lifting them up. When Michael Bay announced originally that he had plans to produce a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but instead this time make it less gory with the emphasis being on the ‘thriller’ aspects… it blew my mind. How could someone remake a movie that they had not even seen? Going on record and stating such a thing, you just could not say such a thing if you had seen the movie. Then skip forward to the release of the movie and it is precisely the polar opposite of Bay’s word and we get an incredibly hyper violent/gory remake that takes it to levels far more extreme than anything the series had ever seen.
What makes TCM the masterpiece that it is? In my opinion, it’s entirely based off of the psychological warfare that the characters play. The hitch-hiker and his insanity in the van, played so effectively by Hooper with minimal sound during the sequence. It’s an awkward situation that slowly goes out of control and even if Edwin Neal does take the character a bit out of range from reality, we can believe it by how awkward and desperate that conversation becomes. He doesn’t come across as some kind of degenerate who takes simple pleasure in pain, he much like the rest of the clan comes across as being mentally ill. Psychotic, insane, whatever you want to call it. These characters aren’t even in control of their own actions at any point anymore. They simply aren’t there. The Cook may be my favorite of the characters. His sequence in the truck with Sally is just brilliant. He bashes the girl repeatedly, obviously getting pleasure from it, then apologizes alongside his actions. It doesn’t make any sense, but neither do any of their actions. We don’t know what made these people the way they are but the unknown is even more frightening than any backstory ever could be.