Movie Project #35: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel
Country: USA
Genre: Horror
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger, Gunnar Hansen
Running Time: 83 minutes

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is pure, unadulterated terror.

Other slasher flicks have tried to imitate this over the years, but there’s a reason this is considered one of the most terrifying films ever made. Yet even with this recognition, I don’t think I was ready for *this* type of madness.

The film tells the story of a group of five friends, including Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns) and her paraplegic brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), who are traveling to investigate possible acts of vandalism at the grave of the Hardestys’ grandfather. While in the area, they decide to visit their grandpa’s old house, now a run-down shack.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

The peculiarities begin when the group picks up a hitchhiker along the way. This guy (played eccentrically by Edwin Neal) is completely off his rocker, rambling — in great detail — about an old slaughterhouse his family worked at. His erratic behavior only escalates, leading to the group kicking him out of their van, thinking that’s the last they will see of him.

When they finally reach their grandpa’s house, they begin exploring the bountiful land it was built upon. There’s another house not too far in the distance, and two members of the group head in that direction in hopes of borrowing some gasoline.

Enter: Leatherface.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]

In what is arguably one of the most startling introductions in horror history, Leatherface makes his first appearance by unconventional means. Whereas most horror films slowly build up the suspense before introducing the main antagonist, here Leatherface simply enters the frame with no warning, knocks someone out with a mallet and then slams the door in our faces. It’s all done so matter-of-factly, and it’s utterly brilliant.

From there, the terror only intensifies, with characters getting picked off one-by-one until only one remains. This poor girl has an awful, awful night, getting chased by a chainsaw-wielding Leatherface through seemingly endless fields. Eventually, she is forced to endure a dinner with “the family”, in a scene so bizarre that I’m pretty sure I just sat there with my mouth gaping open. The last ten minutes or so of the film are balls-to-the-wall insane — I can’t think of a more intense conclusion in any other movie.

It’s amazing that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was filmed on a budget of under $300,000. It’s clearly low budget, with a cast of mostly unknown actors, but it all feels so authentic. This is a story that could happen in real life (it is loosely based on the real-life serial killer, Ed Gein), and it’s the type of film that will make you think twice about stopping in small towns. Completely, absolutely horrifying.

9/10

Movie Project #20: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Country: West Germany
Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Brigitte Mira, El Hedi ben Salem, Irm Hermann
Running Time: 94 minutes

Reason for inclusion: I had never seen a Rainer Werner Fassbinder film.

Accolades: Won FIPRESCI Prize and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes Film Festival, part of the Criterion Collection and Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

Here’s a story that would have never happened if it weren’t raining one night in West Germany.

Emmi Kurowski (Brigitte Mira), a 60-year-old widow, stops in at a local bar to wait out the rain on her walk home from work. She hasn’t had a drink in years, but she is drawn in by the exotic Arabic music heard inside. Upon entering, it’s as if time stops. The locals, mostly Arabs, stop and stare at her as she meekly takes a seat at the very first table. The server, Barbara (Barbara Valentin), slowly makes her way to the table, allowing Emmi to order a Coke.

The bar patrons continue to snicker at the newest visitor, hardly hiding their disgust. One of the women in the group snarkingly suggests that one of them, Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), goes to ask her to dance. Much to her surprise, Ali takes her up on the offer, and even more surprising, Emmi accepts the dance. The two of them share a tender moment, and he offers to walk her home.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

It’s still raining when they arrive, so Emmi invites him in for coffee. She professes her loneliness since her husband died, and Ali shares his own similar feeling — his days feel empty, composed of nothing but work and booze. They bond, he stays the night.

From here, they become a romantic couple, much to the surprise (and chagrin) of others. The age barrier is striking — there is at least a 20 year difference between them — but it’s the color of their skin that raises the most grievances. Ali is Morroccan, and during this period in West Germany, racism toward Arabs and other minorities is unfortunately commonplace. Foreign workers are “treated like dogs”, as Ali once states, and it is unfathomable to become romantically linked to one.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul [1974]

Emmi’s own children, now adults with their own families, even frown upon her new lover. One of them, her oldest son, smashes her living room TV upon hearing their news. At work, Emmi’s cleaning lady friends banish her from their little gossip circle, forcing her to eat lunch on her own. Ali is treated like dirt everywhere he goes — the local grocer, despite Emmi’s loyal patronage for years, even refuses to serve him since Ali speaks broken German. It’s all quite sad, really, especially as the blatant racism is so in-your-face.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul tells the most unconventional of love stories, but it beautifully shows that love knows no bounds. Unfortunately, its other message is still as relevant today, as racism is still a global issue with no sign of going away. How much disrespect can one person take before they snap, or their body just can’t handle anymore?

9/10